Pandemic as a crash test for a CSR initiative
Oksana Kuiantseva, PR manager at IT company Gamingtec
In Western countries, social responsibility of business stopped being just one of the trends quite some time ago. Now, it is rather a natural and integral part of successful entrepreneurship. In this article, I want to talk about why companies should not overlook corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives even during a pandemic, and how such initiatives can be useful to entrepreneurs in the post-coronavirus world.
CSR means more than charity
The urge to help someone appears in many entrepreneurs: some sincerely empathize with those in need, others know that a philanthropist and benefactor image always work well for PR even though they often don’t really go into detail on how and whom exactly they can help, and others feel an urge to change the world. The latter are often those who actually launch CSR initiatives.
CSR means a systematic work on solving an acute social problem. It is a self-sufficient long-term project with clearly defined goals, objectives and final intended outcome.
Before launching a CSR, you should work out a strategy as well as the budget that the company will independently or jointly with partners allocate for its implementation. You may also require a special dedicated team to work on the initiative. The significance of CSR for the business is usually evaluated in terms of how useful it is for building the company's image and attracting new customers. It is also important to make the project attractive for the media so it can cause a stir among the public.
Why is it necessary to finance CSR initiatives during the crisis?
During the quarantine, it became especially essential the question whether the companies should continue to finance already launched CSR initiatives or reallocate funds to higher priority tasks?
If the crisis threats to the company's survival, it is better to scale back the expenses. For instance, you can put the CSR initiative on hold and announce when the project can be revived. The companies that manage to stay up during the crisis should think about how to continue implementing a CSR initiative by changing its format and adapting it, if necessary, to a new reality.
What benefits can get a company from a CSR initiative?
1. New customers. Empathy, respect, the desire to be a part of a noble cause - all these aspects motivate a potential buyer of goods or services to choose a company that develops such social projects to give their money to.
2. Effective company positioning, and as a result, the support of all-Ukrainian and international public and governmental organizations that are interested in the issue. With their support and the evident signs of steady growth and evolution of the business, investors also become interested in the company.
3. A team of like-minded people, not just employees. A company that makes the world a better place is attractive to specialists, so the valuable talents stay longer in the company as they are united with common values and interests.
Do you need all of this during the crisis and post-crisis period? For sure, to say the least. During the pandemic, many companies have closed, and that means that now is the right time to create a pool of new loyal customers. A crisis is a litmus test that reveals unscrupulous entrepreneurs. During the harsh economic times, one businessman raises the price of his services by three times, while another one fixes the “pre-crisis” price list and at the same time contributes to delivering food packages to people at risk (i.e. carries out social initiatives). It is obvious which company will eventually be more attractive to customers.
If a company survives during this quarantine period, then its reputation will depend directly on how it showed its worth in difficult times. It is enough to recall a textbook example: During the World War II, every American soldier on the front line could get a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, despite how much the company actually cost it to deliver the goods to the place.
How to set up your CSR initiative during the quarantine
Implementing a CSR initiative during quarantine is not easy. Depending on the specifics of the initiative or activity, many companies had to reshape them. I will tell you about one of such SCR changes through the example of educational modules for Ukrainian schoolgirls in STEM disciplines, initiated by Gamingtec.
The STEM is FEM project was launched at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. First, the contestants go through an open qualifying competition, and then they come to Kyiv for a two-day educational module to listen to lectures, attend workshops, and deal a creative task. The goal of the project is to motivate girls interested in studying mathematics, computer science, chemistry and biology, to build their careers in tech industries, and to show schoolchildren the possibilities and prospects of this area. Participants in the module meet in person women who have built a remarkable career, and also attend excursions to enterprises of a chosen industry.
The first three modules were successfully held in Kyiv, the competition for participation in the fourth one started before the quarantine restriction measures were introduced in Ukraine. When it became clear that it would not be possible to conduct training as before, instead of canceling the event, they decided to bring the activity online. The pandemic has changed the world around, but the need to support girls has not vanished. On the contrary, while staying at home, schoolchildren need educational initiatives that would help them to spend time more efficiently and motivate them not to abandon the education.
The STEM is FEM online module dedicated to robotics and engineering chose Zoom platform for sharing online video of the event. Among motivational speakers that joined the project, there were not only Ukrainian but also foreign experts. During quarantine, many experts started working online, so they were able to take part in the project and stream live videos to our contestants. The participation in the module turned out to be a useful experience for everyone, including the speakers, the schoolgirls, and also for the CSR project team: in a period of uncertainty and confusion, it is important to be involved in a stable process.
When organizing an online module, the team faced new challenges: we held a short training for speakers on how to use the platform and a showed them new ways of communication with the audience (chat, polls, “raised hand”); provided the required settings for the module participants, communicated actively with subscribers on social networks.
Whilst working “offline”, we invite a professional photographer. To get photo content from an online event, we held a contest among the participants for the most creative photo. Then, we sent the diplomas and valuable prizes by mail.
The lecture and practical work on robotics we organized in a new way so that everything could be done remotely without additional equipment. The girls created a prototype robot to fight coronavirus with the help of the programs available online.
During the quarantine period, the activity of the Stem is Fem project does not stop, it appeared to be the right time to try new forms of communication. In April, we held an eco-marathon and a meeting with the module’s lecturer on Instagram; in partnership with UNFPA Ukraine in May, we announced an online lecture for teens on how to recognize violence in relationships, launched a video challenge for the community members. All this makes it possible to maintain the girls' interest in the project, as in the circle of like-minded people they become encouraged to pursue self-development.
Continuing work on a CSR project during the quarantine period is a reliable investment in your own image for respectable and socially responsible companies. This is a crash test for CSR purposes, as during the crisis, it becomes clear whether the project is intended to solve an existing problem or whether it is a far-fetched story that has nothing to do with the concept of sustainable development of society. And the most important, it can test the company planning: the development of a CSR project is a significant part of the company's development strategy, in general, and there is no place for blunders here.