Africa Day 2022: CSR in the new world

Corporate Reputation is influenced strongly by the CSR activities of a company. CSR activities can build trust, and trust is one of the main pillars of the reputation of any business.

Constant changing dynamics such as the ability of technology to inform and empower individuals, climate change and other more drastic changes like the recent Covid-19 pandemic had and continues to have a major impact on companies. It is expected of companies to demonstrate behaviours that are aligned to the needs of employees – and of society.  

Ipsos’ recent Reputation Council report stated that in future, business strategy and societal expectations will be increasingly intertwined. “Where traditional hierarchies and communication processes are giving way to a more inclusive, transparent and collaborative approach. Where the dividing line between external and internal communications is increasingly blurred and where the role of the corporate communicator as a strategic advisor has never been so important.”  And Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as an expression of these new developments has never been so important...

In the 2021 Ipsos Global Trends study it was established that Africans feel very strongly about the responsibility of businesses to tackle issues.  They also want business leaders to play a stronger role and engage with governments to tackle these issues together. For many business leaders this is an unknown terrain, mostly seen as the realm of government, but consumers/citizens realise that governments alone will not solve or cope with these issues, therefore the strong call on business leaders to get involved.

CSR more than just financial and reputational drivers

In the past (pre-Covid-19) CSR was often used to bring about and support a competitive advantage for a company or brand.  However, for many institutions it was only a “tick-box exercise” and some might argue that CSR programmes are only undertaken if the company derives some direct benefit quickly. In the media, articles were published of investments in a local community or working together with a community or country to effect some change - complete with pictures - of these chosen initiatives. There was very little reported about the long-term effects and sustainability of these undertakings on the communities and people of these intended direct beneficiaries.

In this new world reality of a lingering Covid-19 pandemic, half-forgotten viruses like monkey pox, climate change and unpredictable droughts and floods, the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis, economic and political uncertainty and high inflation, Corporate Social Responsibility deserves a lot more attention and a rethink.

Studies show that a full 42% of the image of a company is derived from its CSR activities. Corporate Reputation is influenced strongly by the CSR activities of a company. CSR activities can build trust, and trust is one of the main pillars of the reputation of any business.  Trust convinces your consumers to come back again and again, to tell their friends and families about you and to support the business during a crisis.  If you trust a company, it is also unlikely that you will immediately believe bad news about the company and chances are that you will accept the company’s point of view and support it again in future.

Ipsos and CSR

At Ipsos, our CSR programmes globally and locally have always incorporated three critical elements – social, societal and environmental. We monitor the longer-term influence of our programmes closely. This information not only gives us insight into benchmarking our performance around the world, but also provides a basis for improvement. We aim to improve the circumstances of a community and make a long-lasting difference to the lived reality of a community or group. Looking at some of these programmes in Sub-Sahara Africa, the long-term impact can drive future change.

In Kenya, Ipsos has thus far partnered with 61 high schools to form the Research Clubs of Africa (RCA) initiative. RCA was established in 2008 with the aim of passing basic research knowledge to students - to demystify market and social research by creating awareness, understanding and appreciation. Students are supported through guided research competitions and mentorship. The programme is of great assistance to students who proceed to universities and colleges giving them an edge in research for their courses.

The Ipsos office in Mozambique focuses very strongly on agricultural and women’s issues. They recently worked with a client to develop a series of programmes aimed at women with small businesses to be broadcast on radio and television.  The programmes were designed in the format of a soap opera and – monitoring the success of the programmes – it was revealed that 42% of the women watching or listening to the programmes reported higher sales than those who were not exposed to the programmes and 73% managed to save some of the money created by their businesses as well as 90% of these women planning to invest in their own businesses in future.  Although they were not part of the target market of the programmes, the men who were exposed to the content also shared a higher confidence level in the potential of entrepreneurial undertakings of women.

The Ipsos office in Zambia has been focusing strongly on education with the projects they undertake with most of the beneficiaries of these programmes being children and young people. The programmes support schools in refugee camps with general and digital training to empower children and women with necessary skills to be able to find gainful employment one day, including an active project providing sanitary towels to girls – to help them to stay at school throughout the month and not miss out on their education.  

The most direct CSR investment in terms of economic responsibility is operated by the Ipsos in South African office regarding the education of young women.  South Africa, like many African countries, have a very large youth un- and underemployment problem.  In fact, more than half of young people in the country are not gainfully employed with about one in every ten South Africans currently classified as a “student”. Ipsos works together with its partners at educational institutions to assist several young women who are senior students, with bursaries to complete their studies.  In addition, the South African office provides employment contracts for a year to a number of school leavers and university leavers, providing them with experience in various departments within the business, converting some of these year-contracts to full-time employment.

Thus, although Ipsos is a large corporation, we believe in driving change within each of our markets and running different programmes to drive growth for these communities. We believe strongly in the principles of integrity, curiosity, and cooperation and these tend to “colour” and inspire the CSR projects undertaken.

All over the world companies are learning that they no longer need to be so modest about their CSR activities.  Consumers/Citizens now want and demand to know what companies are doing to address issues like sustainability, diversity and inclusion, development, education, representation, women’s issues, and social justice matters. Being actively and sustainably involved in your community and country is an infinitely better way of building your brand.