Track Sessions II

E. Philanthropic Impacts through Business: 'How can firms go beyond corporate social responsibility?'


  • Christine BADER Former Director of Social Responsibility, Amazon
  • Roopa PURUSHOTHAMAN Chief Economist and Head, Policy Advocacy, Tata Group
  • Marjorie YANG Chairman, Esquel Group


  • Stephen WONG Deputy Executive Director and Head of Public Policy Institute, Our Hong Kong Foundation

Mr Stephen Wong opened the session by introducing the three speakers and sharing his insights on different models through which corporates engaged with social welfare. He also touched upon policy perspectives by noting that UK and European corporates with more than 500 employees were mandated to disclose their CSR activities and disbursements. The open question was whether tight mandates were good for the corporates and society at large.

Ms Marjorie Yang started off the discussion by asking why CSR existed as a separate function. She believed CSR should also include employee welfare and inclusion. Recognising that young people were becoming increasingly aware of their responsibilities as citizens, she said it was important for corporates to channel that sentiment if they wanted to do good business.

Ms Christine Bader echoed Ms Yang’s belief that charity begins at home. While it was difficult to articulate a definition of CSR, she said, human rights were already well defined. Therefore it would be worth exploring whether corporates should pursue their CSR objectives by looking at outcomes through a human rights lens. They should ensure that they were not inhibiting their employees, customers and wider society from any of the 30 human rights.

Ms Roopa Purushothaman looked at the genesis of Tata Group’s 150-year-long journey in India and its global development story. She said Tata Group contributed USD270 million to the community last year, employed over 600,000 people in the world and touched 900 million lives.  The growth of the company was intertwined with the growth of India. Tata had started India’s first iron business, first hotel chain, first cancer care hospital and so on, all by pioneering new concepts.

According to Ms Purushothaman, the secret sauce was finding roots with the community and being committed to executing projects rather than just funding them. The sheer scale and ambition of Tata Group had allowed it to take on controversial issues like tribal matters, mental health initiatives and manual scavenging. She also spoke about how India was the first country to enshrine corporate giving in the law in 2014. This mandate had led to a larger influx of capital but also created a legal compliance and governance industry, leading to corporates focusing a lot more on compliance with the law than the quality of their programmes. Other drawbacks had been that already-recognised NGOs were getting flooded with resources, while smaller and remotely-located organisations were still disadvantaged and resource-dry.

The speakers then explored how employees could be empowered to use their potential and energies towards achieving social good. They felt that ideas for engaging employees were usually restricted, e.g. a day dedicated to volunteering, but we must go beyond box checking and involve employees in co-creating innovative approaches for running programmes in different areas. In terms of process, they agreed that a minimum set of standards could be helpful to the better integration of social good and core business operations. Contributors from the floor discussed how human rights assessments of corporates could be a good starting point to help them question their business practices and have difficult conversations within their teams.

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