In brief - Effective corporate responsibility programs need structure and support

In a follow up to our February 2015 article Corporate responsibility: you can't afford to ignore it, we examine how companies large and small can make a meaningful social impact through collaboration and integrating corporate responsibility (CR) into their procurement policies.

Habitat for Humanity helps thousands displaced by Boxing Day tsunami disaster

A well structured, well supported CR program can produce significant and impressive results. This is particularly the case when corporations collaborate with one another on ambitious projects dedicated to improving people's lives.  

A striking example of this type of collaboration is Habitat for Humanity, a global not-for-profit housing provider working in over 80 countries around the world. The companies which partner with Habitat for Humanity include QBE, Boral, ARUP, Dulux, Selleys, Nissan and many others. They help by fundraising, donating building materials and having their staff (and retired staff) work as volunteers on projects both in Australia and overseas.  

Following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which displaced 1.7 million people in a number of Asian countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, Habitat for Humanity worked with its corporate partners to build houses for 25,000 families which had lost their homes.

Corporate collaboration can impact the lives of those in need

Another example of corporate collaboration producing significant positive results is the support given by a range of companies in Australia to projects targeting people who are at risk of missing out on the opportunities provided by information and communications technology, including people on low incomes and those who live in remote communities.  

For example, on Palm Island - a disadvantaged indigenous community off the coast of Queensland - several corporations partnered with the Queensland PCYC and the state government to provide internet connectivity to the community's youth centre. Cisco Systems provided equipment for wireless networking and a VOIP phone system; Telstra contributed broadband internet connectivity; IBM donated laptop computers and Austar provided pay TV channel content.

Consider basing procurement decisions on social good, not just cheapest price

Obviously, large corporations have the opportunity to make a social impact on a grand scale - if they choose to do so - but it would be wrong to think that smaller companies cannot make a difference.   

One opportunity available to businesses large and small is to build corporate responsibility into your procurement policy. No matter what your company's line of business is, you need to spend some amount of money every year buying goods and services. These dollars can be used as a tool for social good.  

Instead of basing your purchasing decision purely on obtaining the cheapest price, consider giving the work to a disability organisation, a fair trade business or a social enterprise which employs marginalised job seekers. At least let them have the opportunity to give you a quote.