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Role of Corporate Social Responsibility in women’s development

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Our work at Investing In Women focuses on three main pillars of interest: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Diversity & Inclusion, and Philanthropy. Today, we will be exploring what CSR actually means. Over the years, many different organisations, scholars, thought leaders, and companies have defined CSR on their own terms, in the context of their unique surroundings and are driven by the personalities that run these companies. Today, I invite a guest contributor, an Investing In Women team member Lewis Demyan to explore the definition of CSR.

“The success of Africa should not be judged by the rate of return on private capital on the continent, as important as that is, it must be judged by the social capital stock formation on the continent. That is, in terms of how things are changing in the real lives of people.”

– Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President, African Development Bank

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been one of the dominant socioeconomic trends of the past decade, as businesses continually ditch the traditional profit-seeking model to form better relationships with their stakeholders. This is not to say businesses no longer care about profits, rather businesses are learning how to incorporate the wellbeing of all stakeholders in their decision- making.

In fact, depending on the CSR activity, it is generally held that CSR can increase long-term profits for firms by engaging the community and building strong customer loyalty, improving the efficiency of a firm’s operations, and increasing investor activity by sending a positive signal. However, for all the coverage CSR has received, there is much debate on what CSR actually is as there is no universally excepted definition.

The World Business Council on Sustainable Development defines CSR as, “the continuing commitment by businesses to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large”, while the European Commission has defined CSR as, “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”. Among the many definitions of CSR, a similar theme remains the same: for businesses to engage in benefiting the communities in which they affect and depend on.

Due to a wide variety of definitions, companies engaging in CSR do so in an equally diverse way. From philanthropic activities such as employee volunteering, to food donations, to changes in business operations like waste reduction and improved resource allocation, CSR seems virtually endless. Therefore, the types of CSR activities will depend entirely on an organisation’s goals, stakeholders, and the country in which it operates.

Developing countries, like Nigeria, are at a unique position to implement CSR because they have an advantage in designing systems that are well adapted to meet both their needs, and the needs of the modern world. It is in the nature of a developing country to be flexible, therefore, Nigeria can use the CSR practices of modern companies and countries as precedents, giving them the opportunity to consider what is good for their own country.

Additionally, CSR in Nigeria has received heightened interests due to high levels of poverty, inequality, and what is known as the natural resource curse – a phenomenon where countries rich in natural resources have been unable to use that wealth to boost their economies. Critical developments in CSR in Nigeria now could lower these adverse social effects and leap-frog Nigeria as a global leader in social responsibility by bypassing the intermediary steps of developed nations.

Conclusion
I would like to thank Lewis for this insight, and certainly there is food for thought, not only regarding the benefits of CSR for Nigeria as a nation, but in relation to women. How can companies boost their CSR by investing in women? Contrary to widespread views that most banks in general worldwide underestimate the power of CSR for long-term profitability, in Nigeria it seems the banks have clocked onto this notion, thus creating – in the most successful cases – a more loyal customer base. Consider for instance the impact that innovative mobile technology for banking has had on women in rural areas. Compare this to the case of power & energy companies who, while making concerted efforts to take more care of their host environments, for example with community investments, may not be able to relate to women as end-users of their well-meaning initiatives.

This is most probably due to the fact that there are generally more male emloyees in this sector compared to banking where there are more females. Therefore, CSR policies in every case have to be well thought through, and are ideally designed to achieve sustainable development, not random acts of charity for PR purposes or to “make right” the classic wrongs of environmental damage caused by companies in this sector. Initiatives ranging from financial donations to hospitals, to the construction of new schools, skills training and micro-credit schemes are the kinds of schemes that benefit women in these host communities, and we hope to see more of this in Nigeria.


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