Doing good while doing well at your job
When CSR became a popular catchphrase about five to eight years ago, I have to admit I was initially very skeptical. Is it just another fad or marketing tactic? Now, CSR has now become a personal passion to me.
Back in 2010, I was given the task of overseeing my company’s social investment project, Caltex Project Chance (based in Hong Kong), which is also subsidised by the Government’s Partnership Fund for the disadvantaged. The project has now been running for seven consecutive years.
With the project professionally run on a daily basis by the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association (BGCA), I have had the opportunity to work with passionate social workers who are dedicated to improving the lives of poor families in their communities.
I asked myself; what has enabled this social investment to survive all the ups and downs of the global economy and the ever-changing needs of society? Here are some possible answers.
1. Choose a goal that people can relate to
The aim of Caltex Project Chance is to address poverty in Hong Kong, by giving a helping hand to poor children to prevent them from falling into the vicious circle of poverty and eliminate intergenerational poverty. Many of our staff have children of their own and know how tough it can be to raise children amidst rising costs. Inflation today is about five to six percent. The project’s aim is clearly something our staff and volunteers can relate to.
2. Combine resources for greater impact
Don’t try to do everything yourself. A crucial part of the project’s success has been the ongoing cooperation between Hong Kong citizens, the government and business. While it relies on passionate and experienced social workers from BGCA, a large part of the work is made possible through volunteers from the local community, universities and Chevron. Every year, in addition to the funding from Chevron Hong Kong Limited, Caltex Project Chance applies for annual financial support from the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged.
All these combined resources allow us to make a bigger impact by facilitating a daily, all-year round programme for the children in the project. The success of the Project is based on the efforts of different people bringing in their different skills to work together towards one common goal.
3. Cultivate project advocates
When people can see, hear about or experience something good out of a social investment, it can quickly win advocates. Such advocates should be actively cultivated and given a channel to voice their feedback and support. At Chevron, we feature our volunteer staff in newsletters and provide them with mementos from their participation that serve as reminders of their positive experience.
Another natural group of advocates is the parents whose children benefit directly. We ensure such parents are involved throughout the process and they will be a key part of the journey. We can provide the additional resources to give these children a fighting chance, however parents are critical in the emotional development and support of children.
4. Appoint full time project coordinators
Where possible, appoint full time coordinators for the project. A social investment should not rely on volunteers who may have other priorities. For Caltex Project Chance, we sponsor BGCA staff to manage the project full time. This has made all the difference because they are dedicated to look after the needs of the program and the participants. They can also act as a bridge between us and the children allowing us to learn from experiences and improve the program as we go along.
5. Measure tangible and intangible value
Create an evidence-based programme. In order to garner continued support from all stakeholders involved, it is important to measure the project against its objectives without bias. At the end of each programme year, benefactors of the project are individually interviewed. This feedback is fed into a system that measures results across various parameters; from their educational (tangible), social and emotional (intangible) development. The project coordinators record these figures for each set of graduating children annually and track the project’s progress overall. As a result, we are able to monitor the performance of all the participants. Having measurable results and targets are vital to us because these figures let us know how we can improve and where to put our resources.
6. Make volunteers accountable
In a busy city like Hong Kong, setting a time limit and broad aims helps volunteers feel more inclined to be committed to a CSR project. Caltex Project Chance volunteers are asked to commit their time for one year, whether they help with special field trips or mentor children one-on-one. Volunteers who help with field trips are asked to attend as many, if not all, of the events as is possible. Mentors are advised on how to interact with children from poor families and how to address their social or emotional needs, with the ultimate goal of the project in mind.
7. Make benefactors accountable
It is important that CSR efforts are committed to helping people, and that the people who are helped are committed to helping themselves too. BGCA helps to screen the children who enter each annual programme. Together with their parents, the children as assessed according to their needs and level of commitment to completing the programme. To ensure that the children benefit as much as possible, parents are encouraged to participate wherever possible in the activities and ensure they find the time to bring the children to BGCA’s centres.
8. Provide staff orientation
Ensure that all your staff, whether new or existing, should be made aware of your CSR project and all the activities or opportunities where they can contribute. Participation should be made easy to sign up for and should not require special skills. Offer training to first time volunteers, who ideally should be accompanied with someone with experience. If everyone feels that “together, we can make a positive difference”, that feel good factor will naturally translate into a desire to return to volunteer again.
9. Ensure project evolves positively with time
Keep things fresh for volunteers who return year after year as well as for the social workers. Caltex Project Chance doesn’t repeat the same programme each year. Based on what we observe from the previous year, the Project’s coordinators spend time on brainstorming for new ideas for field trips and teaching tools.
10. Raise awareness amongst key stakeholders
Make an effort to raise awareness amongst important stakeholders and provide them with a firsthand look into the success of the Project. As part of the inclusive nature of the project, key social and political figures are invited to attend graduation ceremonies at the end of each programme year.
Last but not least, make sure you are personally involved in your social investment programmes. CSR should not be allowed to become “empty talk”, but a passion for you as well. Many times when we help others, we benefit from the experience as well!
Ken Chan, Manager of Policy, Government & Public Affairs at Chevron Hong Kong Limited