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What makes an effective CSR strategy? 

By Alpa Bhakta, CEO at Butterfield Mortgages Limited

Regardless of sector or industry, there is no denying the importance of having an effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy in place. By this, I am referring to not-for-profit initiatives that businesses pursue in order to achieve a philanthropic, activist or charitable goal.

Over the last decade, more and more businesses have put into place a CSR strategy in a bid to show its clients, customers and stakeholders that it is giving back to society in some shape or form. This is a positive development, and a reflection of society’s changing attitudes towards what they expect from businesses.

From my perspective, I believe we have now entered a pivotal movement in the evolution of CSR. It is no longer an alien concept but something that has effectively transitioned into mainstream business culture. The challenge now, however, is ensuring that businesses are pursuing effective and thoughtful CSR activities, rather than seeing it as a mere tick-box exercise.

Research shows that consumers and employees want to contribute and engage with companies that have woven CSR into the fabric of their culture. As with most things in businesses, this is easier said than done. The question, then, is how can organisations pursue meaningful CSR strategies which are also integral part of their value proposition?

The two fundamental questions

CSR should never be seen as a laborious or uninspiring task. The truth of the matter is that it can boost company morale by encouraging employees to work together on an issue that resonates closely with them. What’s more, CSR activities also contribute to the positive brand image of a company, which can help foster closer relationships with existing clients while also appealing organically to a new client base.

Finding the right CSR initiative that gives back to the community and has some link back to your business can be difficult. That’s why it is prudent for decision makers to consider two questions from the outset: what cause do you, as a business, want to support, and what outcomes you are hoping to achieve?

Let me give you an example to put things into perspective. Butterfield Mortgages is a part of the Butterfield Group, which proudly serves as a Global Pilot Partner of the Seabin Project. Run by Australian Entrepreneurs Pete Ceglinski and Andre Turton, Seabins are innovative devices designed to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the world’s waters. One has been installed at London’s Royal Victoria Docks, which captures half a ton of  waste every year.

BML’s involvement with the Seabin initiative has been hugely successful. As an offshore bank with many of our principal operations based in island nations, the Butterfield Group has witnessed first-hand the impact of plastic marine debris on eco-systems. With offices in The Bahamas, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, Mauritius, the UK, Switzerland, Canada and Singapore; the Seabin Project was an ideal initiative for Butterfield to support as part of the Bank’s broader CSR efforts.

The choice to offer financial backing for the Seabin Project came from an assessment of what mattered most to our business combined with research into initiatives that could most benefit with our support. Rather than simply donating to a large organisation, we were able to identify a project we believed has the immense potential in helping to clean the world’s water ways.

Choosing the right cause

Choosing a cause to support is not a decision to be taken likely. Companies that disregard the above advice and choose a project either due to its trending interest or relative easiness will not see any real benefit from their CSR activities. As I mentioned previously, businesses should not see this as an obligation but rather as an opportunity to really make a meaningful contribution to a cause.

Finally, any discussion on CSR would not be complete without acknowledging the current circumstances.

At the moment, we are facing the biggest global health challenge in recent memory. The COVID-19 outbreak has drastically impacted UK society, placing immense pressure on our public health services. The disruption caused by social distancing measures is also affecting people’s mental health and financial security. It has been positive to see businesses taking the initiative and supporting those organisations involved in helping those affected by COVID-19, either directly or indirectly.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, any CSR strategy must strive to achieve two things. The first is to provide assurances and support to employees during these uncertain times. The second is to identify initiatives where your company can make a meaningful contribution, be it support for NHS workers or those indirectly affected by the pandemic. There is a plethora of opportunities available and the community is clearly calling for business support.

For this reason, it is imperative for businesses across all sectors and industries to ensure they are actively involved in the battle against COVID-19. This is not only effective CSR, but an example of businesses giving back to the community in a desperate time of need.