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Corporate Social Responsibility is More than Writing a Check

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In tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, we will post this banner on all our articles until the end of November. 

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Giving to charities is on a decline. Corporate contributions, especially, have declined from a high of 2.1 percent at its peak in 1986 to just around 0.8 percent in 2012.

It’s understandable. With every transaction scrutinized, traditional corporate philanthropy is considered an inappropriate use of funds. And yet, the demand for socially responsible companies grows. In fact:

  • 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality, reports the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study
  • 55% of online consumers are willing pay more for product or service offerings when a company is associated with social impact, according to a Nielsen study
  • 67% of employees would rather work for an organization that was socially responsible, according to the same Nielsen study

It’s not an issue of people being uninterested in companies that are socially charitable. It’s an issue of donating time and money more effectively. Businesses quantify everything, and for good reason. You want to make sure what you are doing is paying off. Because of this, corporate social responsibility has evolved into something that is beneficial for the business, their employees, consumers, and non profit organizations.

So the question is: how can you make your company more socially responsible and more effective?

 

Build social responsibility into your company mission statement

Effective giving starts at your company’s core. It should be part of your drive, written into your mission statement, and reflected in every action your business makes. Outdoor retailer, Patagonia, is a great example of this. Instead of calling it “corporate responsibility,” they view their corporate giving as “caring for the planet that has sustained us.” For every purchase made, 1% goes toward causes the leaders at Patagonia are passionate about, like preserving land, protecting salmon, creating healthier soil, and producing more sustainable food. Corporate philanthropy is not just something they do–it’s something they live and breathe.

Yvon Chouinard, the owner and founder of Patagonia, said:

“If you could get businesses, any business, to understand that they have more responsibility than to maximize the profits for their shareholders, or for themselves, that they have a responsibility to the planet. We all do. The best way to do it is to dig into your pockets and give the money away to the people who are willing to do the good work.”

Making giving part of your mission statement sets you apart from your competitors. It says, “we’re passionate about what we do, and we’re passionate about doing it responsibly.” The leaders at Patagonia stand by their mission statement to care for the earth while making good products, and from that, they actually make more money and have loyal fans.

Look at your products and services. How can you expand your societal engagement? How can you build social responsibility into the core of your business?

 

Partner with the right cause

All businesses start as being an answer to a problem. We see a market need, and work hard to fill it. Charities are the same way–they just provide their services in a different way. Partnering your business’s passion with the right charity can be a powerful and dynamic way to increase loyalty and goodwill for your company and awareness and funds for the cause.

 

The best partnerships make sense

In 2010 when KFC partnered with cancer awareness charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, people were confused. Barbara Brenner, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, argued:

“They are raising money for women’s health by selling a product that’s bad for your health… it’s hypocrisy.”

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Involving your company with a social cause is more than just feeling good about making the world a better place. It’s an alliance saying that the charity’s work aligns with your own ideals.

Warby Parker creates eyewear. But they also give back eyewear to people who need it. Their business model is “buy a pair, give a pair.” After they tally up how much they have made, they donate a portion to their nonprofit partners who train men and women in developing countries how to perform basic eye exams. It is good for Warby Parker, because it is good marketing, morale building, and fan building, and it is good for the world. It’s a partnership that makes sense and fits easily into their business strategy.

Some connections are easier to draw than others, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If you are a grocery chain, consider partnering with a food bank. If you are a technology firm, consider investing in underserved children’s educational programs, like science museums or kids’ camps that provide training in skills you’d like to see. There are thousands of different charities doing amazing work. Find the one that connects with the reason for why you started your own business and see how you can harness your collective power in transformational ways.

 

Social responsibility is good business

The companies that get the most from social giving are the ones who genuinely feel passionate towards a certain cause. It’s the ones that recognize a problem in the world and feel like they can’t just sit and watch. It’s the ones that are able to rally hundreds, or thousands, or millions of employees, customers and fans, behind something they are passionate about.

Being socially responsible is taking a risk, but it, so far, is proven to be a successful way to run a business. Craig Matthews, the owner and founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, second member of Patagonia, said:

“From a marketing standpoint, once people find out what you are doing and giving to what they are so passionate about, and what business members are so passionate about, it’s a no-brainer. People sign up and people become your customer because of it.”

 

How can partnering with a nonprofit help your business, inspire your employees, rally your clients, and change the world for better?

 

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Lauren Ellis started working as a graphic designer at 18 and by 26, she left her agency job to help start up a small web agency in downtown Austin where she worked as Creative Director. Since then, she left her home in America behind to work in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Lauren teaches art therapy classes, designs all of The SOLD Project’s work and manages the social media accounts.

10 Ways To Be a Better Ally

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dscf6377Anyone can be an ally in the fight to end child trafficking and exploitation. Our staff, whether paid or volunteer, range from counselors, mentors, and educators, to managers, farmers, marketers, writers, researchers, photographers, and filmmakers. People who support us include donors giving to our students and programs, fellow activists in the field, people in related industries, and of course, like-minded, concerned individuals who follow us and give shout-outs on social media. All are needed and welcome. Whether you’re with us on the ground daily or you follow us through cyberspace, we’d love to share with you some of what we’ve learned about being a better ally to those most at risk of exploitation.

  1. Tell stories ethically

So much of what we do at The SOLD Project comes from a heart of story telling. From the documentary that started everything to our blog and the way we connect people across the globe, stories lie at the core of how we operate. Our goal in sharing these stories, however, is not to perpetuate pity. We try to avoid engaging in sob stories to drive donations, and choose to instead focus on stories that are dignifying, respectful, or empowering to the person involved. Their lives are their stories to write in way that inspires pride, and our goal is to share stories that inspire connection, and a deep respect for our common humanity. This means a focus on positivity despite challenges. It means writing with the person’s consent, and often even their input, and being willing to let them change how the story is written—letting go of control and your own agenda, and being open to what a story has the potential to become.

  1. Offer your real skills

Well-meaning volunteers come through wanting to offer their time to help organizations like us working in the area. To be a well-functioning and ethical organization, we need to be thoughtful about who we invite in and how. The best way to have a positive impact is to share a skill or knowledge you’re already passionate about. If you want to come in and help build desks for our classrooms, but you’ve never built furniture a day in your life, the result is unlikely to be beneficial for you or the nonprofit. The desks would probably be inexpertly made, possibly even dangerous to our students, and would cost materials and time that could have been given to someone local who does have that expertise. It probably wouldn’t be fun or inspiring for you either. If you want to do volunteer work, try to find a project that harnesses your true interests, passions, and skills, and it will lead to a much more meaningful experience for both you and the organization with whom you’re working.

  1. Practice non-judgment

We often hear questions like “How could a family sell their child?” or “Why would a girl ever voluntarily go into the sex trade?” In order to truly understand others, we have to remember that we don’t all come from the same place. If your family is well and whole, even in hard times, these things might be unthinkable. But if we consider what it would be like to grow up in place where hunger is a frequent house guest, working any way you can is literally the difference between life and death, and sacrificing yourself to save your family is one of the most honorable things you can do, the decision looks very different. Also very rarely is it one decision; it’s often a series of decisions: drop of out school to save money, try to find a job in a restaurant, or maybe a bar, leave to go to the big cities for more opportunities, and end up in a job you never expected to take for money you never thought it was possible to make.

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  1. Remember that root causes are systemic

The cause of child exploitation almost never begins with the trafficker or the victim. It begins in poverty, in statelessness, in gender inequalities, in racism, in exclusion and alienation, and in a world where children are viewed as less than fully realized human beings. If we really want to end trafficking and child exploitation, we need to start with the society that allows and perpetuates all these things, and we need to start interrogating ourselves as individuals, and examine any of the ways we are complicit.

  1. Look to the helpers

In recent years, there’s been a general outcry against too much donation money going to “overhead,” and some basic agreement that the more money given directly to the recipients of aid, the better. Obviously, multimillion dollar salaries for CEOs of organizations whose base is still struggling to feed themselves is not an ideal scenario. However, in lieu of a society with a universal basic income and support infrastructure in place to help people in need, organizations run anemic without donations for their staff and general programs. In our experience, the scholarships are necessary but not sufficient. Children need mentorship and guidance, a safe place to stay and play, and awareness raising programs to help ameliorate vulnerability locally and abroad. We also need long term staff that can build deep, lasting relationships with the students, their families, the community, the legal and medical system, and fellow activists in the field. To be done effectively, all those things cost money and require people with talent, skills, deep commitment and expertise. Those people also need a living wage and various kinds of support to help keep them focused and balanced in a very emotionally demanding job. If donations are a way you’d like to be involved, consider sponsoring a student, and also consider sponsoring the support structures that help ensure the scholarship and prevention programs are as successful as they can possibly be.

  1. Assess your own agenda

Any help you can offer is always welcome. However, sometimes, if our best intentions aren’t coming from the best place, we can end up doing more damage than good. A question we can ask ourselves is: Am I joining the cause in a way that respects the dignity of the people I’m helping, or are the people merely tools for something else I (whether consciously or unconsciously) want to achieve? Getting something for yourself is not inherently a bad thing. What we most want to be careful of is: when push comes to shove, will we act in a way that serves our own agenda regardless of the needs of the other person, or will we let go of our own needs if we discover it does not help the ones we serve?

  1. Always be open and willing to learn more; to listen as well as speak

No matter what we think we know about trafficking, prevention, our students, or any of the issues we grapple with on a daily basis, we practice it best from a perspective of humility. Truths may change, or our understanding may deepen, or there are people from whom we might learn something so long as we assume we don’t have all the answers.

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  1. Be inclusive

There’s a phenomenon among activists where people can sometimes get stuck in a feedback loop of each trying to prove how committed to the cause they are, thus getting ever more extreme, and shutting out people who are deemed insufficiently committed. This is not a healthy way to grow a movement. Accept people on their own terms. Let each learn and grow and commit on a level that is sustainable to them, whatever that means.

  1. Find a tribe who both encourages you and holds you accountable

Being an ally in a social movement of any kind can be incredibly mentally, emotionally or even physically challenging and draining. It can feel isolating at times. Surround yourself with people who fill you up, who help you feel encouraged and rejuvenated and inspired. Surround yourself with people who make you want to do better and be better—and you will, and so will they.

  1. Keep your own love tank full

You know how when you get on a plane, they tell you in case of emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others? It is incredibly hard to give when you are empty. Generosity is much easier when you are full and whole and complete. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, and then you can give more whole-heartedly and in much healthier ways to others.

Want to be an ally of The SOLD Project in the fight to end child trafficking? Check out these ways to get involved and ways to give!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

Real World Experience in Ethical Volunteerism: A Conversation with Rachel Goble

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Last year, Chab Dai, a faith-based anti-trafficking organization based in Cambodia, released a study on the impact of short-term volunteers, both on their own lives and on the organizations they volunteered with. The findings, based on a literature review, surveys of thirty two volunteers, and interviews with sixteen non-profit leaders, provide an enlightening glimpse into the phenomenon of volunteering. Posited within the framework of neoliberalism* — the dominant ideology of our globalized world — the findings suggest that while short-term volunteers often experience noticeable transformation in personal development, cross-cultural perspectives, and the expansion of a more global perspective, there is often little to no positive impact on the host organizations. Further, the impact on short-term volunteers is often a short-term attitude change versus a change in long-term beliefs. While the literature tends to paint a dismal picture of short-term volunteers, the surveys and interviews offered more insight and hope.

The entire study is a fantastic and crucial read for anyone interested in working in the non-profit world or international development. After reading it, SOLD staff writer and researcher Dan Olson thought it would be fun to use its findings as a springboard for a discussion with our President Rachel Goble about her experience with both hosting volunteers and being one. Here’s what she had to say.

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Dan: What was the best volunteer experience you ever had?

Rachel: Two come to mind. During one of my summer breaks while in college, I volunteered at a battered women’s shelter in Livermore, Calif. called Shepherd’s Gate. I oversaw the donation drop off point. It was super-mundane (laughs) but also fulfilled a real need. I loved it. Also, I was in charge of a folder where the women in the long-term residential program submitted requests, so I got to learn about their lives and needs and understand some of the non-profit’s systems. We also started a thrift store while I was there, which was super fun.

Oasis in India is my second. I could tell that some of the staff were skeptical of me us volunteers. I got that. Even while I was there, another volunteer, who wasn’t dumb or lazy but just wasn’t a self-starter, sat around and waited for people to tell her what to do. Fortunately, I knew enough by that point to be proactive. I came up with ideas and asked if I could implement them. People would be like no or yes or that’s ok, but this would be more helpful. So it took a little time, but it led to me putting together a prevention curriculum. That was the best moment, because after this one of the staff members, a guy who was really hard to please, came up to me and told me that I was the best volunteer he’d had. That was rewarding.

My time at Oasis shifted my perspective on volunteering. Before, while finishing grad school and looking for a practicum, I was frustrated by the hoops the organizations made us jump through. I was like, we’re graduate students, we’re educated, and we’re offering our work for free. Why aren’t they ecstatically saying yes, yes, yes? Now I realize that to have it be mutually beneficial for both the volunteer and the organization you have to weed people out.

Dan: How about the worst? Have you had a worst?

Rachel: I’ve observed organizations, but I can’t say that any of my volunteering experiences were bad. I’m sure I was bad! (Laughs.) I was probably someone’s worst volunteer at some point, but I never went into volunteering with a consumer mentality. I always felt like if the experience wasn’t great, it was up to me to get something out of it. The thing I wanted was to help. So I could always find a way to do that by trying.

Dan: In the Chab Dai study, it’s clear that volunteer expectations, specifically in regards to the impact they would have on the ground, were often too high. Have you found this to be the case when working with volunteers?

Rachel: That’s interesting. One of the challenges that I think people find when they volunteer, especially when they fly half way around the world, is that cultural differences are huge. In Thailand, things move slower. Whether it’s staff or volunteers, I think this is one of the things that non-Thais who work with us struggle with. I’ve seen it be incredibly difficult for some to learn how to navigate their achiever mentality in Thailand, which tends to be a much more relational cultural context versus an achiever cultural context. I’ve seen that transform people’s perspectives, but that takes time.

Dan: The study also highlighted some cultural tensions and potential power dynamic issues. Khmer NGO workers spoke about power dynamics more frequently than the volunteers and even felt that the volunteers communication with them was abrasive and belittling at times. On the other hand, some of the volunteers felt they had not been adequately prepared for the culture they were in and one even that the staff was resentful towards her for having her own computer and other signs of wealth. How have you tried to manage this? Have you had to?

Rachel: What comes to mind is, first, the way that we’re structured. First and foremost, it’s local leadership. Whenever a volunteer comes in, we draft terms of reference for them, so they understand their role. The Thai staff participates in creating this for each volunteer. Second, our staff tells us what the needs are on the ground, and they have to approve each volunteer. If someone applies, their app comes to the US office first. If we think they might be a good fit, it goes straight to our Thailand office. There our Resource Centers’ Directors look it over with our Volunteer Coordinator, the only Western staff there, and discuss the volunteer’s experience and education and how this could fit in with our needs.

While we’ve had great experiences overall, we have had times where our Thai staff felt that volunteers did not contribute as much as they said they would. But this has mostly been with teams. Teams are really hard. They basically turn our entire staff into hosts for a day, which would be fine if they didn’t have other important work to do. We’re not a hosting organization; we’re an anti-trafficking one. If we accept a team now, it’s usually just for a one-day activity that is very well planned.

That being said, we’re all about education. If an individual comes through or a team who wants to learn, we have that opportunity built into our model.

Dan: Yeah, one of the things the study said was that the discourse around voluntourism, a common name for short-term volunteering, should move from a focus on development and aid to a focus on international and intercultural understanding.

Rachel: Yeah. I love that. I agree.

600369_4053085766715_538333557_nDan: The study also highlights words used to describe ideal volunteers such as resilience, self-awareness, self-starter, relevant life experience, relevant training, and life experience in general. What do you look for in volunteers?

Rachel: I would add entrepreneurial and self-drive. The reality is that when you come in to volunteer unless it’s a giant and very well organized organization, you’re going to have to do a lot on your own. We only have one person to coordinate this, and even then it’s only ten hours a week of her job description. We need to bring people on who we can trust to make decisions in the best interest of the organization.

Also, I would add humility. I don’t know what word to put to the other thing I think is crucial, but it’s incredibly important that they have an awareness that their view of the world is not the only view of the world and that it may not be the best. I guess that could be summarized in openness, depending on how you defined that.

Dan: Some of the organizations in the study said that six months was the shortest they would accept a volunteer for, but that a year was better. Does SOLD have time constraints or limits when it comes to volunteers?

Rachel: It depends on what they’re doing. I find that if somebody wants to do a workshop, such as teaching a skill set or encourage and support a staff member in a particular role, then even one day might be enough.

Logistically, we’re limited. If you want to be a volunteer in Thailand for over three months, you have to get a work permit. The government only gives a work permit for one in every six of the staff who is national. We’ve had people who come in on an educational visa because they want to learn Thai and volunteer, which has worked well.

Really it all comes down to the volunteers’ skills and expectations and the needs of the organization being aligned. Long term volunteers definitely get treated more like staff, and their opinions are valued more because they’ve built trust. I would never put a short term volunteer, someone who’s only there for three to six months, in a position where their work required them to make decisions or work with the staff in a way that required them to have a high level of trust.

Dan: Is there anything else that stuck out for you or advice you’d like to give someone who’s looking to volunteer overseas?

Rachel: The power dynamics are huge. In the West, and I think especially in the Church, we have been taught that we can fix the world. There’s an element to this that is true and incredibly powerful because we do have choices and these choices can have huge negative or positive impacts on our world. But this has gone astray in the sense that we feel we are somehow more powerful. What I mean is, well, there are things people say like, “I just want to go love on them,” or “I can’t believe people have to live that way, and I just want to help.” That language shows an unrecognized feeling of superiority versus a real skill set.

Dan: Yeah, like why do they need you to come “love on them”? Do they not have love in their culture?

Rachel: Right. Exactly. I do see a desire in our staff for training and education. They want management training and counseling training. There’s definitely a place for education and training. That’s needed. But we need professionals, not just good intentions.

SOLD tries really hard to protect our staff from people coming in and telling them what to do. I still don’t understand what saving face is after eight years. I cause Tawee, our Founding Director, to lose face all the time without being aware of it. And he tries to save face for me sometimes, and I get offended (laughs), because that’s not my culture. We talk about it, and it’s okay, but to assume that a volunteer can step in and offer insight immediately is unrealistic.

My hope is that volunteers have a particular skill set and professional experience to offer. I always go back to the Brian Meyers’ quote, “the poor deserve our very best.” Somehow we’ve belittled the poor into these helpless human beings when the reality is that those who grow up under challenging conditions often become the most resourceful and resilient people. We seem to forget that.

Dan: Well, that seems like a good place to end on. Thanks for chatting Rachel.

Rachel: Thank you.

 

 

 

*“’Neoliberalism‘ most often refers to a loosely cohering set of economic, social, and political policies that (1) seek to secure human flourishing through the imposition of free markets and (2) locate ‘freedom’ in individual autonomy, expressed through consumer choice.”