December 2, 2019

Young professionals and sustainability practices – investment in future decision makers, CEOs, ministers, board members, politicians, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, professors...

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Are Millennials an influential generation making waves and demanding sustainable change? How are they affected by the world in which they have grown up and to what extend they are going to change that world?

By 2030 Millennials will be half of the world’s workforce. They are our upcoming CEOs, board members, decision and policy makers, leaders, donors. Millennials are also poised to receive the greatest transfer of wealth in economic history of Asia. According to the recent research by Morgan Stanley 35% of Asia’s wealth is expected to change hands in the next five to seven years.

Also, the McKinsey Global Institute found that 49 percent of CEOs say sustainability is either their "top priority" or one of their top three priorities at their companies. That’s an increase of 15% in just four years!

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are the basis of any sustainability related decision making that cut across business development, investments, legal, sales, manufacturing, services, marketing, operations, human resources, communications, governance, etc.

However, many companies lack the knowledge or technical abilities to shift to sustainable processes and products, or they might face difficulties adapting to new methods of production or might not find it profitable when they consider the overheads. Investing in internal experts that will be able to understand how those rapid changes will play out, what are the changes that company has to incorporate and how to do it in order to thrive will be great comparative advantage in every sector.

Having in mind that our national and global sustainable future in next 30+ years will mostly depend from Millennials and their decisions, ESG Resource Centre believes that professionals in every sector should be able not just to understand importance of ESG criteria, sustainable practices and circular economy but as well to be able to apply that knowledge in their life and future work practices.

Why should we focus on youngest Millennials?

Millennials are diverse group aging from 24 to 38 years. We would like to focus on those that just entered employment because they are still in the exploration and shaping phase of their work/life purpose, their beliefs and behaviours. If knowledge about relevant sustainable well-being and well-doing practices is adequately delivered to young professionals there is a big chance that they would use it in the meaningful way.

Our belief is based on the following main characteristics of the Millennials:

  1. Disruptive in a good way – having grown up in a progressive world of globalisation and economic disruption, this generation wants to work for organizations that are more horizontal and promote communication and idea-sharing among workers.
  2. Naturally opinionated sceptics – being digital natives they are perpetually filtering overwhelming amounts of sources and therefor they are often suspicious of information they receive, questionning companies’ motives and authenticity as they see beyond the bright lights, catchy slogans and humorous puns.
  3. Socially concious – while growing Millennials have been forced to face the realities of extreme weather patterns, sea level rises, rapidly increasing GMO agriculture and species extinction (among others).This reality has created a generation of socially and environmentally more concious people in comparison with previous generations.
  4. More attitudinally proactive than behaviourally proactive – many Millennials have been criticized for liking or sharing a socially or environmentally conscious post or article on social media and then sitting back and feeling as though they have contributed to society. Various research confirmed that there is a gap between their beliefs and desires for social and environmental change and the actions initiated and implemented by Millennials.
  5. Responsible investors – The Rockefeller research found that millennials are putting their monies into socially responsible investments (SRIs), or “impact investing” because they want to secure their future and at the same to have a positive effect on their communities’, society and the whole world future.

W!SE would like to enrich this combination of Millennial’s characteristics with ESG/sustainability related knowledge in order to create group of proactive young professionals who would be able to cross-sectorally address upcoming economic, social and environmental challenges in the most sustainable way.

W!SE courses

Having in mind broad spectrum of ESG/sustainability related issues that might affect company’s performance we created set of interdisciplinary courses that are in our opinion relevant for the following areas of work: management, legal and compliance, human rights, business development, investment, procurement/supply chain, marketing, communications, corporate social responsibility, corporate foundations, governance, knowledge management, product development and responsibility, partnership development, monitoring and evaluation, impact assessment, reporting.

We wish to create sustainable future in which our upcoming decision makers, CEOs, ministers, board members, politicians, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, professors, civil servants, mangers, as well as future parents will make life and work decisions based on environmentally, socially and economically sensible criteria.

November 5, 2019

How knowledge about sustainability can help graduate employability?

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Everyone looks for a career that will fulfil their needs and satisfy them both professionally and personally. But what are the fields of study that will be relevant in 5, 10, 15 years from now?
What kind of knowledge and skills will be required and what would be competitive advantage at the job market in years to come?

With arising issues related to effects of climate change on business development, economic growth, further degradation of environmental resources, potential social tensions and quality of life of people, the world is more than ready for new sustainable workers and leaders. It needs people that have knowledge and understanding on what and how can be done in order to solve various existing and upcoming sustainability problems.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are the basis of any sustainability related decision making. They cut across business development, investments, legal, sales, manufacturing, services, marketing, operations, human resources, communications, governance, etc.

The McKinsey Global Institute found that 49 percent of CEOs say sustainability is either their "top priority" or one of their top three priorities at their companies. That’s an increase of 15% in just four years.
Also, investors (both individuals and institutions) recognise that information about a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) conduct is vital to understanding the business purpose, strategy and management and crucial for their decision making.

That is why ESG and sustainability aren’t just a feel-good green field anymore, it’s a serious career path and the job market already requires knowledge and expertize in this field.
Exposure to W!SE’s courses can help students better understand how sustainability related knowledge can be applied in different sectors and what could be their potential career paths.

Graduates employability

The market requires both a sufficiently knowledgeable and trained labour force and accurate perceptions of the market’s demands to create the conditions for proper job placement.

In era of uncertainties, when technologies develop rapidly, economies change and social environment adapts to global trends, it is rather challenging to predict which sector/industry will be fertile in years to come.

Regardless of country and/or its economic development status almost all university students are often lacking accurate information not just about different options for their future career paths but more importantly about future usefulness and profitability of their knowledge and their diplomas.

That is why interdisciplinary knowledge that can help students apply the knowledge gained in one discipline to another different discipline and evaluate the viability of different insights is recognized as comparative advantage at the job market.

Role of universities is to build solid grounding in respective discipline(s). Only when students master that knowledge they can fully benefit from interdisciplinary courses that can widen their perspectives and improve understanding of how they can use their knowledge in various fields.

W!SE uses interdisciplinary approach in teaching ESG/sustainability related topics. Coupled with solid knowledge acquired at the university, our courses will provide students with exposure to topics that will:

  • improve students understanding of the complexity of sustainability related problems and the associated challenges of solving them
  • improve understanding that there are ethical dimensions to most issues of concern
  • increase their capacity to connect ideas and to analyse linkages between different issues (system thinking) in order to broaden application of their solutions in different sectors.

Formal university education complemented with exposure to interdisciplinary knowledge about ESG/sustainability issues will hopefully diminish fundamental mismatch between market demands and knowledge and skills that students acquire during their studies.

October 7, 2019

Teaching primary and secondary school students about sustainable practices

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How should young people think about rapid economic, social and environmental changes in the world today and tomorrow? How do we build sustainable well-being and well-doing in the future?

Teaching young people about sustainability has never been more important. It develops the knowledge, understanding, values and world views required to make certain that there’s enough for everyone, forever.

Introduction of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) as well as sustainability as a cross-curriculum subject will cultivate a positive and progressive thinking among students and will improve understanding of issues and solutions that are relevant for our future sustainable well-being and well-doing.

By providing students with ESG/sustainability related educational programme a young person considering a future university or future profession will be aware that in nearly all professions it is possible to affect quality of life of people, climate change, fair labour, equal opportunities or community engagement whether someone plans to grow up to be a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a scientists, an artists, a YouTube video producer, a gamer or engineer.

W!SE believes that when today’s primary and secondary school students are ready to enter either tertiary education or employment they should be able not just to understand importance of ESG/sustainability, circular economy and system thinking but as well to be able to apply that knowledge and make informed decisions in their life and future work practices.

Why should we start with students from primary and secondary school?

According to various studies (Mc Kinsey, Sustainly) core behaviours of the Generation Z—loosely, people born from 1995 to 2010—are all anchored in one element: this generation’s search for truth, in both a personal and a communal form. The young people of this generation demand honesty and authenticity from anything that is offered to them because they’ve “come of age in this world’s crisis of trust.”

Following are few main characteristics of the Gen Z:

  • Risk averse, security seekers - research from the Anniew E. Casey Foundation conducted in 2016 found that Gen Z youth is rather risk averse - they had lower teen pregnancy rates, less substance abuse, and higher on-time high school graduation rates compared with Millennials. They lean towards ensuring they have a secure life outside of work.
  • Radically inclusive – in their thinking, interactions and relationships. They are more interested than previous generations have been in human rights, in matters related to race and ethnicity, diversity, equal participation, gender equality.
  • Digital natives - they have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems from earliest age. They easily move between platforms and technologies and pick up new software quickly.
  • Cause oriented - they continually flow between on-line and off-line communities that promote their causes. Around 65% of the Gen Z believes that communities are created by causes and interests, not by economic backgrounds or educational levels.
  • Pragmatic and analytical - with vast amounts of information at their disposal they particularly value knowing and evaluating a broad range of information before they make purchases or other type of decisions. About 65 % of Gen Z members try to learn the origins of anything they buy—where it is made, what it is made from, and how it is made.
  • ‘Take a stand’ expectation – Gen Z don’t distinguish between the ethics of a brand, the company that owns it, and its network of partners and suppliers. McKinsey research shows that despite their relative youth 70% of Gen Z purchase products from companies they consider ethical, 80% say they remember at least one scandal or controversy involving a company and refuse to buy goods from those companies.
  • Open for affordable education options – significant % of Gen Z considers skipping higher education and moving straight into the workforce. They’d rather avoid the years of debt and try one of the newer, more affordable options where they might gain all of the skills that labour market needs, just from a different source.
  • Independent entrepreneurial thinkers - newly developing high tech and highly networked world has resulted in Gen Z thinking and acting more independently and entrepreneurially. Around 70% of teens say they want to start their own business someday.

With this in mind W!SE created set of courses that focus on topics that are not covered by curriculums and co-curriculums in public and private schools.

We aim to expose Gen Z to new kind of knowledge and understanding of different ways they can meaningfully apply it. Ways that will correspond with their risk averse, inclusive, conscious, pragmatic, analytical, cause-oriented and entrepreneurial profile.

W!SE wishes to contribute to creation of sustainable future in which our upcoming decision makers, CEOs, ministers, board members, politicians, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, professors, civil servants, mangers, as well as future parents make life and work decisions based on environmentally, socially and economically sensible criteria.

W!SE approach in teaching courses

  • ESG oriented - Difference between teaching sustainability and teaching ESG is that in teaching sustainability topics are usually focused primarily on ecological sustainability (recycling, waste, energy, water, planting trees, pollution...) while in teaching ESG we equally incorporate social and governance related topics. For example, when we talk about energy issues we focus on types of clean energy that are not polluting our environment, but we also focus on social aspect of energy production i.e. health, safety and working conditions of those employed in energy sector, their supply chain, their wages, their engagement with local communities and impact of energy production on those communities. We also discuss topics related to governance issues both at company and national level i.e. regulations in the sector of energy, policies that should exist in order to secure sustainability, internal procedures, etc. Finally, we discuss cost of being sustainable and how the journey towards sustainability will affect (short-mid-long term) our economy.
    ESG approach will be used in discussing every topic covered by our courses and the content (lecture, group work and case studies) will be adjusted to age group of students.
  • Focus on understanding and proactivity - We guide students to search for relevant knowledge and information on their own (that is what native digitals are very good at), however we intensely focus on helping them better understand the various problems related to sustainability and how to be proactive in searching for solutions – as individuals, future professionals and members of society. We do not take a moralizing, prescriptive, and unyielding approach to more sustainable lifestyles. We are encouraging debate, analysis, teamwork, and reflection that are crucial to developing understanding, the critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Emphasis on data analysis and social literacy – While working on case studies, walk audits and other assignments, students will not receive pre-digested analyses from lectures or secondary sources. We will teach them how to examine and analyse empirical data for themselves. Examining any sustainability related problem (environmental, economic or social) will inevitably lead to investigations of the development of social systems – political, economic, and cultural – that shape human behaviour and decisions. This will give students chances to achieve greater social literacy by being exposed to such things as population demographics, consumption trends, and cultural patterns, just to name a few.

In delivering our courses we use: 1) lecture-based presentation, 2) group work and interactive sharing, 3) comparative case studies analysis and discussion, 4) questioning and assessing assignments.

August 5, 2019

Methods for Achieving Positive Social Impact

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Social impact is fundamental change that addresses social challenge that affects quality of life of individuals, communities and society as a whole, and as such it is result of: 1) different long term processes and activities implemented or supported by various stakeholders, 2) interactions and interrelatedness between relevant sectors, and 3) changes during different development phases.

It goes without saying that there are many ways on how positive social impact can be achieved but practice shows that combination of following three methods is the most successful regardless of type of stakeholder or of sector: 1) developed/enriched content; 2) increased reach out/scale up; 3) improved institutional framework and structure.

Content development/enrichment: Content is relevant, useful, applicable and value-based knowledge that enriches and improves quality of ideas, approaches, strategies, products and services that are implemented through relevant programmes and action plans. As Robert I. Sutton said: ‘It means constantly seeking and implementing better ways of thinking and acting across old and new corners of the system.’ In other words, content is What.
As you can guess What i.e. content means different things to different sectors:

  • marketing - ‘marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action’1
  • arts content refers to essence of what is being depicted
  • science focuses on analysing, upgrading and finding new solutions (through experiments, tests, research) that add value to the content of knowledge of their respective disciplines
  • education gives emphasis to improvement of content of subjects delivered to different groups of students (primary, secondary, university, students with special education needs, vocational, lifelong learning, etc.), teaching methods
  • social sector covers whole range of possibilities starting from development of new or significant improvement of existing policies, laws and regulations, improving content of social services, etc.

Nevertheless, regardless of different sectoral definitions the common understanding is that meaningful content always builds credibility, reliability and quality and can be used to educate, inform or change existing way of thinking, doing things and eventually achieving positive social impact. It always requires rethinking, challenging and reengineering current views, models and approaches in achieving results. As such, high quality content adds value to programmes that aim to:

  • more profoundly and efficiently address needs of different target groups
  • develop new, advanced alternatives, possibilities and solutions that could improve quality of life of individuals, communities and society.

Reach out and scale up: Reaching out means connecting with others – experts, consultants, allies, opponents, public, beneficiaries - and it focuses on Why. ‘Why’ to reach out can be requirement for more active stakeholder or constituency engagements, need for sharing of information, ideas and learning about some problems and solutions, demand to increase attention and interest of the public and stakeholders on relevant issues, etc.
By reaching out one:

  • boosts participation of different societal groups that will directly or indirectly be affected by implementation of those programmes
  • explains newly developed or enriched content or changes in relevant institutional structures
  • seeks stakeholder’s involvement in identification of needs of different target groups, in addressing various challenges, developing solutions, implementation of programmes, monitoring and evaluation of achieved results
  • triggers communication and potential cooperation among those stakeholders that are not traditionally recognized as potential partners
  • discovers less travelled roads and less known, but not less worthy potentials.

On the other hand, scaling up capitalizes on results achieved by reaching out and it usually includes an increased number of:

  • beneficiaries (direct and indirect)
  • territories (communities, cities, states)
  • programmes in different institutions (schools, hospital, universities, care centres, CSOs, etc.)
  • support (financial and in kind) provided by different stakeholders, etc.

Successful scaling is not just doubling numbers i.e. growing in size and revenue but growing in efficiency and productivity of programmes and organizations. Scaling too fast might be a mistake if organization or existing eco-system is not ready and doesn’t have mechanisms and structures to manage and support scaling. Use of relevant both internal/organizational and sectoral data can make better informed decisions about desired scaling.

While reaching out has its prevailing qualitative personality it has to go hand in hand with quantitative nature of scaling up that aims to gain momentum and critical mass of supporters, beneficiaries, funds, etc. Only combined they can meaningfully contribute to achievement of positive social impact.

Institutional framework and structure: As society evolves, existing legal frameworks and institutional structures must follow. This is How. A structural change within an organisation or sector changes the way ‘How’ authority, information, decision making, funds, resources and responsibility flow. Institutional framework and structure cover processes of planning, organising, engaging, making decision, using resources, allocating budgets, implementing, controlling and reporting. Building or advancing appropriate mechanisms i.e. frameworks and structures will allow:

  • creation of new structures that contribute to more transparent decision making processes e.g. civil society representative has a ‘seat’ in local and national assembles, establishment of cross-sectoral decision making committees (represented by relevant stakeholders)
  • development of legal frameworks that improve addressing of different needs and implementation of relevant laws and strategies e.g. establishment and transparent functioning of ombudsman office
  • building of platforms that enable regular and legitimate (not just pro forma) public consultations process, involvement of independent observer’s groups, satisfactory assessments stakeholders and beneficiaries, etc.

Reports from various international development partners indicate the need for strengthening capacities at an institutional level in order to enable rather complex processes to be in place and maximize potential at all levels of institution. System theorist R. Buckminster Fuller suggests: ‘Never change things by fighting to change something. Build a new model that makes existing model obsolete’.

When thinking of these three methods one should bear in mind difference between Doing and Achieving. All activities that are part of the implementation process such as for example conducting trainings and seminars, networking and advocacy, running campaigns or conducting research – are Doings. These are all mechanisms, tools and preconditions that are needed for positive social impact to hopefully happen.

Social impact is End Achievement. It successfully combines content, reach out/scale up and use of different structures.

Interdependence and interconnectedness of these three methods is mirrored in the fact that even though high quality content is essential for positive social impact, if there is no institutional structure that will put meaningful content on the decision makers’ agenda and if later there is no mechanism to support needed scaling to those in need, then positive social impact will be hardly achievable.
On the other side we can have perfectly fuelled mechanism for reaching out and scaling up, and we might even have decision makers who will happily embrace suggested changes (well, no one can prevent us from dreaming), but if quality of content is low or insignificant positive social impact will not be achieved.

Combination of these three methods in achieving positive social impact can be applied in any sector/area of work e.g. achieving responsible supply chain, arresting deforestation, improving water management, enhancing health delivery, enjoying human rights, improving livelihoods and living conditions, enhancing importance of girls education, use of clean energy, etc.

What is the method that your corporation is using in setting goals for its socially oriented programmes?

1 - Content Marketing Institute

July 8, 2019

Positive and Negative Social Impact

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Social impact is fundamental change that addresses social problems that affect the quality of life of individuals, communities and society as a whole, and as such it is the result of different long-term processes and activities implemented or supported by various stakeholders. Once achieved, social impact spreads its influence (ripple effect) to different spheres of life.

Some of the negative social impacts that result from decisions (and often supported by legal documents) and actions made by governments, politicians, experts or corporations include:

  • increased air/water/land pollution produced by industry
  • institutionalized violation of human rights
  • decreased level of safety of children (due to implementation of policies that do not protect their lives and safety), etc.

Negative social impacts – especially those that result from or involve economic and political activities – can appear rather fast and can within very short periods of time seriously affect the lives of the wider population.

Positive social impacts that are the results of work done by different stakeholders include, for example:

  • increased levels of security and liveability standards for all in urban communities (by providing affordable housing)
  • decreased percentage of young offenders
  • decreased social vulnerability of poor
  • decrease in preventable deaths across all age groups, etc.

Achievement of positive social impact requires cross-sectoral cooperation and it is never an easy, fast and straightforward process.

These are just some examples of social impacts achieved in different sectors. One can object that most of these are economic, political, health or environmental impacts and one would be right. Complex interaction, interrelatedness and interdependence between different sectoral impacts makes it rather challenging to distinguish their real nature from their consequences. However, regardless of the root causes that triggered achievement of the impacts, if the process of their achievement directly or indirectly affects the quality of life of individuals, communities and society, they should be considered as social impacts as well.

Does your corporation contribute to any negative social impact?

W!SE trains your staff to become knowledgeable in the following areas of work: development of social empowerment programmes, setting qualitative and quantitative KPIs, monitoring and evaluation approaches, development and use of assessment tools – all of which can help your organization assess to what extent your business practices are contributing to both positive and negative social impact. That awareness might trigger positive changes in your approach towards social sustainability practices.

June 5, 2019

From Philanthropy to Social Sustainability

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Data from the World Giving Index shows that in the years 2013-2018 Malaysia ranked at a high position of 17th most generous nation in the world. Individual or institutional donors usually have a whole range of reasons for giving – from genuinely supporting and addressing social issues, self-promotion, branding, securing public standing, leaving a legacy behind to indirectly supporting political causes and gaining professional benefits. International resources indicate that unlike most of countries in the South East Asia region (in which more than 60% of civil society organizations-CSOs receive foreign funding), only 15% of Malaysian CSOs (the same as in Singapore and Taiwan) receive international donors support. This means that main supporters, beside government, of social and environmental programmes in Malaysia are corporations. They provide support through their CSR departments as well as corporate and private foundations.

However, while Malaysian corporations are mainly very generous in giving, practices shows that those philanthropic/CSR initiatives have not been effective in building capacity of the beneficiaries, impacting lasting changes or solving problems. These are some of the reasons1:

  1. CSR/corporate foundations seek guidance from their Board of Directors that are (not)surprisingly one of the main limiting factors for providing support to longer term programmes. Due to their profit making profile Boards look at their CSRs and corporate foundations as ‘philanthropic arms’ that aim to support charitable activities that address some urgent need or mirror personal interest in the topic.
  2. Majority of corporate donors in Malaysia are medium reliable in providing continuous financial support. This is partially because their annual budgets are linked to their parent company’s core business which might change from year to year and partially because their lack of knowledge and understanding that commitment and continuity of funding are more important for the achievement of social impact than the amount of funds provided.
  3. Corporate donors complain about the lack of human resources to cover social areas of their work and they usually entrust these kinds of activities to people from their comms/PR department or hire branding agency to come up with suitable and good looking programme. In both cases, people who are responsible for social programmes do not have relevant experience and understanding of the complexity of social issues and time needed for the change to be achieved.
  4. In case of activities that corporate donors in Malaysia are supporting it seems that they are more focused on temporarily serving then on permanently solving i.e. that they are more interested in supporting quick fix projects that show fast and visible results that are presentable in annual reports than providing support in coming up with solutions to complex problems.
  5. Partnerships between corporate donors are quite rare in Malaysia. Consultation meetings and round tables are used just for sharing information about each other’s work, their successful models and stories (rarely obstacles and problems) and seldom for seriously describing problems in their entirety and discussing the ways on how collectively those problems can be solved.

From philanthropy to social sustainability

Besides the undeniably huge role that philanthropy and CSR activities played in trying to improve the quality of life of people and communities in need more and more arguments at international level go against this kind of giving mostly because it enables corporations to rather easily get their social license for operating and to legally avoid paying taxes (which in both cases saves them a lot of money). These arguments are no longer just the minority position, they have gained momentum and among other events were openly discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2019.

Having this in mind forward looking companies realised that adjusting and integrating their philanthropic/CSR activities into social sustainability practices and measuring them against global reporting requirements could be a win-win situation. Beneficiaries will continue to benefit from their giving programmes and companies will improve their position in meeting sustainability requirements and potentially attracting socially responsible investing.

So what is social sustainability?

According to the UN Global Compact, social sustainability is a proactive way of managing and identifying business impacts on employees, supply chain, customers and local communities and it cuts across business development, supply chain, investments, partners, legal, marketing, PR, human resources, governance and whole set of processes, procedures and policies. Briefly it covers everything that indirectly has to do with profit but very directly has to do with people that make that profit - their performance, attitudes, trust, respect, commitment.
When it comes to people opinion Edelman Trust Barometer for 2018 shows that:

  • 77% of Malaysians believe that a CEO’s number one job is all about building trust – among employees, stakeholders, communities
  • 63% of Malaysians think that companies that only think about themselves and their reputation and profits are bound to fail
  • 57% think that CEOs are driven more by greed than a desire to make a positive difference in the country and world

In short, Malaysians expect that their corporations practice Social Sustainability.

For those companies who would be interested in shifting towards social sustainability following is the short list of activities that could enable that shift:

  • proper assessment of relevance of existing giving programmes
  • matching existing giving programmes against social sustainability requirements
  • integrating social sustainability policies, process and procedures into their core operations
  • adjusting and shifting current programmes towards social sustainability practices
  • defining quantitative and qualitative social impact indicators and relevant data tracking mechanisms in order to record delivered sustainability benefits
  • improving social sustainability reporting.

Social Sustainability presents the Opportunity Zone that can help corporates and other stakeholders unlock new ideas, products and services, markets and partnerships – while doing and achieving good for society.

1 - In depth interviews with 15 national and regional corporate foundations and international development organizations as well as 15 civil society organizations working in Malaysia were in cooperation with Razlina Azura Radzi conducted in 2018.

May 3, 2019

It is not always about amount given,
but it is always about continuity of support

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The truth is that nothing remains static in the world in which we live. Even though torpedoes will always appear, no-one really knows what the future is going to bring and the accurate probability of specific predictions actually occurring. It is also true that people believe in all sorts of predictions because of deeply-rooted human aversion to uncertainty. However, instead of just sitting, waiting and consulting fortune cookies (another way in which aversion to uncertainty plays with us) about the probability of predictions to fail, we can start identifying the weakest parts of the overall social development in our company, community, sector or society and begin strengthening our resources and capacities to address problematic issues.

As Bobby Fischer, the great chess champion said: “Winning in this game is all a matter of understanding how to capitalize on the strengths of each piece and timing their moves just right.”

Achievement of positive social impact requires many pieces, takes time, knowledge, skills, persistence and resources. Many claim that amount of funds is crucial and therefore since they can’t give much they decide not to give at all. That is not true. Reality proves that networks, coalitions and platforms die all the time. Attention gets redirected to more urgent problems. Experts, practitioners and activists end up divorcing from the common dream. Leading stakeholders give-up. Humanity-oriented dreams fade and many of them never become positive social impacts.

Yet, many do, and one of the key ingredients for their success is continuity of support. If achievement of social impact requires at least 10+ years, then a very clear and strong sense of purpose has to be jointly developed, agreed and deeply rooted into the minds and hearts of those who are part of impact-making. Purpose-driven resilience encompasses a great amount of willingness to cooperate and to risk and an even greater amount of flexibility.

Those stakeholders who dare to embrace risk and uncertainty, who think that not knowing the future is actually good because it allows reengineering of current ways of work and therefore opens a whole new world of opportunities and possibilities (economists and investors know this best), should set continuity of their support as one of crucial strategic decisions that will help them to ’take the bull by the horns’ and make positive social impact that affects the quality of life of individuals, communities and society as a whole.

At the end of the day, good intentions and good Doings are very important, but only Social Impact that has a ripple effect and long lasting benefits will enable us to, as best we can, positively create and shape our future.

Is your corporation continuously (5+ years) supporting any social cause?

W!SE can help your company to set its corporate principles of support and define adequate giving channels, propose changes in governance structures and decision-making processes and assist your project teams in maintaining consistency and accuracy of collected data and tracking results.

April 3, 2019

10 Rules of Social Sustainability

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  1. It is is not about your business, it is about people and communities your business affects and depends on.
  2. It is not about amount of your support, it is about continuity of your support.
  3. It is not about short term fixes, it is about long term solutions.
  4. It is not about doing things alone, it is about partnership and collaboration.
  5. It is not about additional resources, it is about how you use resources you already have.
  6. It is not only about knowing and understanding, it is about caring.
  7. It is not about giving only, it is about meaningful giving.
  8. It is not about reducing business risks, it is about increasing quality of life.
  9. It is not about requirements and compliance, it is about values and trust.
  10. Everything starts and ends with people - caring about them is the essence of any business.

February 20, 2019

The Real Love Story – CSR or Social Sustainability?

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There are disagreements on what are the main differences between Corporate Social Sustainability (CSR) and Social Sustainability, and no doubt that this article will add few more to the list. However, I feel that explanation about variances deserves a bit different and livelier approach, which is the reason why I am going to tell you another story - the one I hope will stay with you regardless of/or thanks to its occasional exaggerations (every story has to have a bit of drama) and few generalization.

Please keep in mind that this story doesn’t focus on long term CSR activities - they exist and some of them are achieving great results but in the global sea full of different CSR programmes they are rather rare fish to be found.

CSR programmes make us feel good. Different programmes trigger different feelings. We give easily for their support but we as well withdraw easily. There is always an attraction in these programmes and we can even feel temporary care but in general we treat them as ‘light touch’ short term interventions. We rarely do any type of assessment of needs of those that are targeted by CSR programmes and we hardly ever observe their reactions and behaviour. Many say that CSR programmes are PR based initiatives, the one that serve either to make our perception of ourselves better or to create specific type of image in the public. In general CSR programmes have medium to low funding reliability.

Now, let us look at non-committed ‘love’ relationships. There are no obligations and exactly because of that they often make us feel good. Different people trigger different feelings. We are rather easy to temporary give part of our time and attention but since there is no commitment it is quite easy for us to leave. We rarely pay attention on emotional or any other needs of other person, we might sometimes do follow up but we definitely don’t make any long term plans. Whenever there is a need i.e. when we feel lonely or insecure or when we have to show up on some event, it is convenient to have ‘on call’ partner who might be there for us. These non-committed relationships have medium to low romantic reliability.

Different life stages and various reasons lead us to search for this type of programmes and relationship. If they are mutually agreed and accurately understood they can create many nice moments, even some memories. If it is not mutual arrangement i.e. if one party starts to wish, feel and expect a bit more then this whole story can cause some degree of confusion and disappointment.

And now let’s shift to Social Sustainability story – the one that calls for understanding of people’s needs and aspirations. It requires continuous engagement, understanding and care on what are the best ways to address those needs and hopes. Those who work on social sustainability signed up for long term commitment and support – financial, emotional and logistic. The main goal of these programmes is to improve quality of life and avoid/diminish hostile factors and negative internal and external impacts. ‘Being socially responsible today is the best investment for future’ is one of their core values.

Following this thread of thought every stable, happy and fulfilling love relationship is based on listening, understanding, almost selfless caring and supporting your loved one. You jointly set your long term relationship goals and even though you face many obstacles along the way you are working together to achieve better quality of life for you and who knows maybe one day your family as well. You signed up for unconditional giving and sharing and continuous financial, emotional and logistic support and care. Because being committed and responsible are some of your core values you are jointly investing your minds, hearts and resources in your family’s future.

As I said at the beginning, there are some exaggerations in this story but in general these are the main differences i.e. two ends of the spectrum between CSR and Social Sustainability programmes.

What happens on the spectrum is following:

  • some CSR programmes, due to shift in their strategic direction become beautiful, fruitful long term love stories. This is rather rare case but it happens.
  • sometimes it is not that people don’t want to move from CSR to social sustainability relationship, but their experiences and background haven’t given them the opportunity to understand depth and feel beauty of unconditional long term love. Hence, only short term CSR is in their radar and they think that is all to be experienced. Something like being stuck in the ‘young love’ and never really grow up to find and feel the real one.
  • some beautiful, originally imagined and perceived long term social sustainability/relationships end up divorced due to lack of continuity in attention, care and support. It happens.
  • even though it is always hard to go through it divorce can also come as a blessing and relief if on-going programmes/relationships are sustaining unhappiness, non-satisfaction and frustration.
  • some are going back and forth from short to long term programmes and never find a way to fully shift to social sustainability relationships due to fear from being disappointed and hurt again or due to their own insecurity.
  • some of those divorced either decide to quit with any type of giving programmes and become solitary hermits or they indulge themselves in numerous short term CSR initiatives and look at the future as at one continuous party – it might be tiring and meaningless but nevertheless it occasionally and conveniently feels good.

One would think that short term CSR programmes are not really good and relevant. One would be wrong. If we look at the life as a long learning process then CSR stories can hopefully teach us few important lessons about giving, sharing and supporting. After some trying, testing, failing and succeeding they could show us what is it that we really want to invest our hearts and resources.

Imagine wall with colourful pictures full of different, smiling but rather unknown people. Remembrance of some of them is still alive but majority completely vanished from your memory. That is CSR.

Now imagine beautiful album, several thick albums that are testaments of your family life – that is Social Sustainability.

What kind of social programmes your company supports?

February 1, 2019

Tick the box or really do good?

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During the last decade there has been increasing demand from international development organizations, investors, activists and final beneficiaries for public institutions, corporations and donors to provide transparent data on the social and environmental programmes and impact they have been implementing and achieving. As a response, renaissance like re-birth of terms such as iconic, catalytic and transformative (all in the service of describing impact) appeared in annual reports of different stakeholders, but surprisingly (or not?) in many cases stakeholders are actually not reporting about their or anyone else’s social impact or sustainable practices. Some of them refer to their well-defined (but not achieved) visions and missions, some to their annual KPIs, and some to their on-going CSR activities.

It could be that (being profit-oriented) corporates actually don’t have the relevant knowledge about issues related to social profit-making and how to achieve it (and maybe even benefit from it). It could be that they lack understanding and patience to wait for achievement of sustainable results and long-term social impact. Or it could be that they really want to achieve positive long-term social impact – but internally they lack expertise on, and experience of, How to do it.

Regardless of the reason, the reality is that many corporates do support social programmes.
Some give back to communities because it is a good feeling to give. These emotional, heart-related reasons for giving are good, but in reality no-one (besides their Boards of Directors) holds these organisations (charities or foundations) accountable for their work and their results. Regardless of the heart-warming initial intentions, if there is no accountability, there might not be long-term responsibility and continuity of support.

Others give through their CSR departments – many of which were established because it was a mandatory request by relevant authorities. There is no doubt that a significant number of CSR departments are doing a great job – but reality also shows that prevailing public opinion is that CSR programmes mirror:

- superficial knowledge about the issues of concern and equally superficial and short-term ways of addressing the problems.
- PR-based values that corporates expect to gain from CSR activities for their own branding/reputation.

Lastly, a significant number of corporates give because they have to. If they, for example, want to attract socially responsible investments, meet FTSE Index or RSPO requirements, or remain a publicly listed company (and meet Sustainability Reporting guidelines), they have to prove that they are taking into account and addressing economic, environmental and social risks of their business. Some are doing a really good job by incorporating sustainability principles as part of their core business. On the other hand, practice also shows many flaws i.e. reporting weakness on both sides; corporates who are rather poorly reporting (and most probably poorly performing); state institutions who are not much into adequately reviewing reports and monitoring the accuracy of what has been reported.

To which category does your organisation really belong at this time?
- Tick the Box and Look Good
- Really Do Long Term Good
- Both

In which category should it be in future?

W!SE can help your company in assessing and analysing your current socially oriented programmes, developing your socially sustainable long term goals and action plans, monitoring and evaluation of your results and achievments, building knowledge and capacity of your teams and helping you achieve meaningful and sustainable socially oriented results.

January 10, 2019

Doing vs Achieving

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Activities and annual results are relating only to what stakeholders are Doing, and the fact that their annual or multi-year projects were successfully implemented doesn’t mean by default they are achieving any positive social impact. Social impact is the Achieved long-lasting fundamental change in the quality of lives of the many – individuals, communities and society. Mixing Doing with Achievement (both in documents and in practice) is a trap that could prevent stakeholders from: 1) clearly understanding the complex and multidimensional nature of societal issues, 2) creating and/or supporting programmes that adequately solve social problems.

Those stakeholders who would like to go beyond addressing consequences and focusing on short to mid-term results, those who dare to think big and to face uncertain futures and are ready to give their best in achieving real social impact i.e. social sustainability - they should seriously: 1) reconsider their long term strategic directions, 2) put their decision-making and planning processes into wider multi-sectoral perspectives, 3) rethink use of their current and future resources needed for achievement of positive social impact.

Being on the giving side means both influence and responsibility and therefor giving stakeholders (all those who provide grants and support for implementation of socal developmental programmes and those who are making investments to achieve social and environmental goals, while at the same time earning financial returns) should have a better understanding of what exactly the Achievement of social impact (not just Doing) means, encompasses and requires in order to adequately address social problems.

Following is the example that shows difference between Doing and Achieving.

Goal to be achieved: Eradication of bribery and corruption in public and corporate affairs.
Systemic eradication of any business or society related ’malpractice’ requires implemention of various public policies. Development and adoption of any public-related policy can take years of Doing: 1) consultations with relevant stakeholders, 2) advocacy and lobbying initiatives, 3) building capacities of different stakeholders, 4) ensuring compliance with regulatory procedures, etc.

Even though adoption of the zero tolerance to bribery and corruption policy by relevant authorities is great result, that is still Doing – because in reality the policy itself means next to nothing if it is not adequately and fully implemented. Shift from Doing to Achived i.e. eradication of bribery and corruption in public and corporate affairs requires fundamental shift in the values and ethics of business conduct and demands cross-sectoral enforcement of the zero tolerance policy that has: 1) clearly-defined and implemented legal anti-bribery and corruption procedures, 2) a functional system of independent monitoring and evaluation, 3) institutionalized and unbiased implementation of sanctions that results in criminal penalties such as fines for both the organization and the individuals, imprisonment, etc.

The ripple effect of the positive social impact of the eradication of bribery and corruption could trigger other positive changes, such as: increased quality of products and service due to healthy competition (the best competitor wins, not the one who pays the best); less crime; increased foreign investment (due to increased trust in functioning of institutions), etc.

Is your corporation Doing or Achieving with charity/CSR/sustainable programmes?

W!SE works with your board members, management and project implementation teams in defining your strategic goals with regard to the social components of your sustainable performance, we provide you with technical support for implementation of your social sustainability programmes at HQ and field/partner level. W!SE will help you to shift from Doing to Achieved.

December 22, 2018

Quick fixes vs long term solutions

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When it comes to the type of activities that donors (CSR departments, foundations, charities) are supporting it seems that in majority of cases they are more focused on temporarily serving then on permanently solving. Research shows that only international and bilateral donors in many countries in South East Asia support advocacy/policy type of projects, which usually last longer and bring results later.

These findings could indicate that local and regional corporate donors are more interested in supporting quick fixes i.e. short term intervention and projects that show fast results, than providing support in coming up with long term solutions to complex problems. Given their corporate profile and obvious lack of knowledge and understanding of complexity of social issues and time needed for results to be achieved, local and regional corporate donors tend to expect to see improvements faster than is realistic.

This attitude could mirror their lack of understanding that just because they are maybe Doing more of quick fixes doesn't mean they are getting a lot more done i.e. getting closer to any solution. Expecting fast results can lead to unrealistic demands from donors to NGOs (or their other local implementing partners), ruin trust between these two parties, and end in giving up prematurely on supporting a solution (not service) that takes time to show results.

Another problem is that by investing funds in quick fixes donors discourage implementation of the fundamental long term solution and along the way decrease the amount of their available funds that could be used for solving problems.

Also, when faced with complex issues, instead of focusing on increasing the efficiency and searching for adequate solutions (which they would always do in their core business i.e. when wearing their profit making hat), donors tend to display a ‘diluting responsibility’ type of behaviour. This behaviour/approach is usually coupled with a shift of attention to promote their own successes, downplay their failures and have a competitive view of others in the landscape.
This behavior is not new and not unusual. We have it all, in our private and professional lives. However, we should try to change it and do better in both our life and business affairs.

Is your company more focused on supporting quick fixes or long-term solutions?

W!SE advises your company on how to set selection criteria for long term programmes and avoid short term fixes, it helps you define the types of cooperation with other stakeholders your need to develop and both traditional and non-traditional partners you could work with, and teaches your teams how to define and track short, medium and long term social impact indicators.

Contact information
Email: office@wise-a.com

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