The latest roundtable organised by Nest, discussed social impact and our responsibility to make a positive difference towards social, environmental, and equality issues. One of the key questions was “How to turn the Sustainable Development Goals into practical and measurable Impact”?
The discussion began by debating how to engage companies to add CSR initiatives into their existing business models. What became apparent throughout the discussion was that despite the government's efforts in creating mandates, businesses don’t have any incentive to implement them themselves. There are no unified social capital measurement, and best practises of effectively making an impact are still fairly inconsistent. There’s also a worry that should the initiatives backfire, the stigma attached to companies who are accused of “greenwashing” - or “Impact-washing” can be detrimental. Some of the attendees suggested creating a global framework and reporting standard to indicate commitment vs. greenwashing, to incentivise companies to do more and increase transparency.
As the participants delved into the subject deeper, a difference in opinion on the meaning of social impact became apparent. Social impact to NGOs means to make a difference immediately and for future generations. Corporations see it as a way to develop a more sustainable business model and support positive marketing. The difference in meaning between the two parties is a significant obstacle for collaborative work.
The struggles organisations are facing when it comes to CSR initiatives
Social impact is still a fairly recent concept, especially in Hong Kong and one of the main challenges surrounding CSR initiatives is the lack of clarity and knowledge within organisations of the value and impact it can have on business. There is no one set method guaranteed for success and the options can seem overwhelming for companies to comprehend.
As discussed above, since Social Impact means something different to each party, it is paramount that we empower NGO’s, Corporates, and other stakeholders to understand each other’s perspective. NGOs are passionate about the cause they are working towards and need others to empathise with it on reciprocal terms. Likewise, NGOs need to understand the companies standpoint and learn how to communicate with them. Attendees believe this is a large communication issue because NGOs and corporates speak different languages. Though each party’s incentives are different, if they support each other’s work, they will be able to make a larger impact on their common SDG goals.
The roundtable also highlighted the need for Universities to share their knowledge and research with companies and NGO’s. External parties may participate in the research but the findings are often not accessible or siloed.
The change in mindsets depending on country or culture is also a challenge, as discussed, some countries e.g. the UK, have more structured parameters when it comes to KPIs surrounding CSR initiatives. They are incentivised to do so, in comparison to HK who is still lagging behind.
The roundtable concluded that the need for collaboration between NGO’s and corporates is a must for CSR initiatives to succeed. For the time being one of the biggest hurdles is the lack of clarity for corporates on business impact, and the difficulties surrounding communication between NGO’s and large businesses.
- Need for collaboration and support for companies working with NGO’s, social enterprises, or those creating a more sustainable business
- Creating a more understandable language across all sectors
- Recognising skill sets among different parties and learning to leverage each skill set at the right time.
- A need for holistic impact reporting and authentifying processes for businesses
What can we do in HK?