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Corporate Social Responsibility in Kenya

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"Why do these companies keep giving us free goodies? They must be making lots of profit from us the consumers." This is a common question and self answer heard among Kenyans of different walks of life. One will usually hear the statements in pubs, public transport (matatus), social gatherings and tea joints among rural and urban people alike. It would be interesting to find out how many Kenyans out there understand the concept and intent of executing corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how best they can utilize CSR opportunities to augment their socioeconomic development. thought it necessary to publish this article to give Kenyans an insight into CSR to inform them and empower them to take advantage of CSR activities by various organizations in the country to enhance socioeconomic development. We will also provide a list of organizations with CSR activities in Kenya and the program areas they are involved in for ease of reference and planning to partner with such organizations.

CSR is a concept born of the premise that both for profit and not for profit organizations have various stakeholders whose different interests are affected one way or the other by an organization's goals, operations or the behaviour of its members. An organization's managers for instance are more concerned and interested in the size and growth of the organization, its profitability, job security, social status, power and prestige. Business owners on the other hand have profitability of the organization as their primary interest. No wonder in business, the profit is simply called "the bottom line". The community in which the organization operates will be interested in employment opportunities, increased economic activity, improved development and good environmental management.

Stakeholders in an organization include employees, providers of finance, government, community and environment, consumers of the organization's products and special interest organizations or groups. CSR demands that good corporate leadership and governance should therefore strive to maintain a balance between the organizational interests and those of stakeholders in order for the organization's business to be conducted in a profitable and sustainable manner. This requirement transcends across both for profit and not for profit organizations whether public or private.

A good example of abdication of CSR is the City Council of Nairobi, a public organization that has over many years continued to gravely pollute the environment through its unsuitable Dandora Refuse Dump Site and neglect to death of the Nairobi River. Cleaning the Nairobi River and translocation of the Dandora Site will cost Kenyans billions of shillings at the expense of other highly needed development. In the meantime, Kenyans living in the vicinity of the dumpsite and the environment in the city will have suffered irreparable damage due to long standing pollution. Even people as far way as Machakos and Kitui will be affected because they use water from the Athi River, into which the polluted Nairobi River empties. If the City Council of Nairobi had taken its CSR seriously, citizens and the environment would have been saved the pain and cost of pollution through gradual improvements of the Council's cleansing operations.

Examples of good practice of CSR in the country abound, more so with for profit corporations, pioneered by those affiliated to American, European and Japanese multinationals. Companies in Kenya have taken to CSR with gusto in the last about five years improving staff welfare and work environment, embracing transparency and accountability in their business transactions, ethically improving profitability, self regulation and implementing community development programs. However, it is the community component that is highly visible to most people and gives companies the much sought after enviable public image. Companies have been involved in various activities in sports, environment, health, education and training, the needy in society and even national leadership and governance.

CSR therefore is not just a goodwill gesture by organizations wanting to look good to the public in order to hike their profits. It is a prerequisite for good corporate leadership and governance as well as sustained operation and profitability. CSR is in fact a corporate competitive marketing strategy that ensures high organizational and product visibility thereby branding the business as an organization that cares about its consumers, the community it does business with and other stakeholders. That is why in many cases, an organization will prefer to sponsor a CSR activity with one of the company's products such as "Tusker Project Fame" or the "Dettol Heart Run".

Organizations require implementing partners for their CSR programs since the activities are often not within the company's core competence. Many organizations such as the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), Safaricom and the East African Breweries have formed foundations to help them implement their respective CSR programs. Not all organizations may have the resources to set up foundations and in any case, successful CSR programs essentially have to have community implementing partners. Communities should therefore form their own credible structures to partner with organizations in their implementation of CSR projects and programs. Such structures include non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community based organizations (CBOs), women, youth and self-help groups, special interest groups such as environmental, HIV/AIDS, town management committees and village development committees. Individuals could also form credible for profit CSR implementation organizations.

CSR activities are likely to be more effective both to the target beneficiaries and the initiating organization when carried out either as high impact projects, timed or open ended programs than when done as one off events. Some organizations just carry out one time or many uncoordinated high media profile events erroneously believing that the members of the public will remember the events, hold the organization in high esteem and increase their business transactions with the company. Unfortunately, such events are a waste of resources because their impact is like a grass fire- quick, short-lived and quickly forgotten. They neither effectively benefit the organization nor the targeted beneficiaries.

Programmatic CSR activities eventually cultivate loyal partners and a grateful clientele thereby developing a highly productive and sustainable relationship between the initiating organizations, partner donors both individual and corporate as well as beneficiaries in the community. Such a relationship should be the target of any organization with CSR programs. Good examples of such relationships are the Dettol Heart Run, Safaricom Marathon and the Rhino Charge where individual and corporate Kenyans as well as some foreigners book the activities in their diaries and set aside funds to participate.

International government aid to developing countries has a component of CSR. However, because of the cold war era tendency of developed country governments to use aid as a political weapon, most people in underdeveloped countries did not realize when international aid changed mainly from being a political weapon to CSR. Current international aid from developed country governments to underdeveloped countries has three main components namely CSR, humanitarian and political. That however, is a topic for another day.

In conclusion, CSR is not about free goodies. It is an effort by organizations to deploy their resources in a way that helps the organizations build a mutually productive and sustainable business relationship between them and the communities with which they do business. If well implemented, CSR is a win-win initiative for both the organization and the CSR beneficiaries.

Click on this link to view organizations with CSR in Kenya.

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