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6 steps to enable individual social responsibility inside your organisation

Author Aniisu Verghese describes how your company can support the corporate social responsibility (CSR) interests of the individual employee, in ways that work for both the organisation and its communities.


Tanya works as an administrative officer for a large real-estate firm with global operations. Her company has made corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments for the environment and sustainable practices in line with their business objectives.

As a real-estate firm developing properties means that they need to cut trees and make way for large projects in the city. Therefore, the company decided to make afforestation a priority. Tanya is passionate about educating less fortunate children in her neighborhood and spends time every week at an orphanage engaging your people. Over the years she has observed that the school lacks funds for basic infrastructure and even though she has asked her circle of friends it never adds up to much. She is in a dilemma knowing her organisation won’t be supportive since the focus areas and priorities are different.

Supporting Personal Passion

Every organisation running CSR initiatives are expected to focus on core areas of interest aligned with their business goals. This often leaves employees who contribute their energies on other pursuits feel unrepresented. Yes, employees need to follow their heart with initiatives that matter to them.  What if organisations can pitch in with support for people like Tanya who contribute through ‘individual social responsibility’?

Individual social responsibility can be defined as prosocial actions to do good for society by people in their personal capacities. It can range from helping elders in an old age home, creating learning material for schools, teaching young adults life skills among others. Often these individuals form a collective and do more together or continue their good work in their own little way. Key elements of such engagements are personal accountability, stakeholder relationships, passion to improve society and ability to spot opportunities. The issues of scale and funds are some of the constraints that hinder better and sustained impact.

If you are leading or shaping your organisation’s CSR policies there is immense value in making your plans more inclusive. It is in your organisation’s best interest to tap the power of employee volunteering. Such acts spread positivity among other employees and for others outside the firm. Research studies also indicate that employees who volunteer their time are more engaged at work and give them meaning and a purpose in life.

Here are 6 steps to help you make your process open and fair while helping leaders make appropriate decisions.

Gauge the interest within: Your volunteering surveys and informal conversations can give you insights on where and how your employees currently give back their time for CSR.  If you haven’t yet run a survey consider asking questions about their current engagement, how much time they devote, what skills they offer and why they volunteer with those specific institutions.  Have there been requests from employees to support causes they participate in? If you see a lot of interest your organization is probably ready for ‘individual social responsibility’ championing.

Define your approach:
It can be confusing and unmanageable if organisations receive a flood of requests for support. Some organisations allocate a certain portion of funds for such initiatives while others try to blend it within their overall CSR framework. However, to ensure there is consistency and transparency, organizations need to define a clear approach and process to enable such opportunities to be surfaced. Very often employees want organisations to be aware of what they do and be heard. They may not even need funds – just encouraging words can go a long way.

Outline a clear process:  Explain why your organisation is willing and open to supporting employees with their causes. Earmark a certain portion of funds which we can invest in say the top 5 initiatives which employees can bring to the table.  Even by getting all initiatives tabled they get the spotlight and attention they deserve – which is motivating for employees. Announce officially the commitment for individual social responsibility and that the organisation will evaluate and decide which ones to go with in a fair and open process.

Spell out the criteria: Keep it simple so that employees don’t feel overwhelmed by the process. Here are some steps:

  • Employees to present their proposals as projects to the CSR committee
  • Employees need to be involved directly and lead the initiatives they propose
  • Employees need to work with the internal teams to conduct due diligence (e.g. financial review of NGOs, provide references of companies who are currently engaging with the entities, formal request for support from the institutions themselves)
  • They need to commit to a minimum of 6-8 months of continuous involvement
  • Must have a succession plan in which they nominate employees who can carry on the good work
  • The project must highlight the long term view and the impact it creates (people it will reach/impact, the value etc)
  • The project must have ways to scale up or improve other similar initiatives (school curriculum development for example can be extended to other schools who have needs)
  • Employees need to report the progress and impact periodically

Enable the initiatives:  To ensure these initiatives are successful your internal systems and processes need to be in place and flexible. Can employees get access to funds in a simple, transparent manner? Can they expense claims based on actual bills? Are the key stakeholders involved in improving the process? Provide easy to use templates for employees to bring proposals to the table. Participate and understand what the projects aim to deliver. Make visits to the places the funds will reach. Remember to recognise great work.

Consider the issues: While opening up on individual social responsibility don’t take your eyes off the core CSR focus areas. Consider the bandwidth of your CSR committee and how much time they can spare. Be sure of how many and to what extend you can support initiatives. Sometimes, the initiatives can bloom into a very large engagement. Have a plan to review the engagement and also step back if it isn’t adding value to employees and the communities you support.

Overall, there is immense value in engaging your employees and supporting their interests in ways that work for both the organisation and the communities. Having a clear and simple process and strategy can improve your chances of succeeding in your pursuit of promoting ‘individual social responsibility’.


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