The essence of corporate social responsibility (CSR) came to the fore recently as experts gathered to discuss the subject at the 2018 Public Relations Forum/Corporate Social Responsibility Awards and Exhibition organised by AS+A Communications in Lagos.

The theme of the programme which was sponsored by Sterling Bank Plc was “The nexus between the public and private sector involvement in CSR.”

The theme highlighted the notion in public relations that encourages doing good and telling people about it. It also celebrated how forward-looking corporate bodies in Nigeria have fully embraced the idea that their relationship with their respective host communities is of utmost importance. Indeed, many businesses have, sometimes through the hard way, learned that they cannot be successful when the community around them is failing.

This explains why many of them are now assuming responsibilities which should ordinarily have been that of the government by providing pipe-borne water, electricity, roads, hospitals, schools and, in some cases, security for their host communities.

This show of good corporate citizenship that is gradually becoming the norm has been variously described as CSR, sustainable development, corporate accountability, creating shared value or social responsibility.

Henry David Thoreau, an American writer, captured the essence of CSR when he wrote that, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

According to a study conducted by market researchers Nielsen, the proportion of consumers willing to pay more for goods and services from companies engaged in CSR has increased to 50 percent globally.

The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility also found that 43 per cent of global respondents have spent more on products and services from companies that have implemented programmes to give back to society.

The figure represented just seven per cent fewer than those expressing willingness to do so and comes amidst signs of a rising trend of goodwill towards socially responsible brands.

Leading the discussion at the 2018 Public Relations Forum/Corporate Social Responsibility Awards and Exhibition was the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Sterling Bank Plc, Mr. Suleiman Abubakar.

According to him, the bank is making giant strides in CSR through its Sterling Environmental Makeover (STEM) campaign which has evolved into a movement seeking to keep the environment in communities across Nigeria clean, safe and secure.

He said the bank has committed more than N500 million to the STEM programme in the last five years, adding that this covers partnership with state agencies responsible for waste management and the national cleaning exercises across the country.

He observed that the programme also entails the planting of trees to discourage deforestation, remove carbon dioxide and enhance the environment, especially in the light of the impending reality of climate change and its impact on the environment.

The chief executive said the bank has also aligned its business model to offer financial and non-financial solutions to key areas of the economy which are at the heart of the bank.

The key areas which would drive investments by the bank are health, education, agriculture, renewable energy and transportation (H.E.A.R.T.).

Also speaking, the Chairman of Omolayole & Associates, Dr. Michael Omolayole, who chaired the event notes in his opening remarks that the topic is not only current but also as old as the hills.

He said the point to be emphasised is for corporate organisations to understand that they have definite responsibilities towards their many stakeholders.

The management guru lists the major group of stakeholders as shareholders, employees, customers/consumers, suppliers, transporters, government authorities/regulators, trade associations and communities in which the companies operate.

“It is a special responsibility for companies to give back something to those communities. It is a kind of ‘love your neighbour’ in action and this is the essence of corporate social responsibility in the private sector,” Omolayole said.

The chairman observes that on the other hand, the public sector is entirely set up to carry out actions devoted towards helping all the citizens that make up the nation, through governance procedures.

He said social responsibility was the main purpose of government and the public sector, adding that the public sector exists solely to serve the citizens and the society.

“There is something discretionary about the obligations of the private sector towards corporate social responsibility where it is absolutely compulsory in the public sector by laws and statutes. The conventional wisdom in approaching corporate social responsibility in both the private and public sectors is that every organisation must perform very well, its assignment under its mandate,” Omolayole said.

Also, Managing Director of AS+A Communications, Mrs. Adenike Shobajo, explained that the forum which has held over the years was intended for pioneers of CSR in Nigeria and in the Diaspora, various functionaries as well as other key players within the business sector as it has been for 17 years.

She said the focus has always been for attendance to come from federal, state and local governments, the National Assembly, ministries and parastatals, including public relations and corporate affairs managers, marketing communication experts, media practitioners, other professionals, NGOs, CBOs, the youth from tertiary institutions and the organised private sector from the real sector of the economy.

Others are the airline industry and bilateral chambers and high net worth individuals who have positively impacted the society in areas of education, health, tourism, urban and rural development, poverty alleviation and economic empowerment, human development, sports promotion, human disaster relief and others interested in corporate social responsibility.

Former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi said CSR is what is expected from a good corporate citizen, adding that if one is a citizen of any nation, he was expected to contribute to make it work.

According to him, the reverse was the case in Nigeria because majority of the citizens always commend a government that is not doing well rather than drawing attention to areas of needs in a constructive manner.

“As a citizen, the more you can contribute to the economy, the better it will be for all. But unfortunately, in the country, the citizens hardly say the truth.

“You can hardly see a citizen telling a governor, for instance, that you are not well. I am urging all of us to be involved in the governance of the country so that we can have better economy.”

Shobajo said as a public relations firm, AS+A aims to work with organisations to build sustainable relationships between themselves and their stakeholders through various programmes and other focused vehicles, using a deployment of interdisciplinary teams of seasoned public relations and other associated professionals to render an embraced, efficient and satisfactory packaging of the complete needs of their clients.

“We commend Sterling Bank’s corporate social responsibility initiatives and we enjoin other corporate bodies to emulate this for the overall improvement of the Nigerian economy on a sustainable basis.”