CSR for SMEs: Small businesses making a big difference
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often seen as the preserve of large enterprises. From the outside, the CSR practices of large business often appear to be thinly veiled attempts to bolster brand image and resonate with their key demographics. However, CSR doesn’t have to be a cynical affair – or exclusive to enterprises.
Those who view CSR negatively should consider whether it’s better for companies to give with personal gain in mind, or not give at all. While businesses’ images absolutely benefit from effective CSR, this is rarely immediately reflected in their bottom lines. Jaded consumers are typically unswayed by one-off demonstrations of “altruism”. Over time, however, companies which prove themselves to be ethical, environmentally friendly or socially supportive, enjoy greater longevity and brand loyalty. Businesses which do not take causes seriously, or which hope to gain from “flash in the pan” shows of charity, rarely see meaningful gains from their CSR campaigns.
The benefits of ongoing, committed CSR practices are increasingly apparent to smaller businesses, too. The beauty of charitable or socially-minded programmes is that they are incredibly scalable and versatile. Businesses of all sizes can offset the more negative effects of their daily operations in a manner which is meaningful to them – and manageable for them. Just as long term CSR projects can earn large enterprises a positive reputation (while achieving positive outcomes for charities and communities), smaller businesses can also benefit from this “win-win” situation.
CSR Case Study: Fruitful Office
To illustrate the positive impacts of CSR in a SME (Small-to-Medium sized Enterprise), we’ve stepped into the world of Fruitful Office; an office fruit delivery company, currently running a successful programme Planting Fruit Trees in Africa.
For every fruit basket sold, the company has planted one fruit tree in Malawi. This location and this project were chosen for their productivity and potential benefits. Fruit trees grow quickly in this region, maturing in 3-5 years and producing reliably abundant harvests of fruit such as guava and papaya.
Working in association with RIPPLE Africa (a UK charity focussed on projects which engage local communities in Malawi), Fruitful Office provided seedlings, instructions and training for householders, schools, community groups and farmers. In some cases, equipment was provided, empowering Malawians to grow productive trees which would help generate sustenance and potential income.
Extending the project
In 2016, Fruitful Office took its CSR project further, working to combat deforestation in Muzuzu by planting fast-growing guava, papaya and senna siamea trees (the latter is an excellent source of firewood). The project was shaped by local government forestry staff – and through consultation with the local community. By working with communities directly, the fruit delivery business has been able to develop initiatives which generate real benefits, matching the needs of local people and dovetailing neatly with the company’s offering.
With customers in Europe and the UK becoming ever more environmentally responsible (especially in the wake of global movements such as the Extinction Rebellion), companies which use natural produce stand to win custom if they can negate their use of natural resources – and evidence this. Planting fruit trees to both support Malawian communities and reduce the effects of deforestation neatly demonstrates this SME’s understanding of shrewd CSR which simultaneously benefits society and supports business growth.