Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives have become an increasingly prevalent – and important – element of incentive programs. CSR plays an integral role in driving employee engagement and building a thriving corporate culture, and has therefore become a critical part of the engagement strategy of organizations.
While CSR has become formalized as an organizational approach to giving back, the actual action of giving back can be very powerful, authentic and transformative for employees. Three SITE leaders from around the world share from experience on how CSR can truly make a difference to incentive travel participants and the communities they visit.
Daryl Keywood, CIS, Managing Director, Walthers DBS, South Africa and member of the SITE International Board of Directors
Two statements immediately stand out in an interview Daryl Keywood. “I’ve long believed that it’s so important to expose visitors to the people in a host community. The destination may be beautiful, but when they connect with the people they leave with an experience that was truly memorable.”
“CSR feels like second nature to us, in part because we have so many needy people on our doorstep.”
You can see both of these on full display in Walthers’ work with incentive groups visiting South Africa. One of the company’s programs – a past SITE Crystal Award winner – saw his team pull together suppliers from remote and disadvantaged areas to create a gala evening. “Everyone was dressed up in locally made clothing.” What made this particular program so interesting is that it wasn’t simply providing money or time to a community, but an investment in local business. “The order for 800 garments enabled local people to buy an industrial sewing machine – and start a business.”
CSR that continues to resound with communities is a hallmark of Daryl’s teams. “In my view, CSR is ideally something you create to start something – as an incubator to a real sustainable benefit down the road.” To that end, Walthers helped a group complete a multi-year project near Kruger National Park that saw the organization build a school. “We were on safari with a client when they asked us what was beyond the reserve.” What was beyond was a village with a population of more than 10,000. An English-speaking school in the village received no government funding and had fallen into disrepair. The group came every year for seven years, physically building six new classrooms, a computer center and an administrative space. “I think when you bring people together and they interact – for the incentive travel participant, that’s much more impactful than a gala night and a fancy dinner.”
“We’re becoming more adept in our world – a world that contains both five star lodges and abject poverty. Our company’s commitment is to do something to change the status quo.”
Annamaria Ruffini, CIS, CMP, SITE President 2018 and CEO, Events In & Out srl., Rome, Italy
“I’m very fond of the environment because I’m from Florence,” begins Annamaria. This passion to make a difference in the world has been a driving force throughout her career. In 2009, she published the Italian Book “Ecoeventi” to help others in the industry understand simple, effective approaches to responsible and sustainable tourism practices.
Lately, it feels like an entire youth movement has joined Annamaria in her passion. After the 2008 economic crisis in Europe, she saw a dip in commitment to CSR causes. Over the past two years, that’s changed. “There are some companies managed by young people where you don’t need to ask them to be philanthropic. They just know they have to give back to the community and to the environment.” Take awards dinners for example. Organic food from a local producer isn’t a difficult sell to Millennials planning programs. “They understand that it’s good food and that it gives jobs to local people. They get it immediately.”
Asked about a favorite example of CSR in action, she cites one company’s response to the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquakes as proof of what is possible. “One company was asking about a teambuilding program. We suggested that they work together to build furniture for a kindergarten classroom in the region.” The company liked the idea so much that they found a sponsor to not only build, but to buy the furniture. When Annamaria suggested they could use the initiative in company advertising, the group declined. “They didn’t want to use this as a piece of marketing. It was simply doing something good.”
She believes that “something good” is the way of the future for organizations as more socially conscious employees take the reigns of organizations. “We will see lots of change in the next ten years – not because of governments, but because of the younger generation’s commitment to CSR.”
Geraldine Gatehouse, Independent Planner and Past President, SITE Southern California Chapter
When Geraldine started creating programs with CSR components, the words “Corporate Social Responsibility” didn’t exist. “Your team could build a boat or build a bike – but there was no ‘giving back.’”
For Geraldine, that changed with a 2004 program in Hawaii. With no playbook on entering a community to help, she essentially created one. “There was nothing out there for giving back. I researched and found some organizations we could go to.”
The new concept met some initial resistance, “We took 250 participants from a 5-Star Hotel and said ‘here’s your ponchos and your gloves – you’re going to be weeding and digging and painting. Some people didn’t seem happy.” But things changed by the end of the day – the people had been transformed. “We started to hear – ‘we could have done so much more’ and ‘if only we could have skipped lunch.’ At dinner, someone came up to me, shook my hand and said this is life changing.” The next day, even the hotel staff wanted a word. “Bellboys came up to me in the lobby and said ‘we heard what you did for our community and we wanted to say ‘thank you.’” She still gets goosebumps from that last one.
The experiences – and so many more opportunities since then – left her with a distinct impression of the importance of CSR. “People don’t know the gift they give to employees when they give back – they don’t know how life changing it actually is,” she explains illustrating her point with tales of employees helping at a Jamaican orphanage and building a school in Costa Rica. Having that type of impact shows employees the power they can have to change the world.
“Regardless of how much you give – you never give as much as you get back. You’ve created something that would not have happened if you had not taken the time.”