Emerging economies

How social investment projects started making sense for big companies

Carol A Adams, Durham University; Brad Potter, University of Melbourne, and Jodi York, University of Melbourne

Companies are cottoning on to the idea that social investment projects can be good for business even if they don’t show up in the balance sheet. There has been a shift in corporate thinking about how value is created. The evidence increasingly shows that more meaningful social investment projects are being envisaged and put in place.

If you have worked for a big company, you might be familiar with the old style of corporate social investments. They might include small community projects and volunteering days for employees. These barely make a dent in profit and loss accounts and have been seen for the peripheral, feel-good fluff that they are – great for boosting staff morale but perhaps not much else.

We have looked at the experience at companies such as Heineken, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the National Australia Bank (NAB), one of the world’s top 50 banks. And they have started to see social investment linked to their operations as a genuine value creator. They don’t yet have the comprehensive data to prove it, but they all say they believe it improves reputation, attracts customers and employers, and builds trust and resilience to see them through difficult times. In other words, it has a value.

Sticking their neck out?
Glauber Ramos/Flickr, CC BY-NC

A new era

It has been a notable change that social investment initiatives have been detailed in these companies’ annual reports in a way which explicitly links them to increased corporate value.

Unilever’s Shakti direct-to-consumer distribution scheme, for example, recruits Indian female micro entrepreneurs. Local distribution programmes such as this add €80m in incremental turnover for the company, while providing a livelihood for people who may not otherwise find work. Its Hygiene Education Programme in Vietnamese schools contributed to volume growth in the Vietnamese market. Linking Unilever Brands with social investment programmes has been part of their growth strategy.

The GSK Access to Medicines programme, meanwhile, flexibly prices drugs for different markets and benefits the developing world, where drug affordability is a key issue. At the same time, it allows GSK to achieve one of its strategic priorities, moving away from reliance on the “white pill and Western markets” model. GSK acknowledges that “fulfilling social responsibilities” is part of being a successful and sustainable business. While there are obvious difficulties in putting an exact financial value on this, the simple acknowledgement of its value is an important step.

Affordability: a pharmacy in Eritrea.
Barbara Durand/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Heineken’s impact in African communities is largely mediated through their suppliers and distributors, so they have set a target to expand local sourcing of raw materials in Africa and have implemented farm training affecting 30,000 African households. This increases the reliability of supply and reduces transport costs.

Australian bank NAB claims that its Fair Value Agenda makes banking fairer, simpler and more affordable by relieving financial hardship and debt collection. Responsible lending is seen as a source of competitive advantage; a way to distinguish the bank from other large institutions. It helps the bank deliver on a strategic priority of enhancing NAB’s reputation.

Companies are also realising the importance of partnerships in social investment activities. NAB’s community finance store, Good Money, was set up in partnership with the Victorian government and Good Shepherd Microfinance. It offers financial counselling and access to cheap, small loans to people on low incomes.

Melbourne: home of NAB.
Photo by Jack Adams @jadams_adventures, Author provided

Change in thinking

Key to these changes in the approach to social investment is a shift in corporate reporting which has pushed companies to rethink what drives value creation – and indeed what value creation is. The balance sheet conveys only part of a company’s value, and investors are seeking information on activities which contribute to forms of value which are not easily translated into monetary terms from one quarter to the next.

Unilever and NAB have followed guidelines in integrated reporting led by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and supported by professional accounting bodies around the world. Any company that wants to be able to say it complies with the International Integrated Reporting Framework must report how they create value in broad terms and think about their business model and strategy in terms of multiple ideas of capital. That means incorporating human capital, natural capital, social and relationship capital, and intellectual capital, as well as thinking about money flows and profit accumulation.

It is catching on. Heineken and GSK have not been directly involved in the IIRC’s work, yet over the period of development of the Framework, their reporting has changed significantly to adopt many of its features. The influence of reporting on aligning social investment strategy with business strategy should be welcome news for firms seeking to change but lacking the capacity or know-how for disruptive transformation.

Our study examined various types of reports published by these four companies over the period of development of the Framework and saw a small, but noticeable shift. Social investment by companies is moving away from its previous role as a philanthropic act, outside of strategy, which is leveraged for marketing benefit after the fact. Increasingly, it now sits inside strategic decision making and, as with NAB’s community finance store, partners are brought in to make the delivery more targeted and effective.

The companies at the forefront of this are integrating social investment with business strategy, actively seeking to demonstrate that their social investments are purposeful, accountable, respectful, ethical, and contribute to long-term business success. Social investment is featuring in the overall value creation story woven through their reports. It is important to note that this is generally not audited and concern remains that reporting may be prone to exaggeration. But it is no longer being pasted in as an afterthought, unconnected to success on the bottom line.

The Conversation

Carol A Adams, Professor of Accounting, Durham University; Brad Potter, Asssociate Professor, University of Melbourne, and Jodi York, Research Fellow, Social Investment, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Weekly Roundup- Cyber Security, Snaps Spectacles, Artificial Intelligence, Chinese Yuan

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”   ― John Locke

chess-1214226_1920

Pixabay

Cyber Security and Self driving cars

Karamba Security, a cyber security startup based in Hod Hasharon, Israel, raises $2.5 million to keep self-driving cars safe from hackers. (Source Techcrunch)

-Who hacked Yahoo?Apparently, it was an Eastern European gang (Source Fortune) See also the main lesson to be learnt from the Yahoo breach ( Financial Times)

Artificial Intelligence

-The world’s largest technology companies; Amazon, DeepMind/Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft, are collaborating to see the way forward for the future of Artificial Intelligence. The five tech titans, have joined forces to create a non-profit organization with an aim to advance the ‘public understanding of artificial intelligence technologies’ (AI) and to ‘ formulate best practices on the challenges and opportunities within the field’. (Source  Partnership on AI)

Snapchat Spectacles

-The cool Snap’s spectacles! Snapchat (renamed Snaps Inc.) recently released it’s first pair of sunglasses which record videos in 10-seconds. Isn’t that cool? According to Recode, the man behind Spectacles, Snapchat’s new smart sunglasses is Steve Horowitz, a former software engineer for Google’s Android platform.

-So why would users choose a pair of video sunglasses over traditional smartphones to take snaps? In a Wall Street Journal article, Evan Spiegel, CEO  Snap Inc responded by saying that the images are fundamentally different compared to those taken via a typical smartphone. He added that “Spectacles’ camera uses a 115-degree-angle lens, wider than a typical smartphone’s and much closer to the eyes’ natural field of view. The video it records is circular, more like human vision.” (Read more  at WSJ)

-How do the Snapchat Spectacles work?  According to the company, it has created the smallest wireless video cameras in the world, which are integrated into a pair of sunglasses and can take up to a day’s worth of Snaps on a single charge. It gets better, it’s available in 3 different colors!- BLACK, TEAL, AND CORAL!  (Find out how Snapchat’s Spectacles will work on the Verge)

Global Trade and Employment- Trade Policy in the EU

-More Wealth, More Jobs, but Not for Everyone- What’s going on?  Did the economists fail to ‘anticipate the accompanying joblessness’? And are governments just watching and doing nothing about it?  “… More global trade is a good thing if we get a piece of the cake…But that’s the problem. We’re not getting our piece of the cake….”  ( More at New York Times)

China’s Yuan- Renminbi 

-China’s ambition to ensure the yuan ‘enters the International Monetary Fund’s basket of reserve currencies’ has finally become a success. As from October 1, the IMF will make effective the new SDR basket which will also include the Chinese renminbi in addition to the current SDR basket currencies, which are the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and pound sterling. (Source-IMF)   But is it there yet? (Read more at Bloomberg)

Fake Bank Accounts at Wells Fargo 

-Apparently, the fake bank accounts at Wells Fargo began more than  5 years ago. In fact according to sources, the shocking fraudulent activities existed before 2011. Why didn’t anyone do something about it then? ( Read more at CNN Money)