Experts in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility have described community engagement as the continuing commitment by businesses to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large. It is also generally inferred that CSR is about giving back to the society.
Corporate Social Responsibility is therefore viewed as an obligation by an organization to its host community. It is the bedrock of the business-society relationship and helps the organization to define and execute its obligations to the community.
Some critics have argued that the practice of CSR by some organisations is one that primarily seeks to promote the interests of the business rather than their host communities. In such cases, the practice of CSR is viewed as a public relations gimmick. However, there are some organizations that sincerely put into consideration the developmental needs of the communities in which they operate and have taken concrete steps to address those needs. Such organizations go beyond the primary objective of making profits for their shareholders to build capacity for sustainable livelihoods in the communities. They respect cultural differences and find business opportunities in building the skills of employees and that of their host communities. For such organizations, addressing the developmental challenges of their host communities is equivalent to sustainable business.
One outstanding example of such an organization is Guinness Nigeria. Guinness Nigeria is part of a global brand that takes an active, responsible interest in individuals and communities at any level wherever it operates. The company believes it has a duty to contribute to the communities in which it does business in Nigeria.
Diageo, Guinness Nigeria’s parent company, recently released its sustainability and responsibility targets for 2020 which succinctly lay out the company’s plans for tackling issues in three key areas – leading the alcohol in society discourse, building thriving communities and reducing environmental impact. In its statement to announce the 2020 targets, the company said: “At Diageo we believe celebrating life, every day, everywhere means to make the most of life – to be the best you can be at work, at home, with friends, in the community, and for the community. We want our people to progress and fulfil their potential and our company to be a leader, to always make a positive contribution to society, to create shared value, wherever we work.”
In Nigeria, the development projects the company has embarked upon in Oregbeni, the host community for its Benin brewery in Edo State, typifies this approach.
Over the years, the company has shown its commitment to community development by consistently attending a monthly all-parties meeting, held to discuss critical issues aimed at strengthening existing relationships and the developmental challenges facing the community. It was through this meeting and further consultations that key areas of need and intervention for the Oregbeni community development were highlighted.
Top on the priority of the list of interventions was the construction of three major roads for the community. The roads are Igiesota, Ighodalo and Iyoha roads. Igiesota and Ighodalo roads have both been constructed with side drains and walkways. Phase one of Iyoha, which is the longest road among the three, has been completed and was commissioned by Governor Adams Oshiomhole on 14th November, 2013. The governor was so pleased with the quality of the construction work carried out on the road that he enthusiastically decided to rename it Guinness Way. Plans to commence the second phase of the construction work on the road are underway.
Beyond roads, another pillar of Guinness Nigeria’s CSR thrust is education. The company believes that education plays a vital role within a country’s sustainable development agenda and, as such, has over the years been working with the community to highlight key areas of intervention – from the renovation of the only primary school in the community to providing scholarships to Oregbeni indigenes.
The importance of foundational education was well captured by the renowned America educational philosopher, Richard M. Hutchins, who said: “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” This is what makes the example of the primary school of particular interest because before the renovation, the school was bedevilled by a barrage of problems ranging from bad roofs, defaced walls to broken windows and doors and lacked basic amenities such as toilet facilities and perimeter fencing. The company embraced the renovation effort, changing the entire roofs of the school, painting the entire school buildings, fencing the school compound for security, replacing broken doors and windows and providing toilet facilities for both staff and pupils of the school. In addition, the organization provided an overhead tank for water supply and donated textbooks and notebooks to the school.
Critical to the success of any community initiative is the commitment and ownership of said initiative by indigenes. Guinness Nigeria ensured this by awarding the contract for the renovation to the indigenes after following due process of bidding for the project, thereby providing employment for a significant number of residents.
From 2007 till date, Guinness has had an ongoing scholarship scheme which gives indigenes of Oregbeni community an opportunity to study at various tertiary institutions in the country. Many students from the community are still receiving critical life skills via the Guinness Ex-Scholars Excellence Programme (GEEP), which was set up by the company to further provide an avenue for the scholars to further arm themselves with the capabilities to survive in the modern working environment.
Beyond education, Guinness Nigeria and Diageo have a commitment to “reduce water use through a 50 percent improvement in water use efficiency as well as return 100 percent of waste water from our operations to the environment safely”. In the Nigerian environment, the company’s ‘Water of Life’ scheme has provided water to over 1 million Nigerians across the six geopolitical zones. In Oregbeni community, the company installed a water treatment plant in 2007 consisting of two giant reservoirs with standby 20 KVA generator to complement public power supply. Guinness also supplies diesel every month with backup services and has provided a paid operator to ensure constant water supply to the community.
The relationship between Guinness and the community appears to be the poster child for community-business relations especially when you consider other interventions like giving indigenes the right of first refusal to bid and qualify for the implementation of community-related projects, like the expansion of its packaging line in its Benin brewery as well as employment of skilled indigenes into various roles within the company.
For Guinness Nigeria, the interests of its host communities are at the very heart of its operations and the blueprint of operations within the Oregbeni community can be seen in other host communities where the company has a base right across the country. Indeed, for Guinness Nigeria, the recognition that a healthy and satisfied society is the key to sustainable business has propelled it to continue to give its best to its host community, an action that should be adopted by other organizations.