Putting it in Perspective: Corporate Social Responsibility and Refugees

Posted by Jenny Fernandez on Wed, Sep 07, 2011 at 13:14 pm

 As a business student, I have taken several classes on the expansion of global commerce culture and the ways corporations are adapting to fit new modes of doing business. My favorite class so far, Global Corporate Citizenship, explores corporations’ responsibility to the communities they affect through legal, social, and economic channels. I believe that HIAS and other humanitarian groups can work with the business world’s commitment to corporate social responsibility in order to help refugees and displaced persons worldwide.

Corporate social responsibility is the avenue through which businesses take responsibility for the company’s actions and work to positively impact the environment and the communities that are affected by corporate processes. In many cases, corporations get involved with their local communities to build educational, leadership, and business opportunities. However, in today’s increasingly globalized world, companies are continuously expanding both their business interests and social responsibility programs to developing nations. There are three main channels through which companies develop their corporate responsibility programs.

On one end of the spectrum, companies may create grant programs or give donations to institute projects associated with the company’s sector or products. This gives companies a chance to help individuals or organizations develop innovative ideas that can be brought to people the company does not usually have access to. For example, Oracle Corporation has a Commitment Grant program. This provides groups and organizations with funds necessary to implement projects in math, science, technology education, or the environment, all areas that are important to Oracle Corporation’s corporate ideology.

Another avenue through which companies evolve their corporate social responsibility is through in-kind donations. In-kind donations allow the company to bring their own products or technology to people in need. In-kind donations, like environmentally efficient technologies or toy donations to underprivileged children, can be especially beneficial to those who usually do not have access to such products. For example, Warner Brother’s Encore program donates extra set materials, including furniture and clothing, to non-profit organizations in the Los Angeles area. This program allows people with lower incomes to furnish their homes safely and inexpensively.

At the other end of the spectrum are corporations who look to partner with non-profit organizations or humanitarian groups to create and implement projects that fulfill both partners’ organizational goals. Currently, many partnership programs are short-term projects that focus on disaster-relief. For example, Cisco Systems has partnered with Community Voice Mail (CVM), an organization that aids people in crisis situation by distributing free, personalized voicemail access that helps them connect with jobs, housing, and childcare opportunities. Additionally, people in crisis situations also use this service for help with domestic abuse cases and to keep in contact with family members in other countries. Cisco has provided professional expertise and technological research and support to extend the capacity and impact of CVM.

Since I have been interning for a non-profit organization, I have been interested in and inspired by the extraordinary humanitarian work HIAS does, much of it with the help and commitment of generous individual donations and government grants. However, I believe that humanitarian organizations like HIAS can help further develop the effect corporate social responsibility has on the world. Though short-term partnerships between corporations and non-profits exist, long-term projects can bring relief to people in need in the forms of small business investments, economically and environmentally conscious technologies, and safer living conditions. Although victims of natural disasters will continue to need aid and support, refugees and internally-displaced people face some of the most protracted humanitarian situations. Humanitarian agencies like HIAS can engage corporations in projects in refugee camps and resettlement opportunities. I believe that humanitarian agencies can and should work with any and all partners who are striving to make the world a better place, including those corporations who are taking on a greater share of the global social responsibility burden.

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