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Back to Basics for CSR

7 May 2014 at 11:24 am
Staff Reporter
It’s important to see past the trends of the moment and instead look to the fundamentals to run effective Corporate Social Responsibility programs, writes IKEA Sustainability Manager Richard Wilson.

Staff Reporter | 7 May 2014 at 11:24 am


Back to Basics for CSR
7 May 2014 at 11:24 am

It’s important to see past the trends of the moment and instead look to the fundamentals to run effective Corporate Social Responsibility programs, writes IKEA Sustainability Manager Richard Wilson.

In all things, it’s important to get the basics right first.

In CSR, do this really well and it forms a solid foundation – not only create buy-in and support, but also to tackle the harder more complex social responsibility goals like shared value.

Too often the basics are seen as mundane and are often glossed over in favour of chasing the latest on-trend buzz. In IKEA’s case, our corporate culture and market positioning emphasises the dynamism and vitality one might associate with the buzz of the moment. Yet we have also worked really hard to secure the basics – the form, function, and quality – if you like, which has been the foundation of our people and communities agenda over the past three years here in Australia.

The result has been the development of a robust workplace giving program, unique to IKEA globally.

In 2010, eight per cent of our co-workers were regularly supporting iCare – our workplace giving program – through deductions in their fortnightly pay – today we have reached 31 per cent participation and still growing.

IKEA believes that the home is the most important place in the world, and that children are the most important people in the world. From this belief comes our commitment to making a difference to the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

Globally we already have established partnerships with – UNICEF, Save the Children and UNHCR, and more recently on a national level with HeartKids Australia.

While we work with these organisations in variety of ways and many more local Not for Profit organisations at a store level, the sole beneficiary of iCare is UNICEF (Australia), where our donations are used to directly support establishing 150 community pre-schools in rural Cambodia. Each pre-school established is supported for a minimum of five years.

The partnership followed detailed consultations with UNICEF to ensure it met our guiding principles of working towards the development of children over a sustained period.

The severe lack of pre-schools in Cambodia, especially in rural areas, means that many children are deprived of this critical education jumpstart. This, combined with complex  political history and unique demographic profile of Cambodia  added another imperative to our decision to support this project.  

This project is all IKEA Australia’s, in that it doesn’t gain support from the IKEA Foundation or IKEA globally, and that is the first step to success – the simplicity of having a shared goal and ownership to tackle a defined issue over a period of time with one partner.

We want to create lasting and sustainable change for all children, it’s important that we work with organisations that have the ability to deliver well-developed and supported programs.

In making a commitment to establishing a network of community pre-schools in Cambodia the imperative was then to ensure we are prepared as an organisation to meet that challenge.

Every IKEA store as well as the Service Office has its own iCare Ambassador. It’s a voluntary role, co-workers are selected on merit with the goal  of  activating the workplace giving program within their store over a two-year period. Selected co-workers embark on  a guided trip to Cambodia to, most recently in November 2013, to see firsthand the tangible impacts of the pre-schools being established by UNICEF through the program – for many a life changing experience.

It allows co-workers to see the rural communities struggle with retention rates and schooling without a pre-school, and then the impact of those communities that have a UNICEF supported pre-school. The divide is evident even over the relatively short duration of the trip following the opportunity to speak to the teachers, parents and pupils.

On the local level, we also recently introduced through our co-worker enterprise agreement, the opportunity for every one of our permanent co-workers to access a day’s paid volunteer leave to work in the local community each year.

For what, on the surface, seems like a basic approach to engaging a workforce to help create social change is in fact a complex and well thought out process involving many stakeholders.We’ve seen over the past three years that iCare, as a transparent and trustworthy program with tangible outcomes, has positively contributed towards co-worker loyalty and morale in demonstrating that IKEA is committed ethically and commercially to long term social development.

Equipping UNICEF ambassadors with the Cambodia experience and communicating outcomes in the voice of co-workers has seen a definite increase in co-worker participation – and that’s another step to success – consistent and honest communication based on direct first-hand experience.

Consistent communication is key, as though our research tells us that our co-workers are strongly interested in making a positive difference to people and communities through IKEA, it’s a constant challenge to get co-workers to break through their ‘everyday’ business priorities.

Addressing the basics to create a stable workplace giving program has also provided the foundation for us to engage with our co-workers on how we approach our   people and communities agenda along our entire value chain.

For example, our IWAY supplier code of conduct that eradicates child labour for example, or our association with the Better Cotton Initiative that has helped improve the lives of 110,000 cotton farmers, and the IKEA Foundation that donated €101 million in 2013 with 100 million children expected to benefit from current IKEA Foundation funded programs by 2015. All hugely significant and exactly how IKEA should be using its global position.

But any CSR achievements also need to be brought into the reach of all our co-workers, even for IKEA, because here in Australia, we’re about as far away from the forests of Sweden, the home of IKEA as you can get – and here lies the third step to success, think global, act local – all those small things do add up and you’re in the picture when you’re part of the bigger picture.

IKEA is keen to hear from Not for Profit organisations located close to IKEA stores for its workplace giving program to support. For details, click here.

About the Author:  Richard Wilson is a sustainability and environmental management professional currently working within the retail sector at IKEA Australia.  Previously Wilson had eight years Local Government industry experience managing the 3-Council Ecological Footprint Program, between Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra Councils. Wilson is interested in developing strategies and implementing large-scale programs that help organisations and communities adopt sustainable living practices.

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