Executive Insight: Woodside Scores Major Coup with CSR Expert Visit
21 May 2014 at 10:54 am
Australia’s largest oil and gas company, Woodside, is about to host the US co-founder and Managing Director of FSG, Mark Kramer, known for his work in shared value, catalytic philanthropy, collective impact, strategic evaluation and impact investing.
Western Australia’s corporate and NGO community is set to come out in force for the event.
It is seen as a major coup for Woodside, which also recently made headlines for its ambitious $20 million early childhood development fund.
Pro Bono Australia News spoke to Jo Ferrie, Manager Community Affairs at Woodside about the intended impact of Kramer’s visit, the company’s future CSR focus, and the growing West Australian responsible business community.
Co-funding to Collaboration
Woodside believes Kramer’s visit is timely for the company which has seen a strategic shift to Collective Impact and collaboration-based approaches.
“Looking at the value [academics] contribute to us, it’s really in understanding concepts and themes. We are always on the continuous improvement trajectory, it’s the way we do business,” Ferrie says.
“When I look at Kramer, for me [his influence] is around Collective Impact.”
Collective Impact underpins the new Woodside Development Fund, a social investment project set to contribute up to $20 million over 10 years to support programs and Not for Profit organisations that focus on early childhood development.
“That was inspired by Kramer’s work,” Ferrie says. “It’s where we really felt we could have the most impact.”
The Woodside Development Fund, although perhaps, Ferrie acknowledges, not an obvious choice for an oil and gas company, has evolved from an increased focus on strategic collaboration and a desire to make a difference in the community.
“It was also aligned with business strategy,” Ferrie says. “We see a higher percentage of local people from host communities who could later contribute to the business. It’s really a long-term strategy.”
Woodside’s major challenges at present are the challenges thrown up by collaboration.
“Collaboration is more difficult than traditional forms of corporate social contribution,” she says. “While it’s harder to do, the rewards are greater.”
“There are tensions for us around timeframe,” Ferrie adds, speaking of the slowing down of the process where there is far greater stakeholder involvement.
There can be little doubt Collective Impact is in its infancy in Australia – as Ferrie notes – “three years in a global movement is not a lot of time!”
“In Australia it’s about what role we as corporates can play – what we have done in the past is to co-fund things, now we’re moving more towards collaboration.There is greater opportunity now more than ever to move from co-funders to co-collaborators, and identify those organisations with which we can do it.
“A lot of Not for Profits right now have to compete for funding. What seems to happen is that the sector is so focused on delivering funds that it loses sight of what it hopes to achieve. We want to be able to reward organisations that are collaborating – sharing resources, sharing synergies.”
Ferrie jokes about the small size of Perth lending itself to an intimate and well-connected CSR community.
“The vibrancy of Perth gives us connectedness. We’re almost the perfect collective impact! It can be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it,” she says.
For Ferrie, social licence to operate centres around acknowledging the unique needs of every community in the West.
“We have to be mindful that every community is different. You can’t have the same strategies in communities all the time.We have to be responsive and mindful.”
“We make a commitment to perform that way.”
A key feature of Woodside’s CSR activity centres around Western Australia’s Indigenous population.
“The program is guided by our reconciliation action plan,” she says. “It’s not for communities, or to communities, it’s WITH communities. It’s about respect and opportunities.”
“We all recognise just how significant stakeholder aboriginal people are. It’s really part of the resources sector DNA.”
As a resources company, the environment also interplays with Woodside’s social strategies.
Ferrie says environmental policy extends from front line management of environmental impacts, particularly marine impacts, through to studies, research and permissions processes for company projects, and out to a partnership with the Western Australian Museum since 1998, which funds research into marine biodiversity in the Kimberley and Pilbara coastal regions.
“We have an extensive collection – they have discovered new species for science, species we have never thought would be occurring. It’s one of the world’s largest subtropical collections.
“Today there is this amazing information that is useful environmentally but also socially. The collaboration to get that collection up and running has been phenomenal in itself.”
Meaning Through Measurement
Ferrie is a strong advocate for the London Benchmarking Group (LBG) method of measuring Corporate Community Investment. Woodside is a member and Ferrie sits as Group Chair of the LBG Steering Group.
“It was a very clear business decision,” she says. “It’s motivated us to look at the outcomes of our contribution.”
“We have been surprised. We were actually making a really big contribution towards the arts!”
In her time as Chair, Ferrie says, she has seen a “genuine shift.”
“There is not only an appetite for people to measure and understand their contribution, there has been significant focus on the outcome.”
With Kramer due to arrive in the coming days, Ferrie speaks of one other topic she is interested in exploring.
On Shared Value, Ferrie describes herself as “curious” – particularly around the benefits it could have for the resources sector.
“We see so much value in a Shared Value proposition,” she says. “Many of the current examples from FSG are in the retail sector – Nestle for example.”
“We’re really interested in seeing CSV proposition in the resources sector…it’s not really tangible at the moment.”
It’s the fact Woodside has a program that is holistic and multifaceted, Ferrie says, that ultimately distinguishes the company in the CSR space. Its initiatives extend beyond philanthropy and social investment and into employee engagement, achieved through corporate volunteering and workplace giving.
The company has employed a ‘compass’ concept to capture and direct its values.
“It guides where we are, where our values are going, and how we do things,” Ferrie says.
“I think it’s the way we go about things. It’s not the what, it’s the how.
“There’s a very human element.”