CSR - On a Budget
13 August 2014 at 11:14 am
In this week’s Executive Insight, Melissa le Mesurier of Superpartners discusses the challenges of growing a non-consumer CSR program without the resources of other corporate giants.
Superpartners is Australia’s largest superannuation administrator, partnering with Not for Profit industry superannuation funds.
The organisation has more than $140 billion in funds under administration, with a base of more than 6.3 million members and 1.2 million employers.
National Manager of Communications, Melissa le Mesurier landed at Superpartners after an extensive CSR career working for some of Australia’s largest consumer-facing brands, including Kraft, Cadbury and Medibank.
She took over a relatively young program, created in 2012, with no dedicated resources.
She has found herself harnessing those resources and staff enthusiasm to create a different kind of CSR program – one that draws on staff engagement and industry focus.
The “behind-the-scenes” provider produced its first sustainability report in 2012, and created the SPirit program for its 2000 employees, encompassing monthly themes which have a community or health and wellbeing focus.
Pro Bono Australia News spoke to le Mesurier, to explore how this small but growing CSR department is establishing itself in a non-consumer environment.
CSR on a Budget
Resource constraints have proven the primary challenge for the fledgling program, le Mesurier says.
“The challenge is doing what we can on a very moderate budget. Where I’ve come from it’s been established benchmarks, 1 per cent of pre tax profits going into community programs, bigger budgets, often being part of a global organisation with some programs running for more than a decade,” she says.
“We’ve taken a program in its infancy and on a very small budget compared to the banks or other leaders in this space. We don’t have the sophisticated structure yet of other CSR teams.
“But it’s still being able to achieve a lot. I think focussing on a few key areas can get some great results.”
Some key strategies have helped le Mesurier and her team to ease the Superpartners program into the CSR space.
“The challenge here is being able to explain to the business what CSR is…that it’s not just writing a check for donations. [Experience] has helped. It’s inspiring to be able to explain it to people and for them to see the power of CSR,” she says.
“I would encourage organisations with little developed CSR functions to use their networks. We’ve been involved in CSR networks, looked at LBG, gone to some of the industry conferences and engaged consultants to help us with reporting.”
“Though I think now, having seen it from the other side of the fence and being involved with an organisation with a limited CSR structure – often, honestly it drills down to the same issues, getting your message out there, making sure your investment is strategic and aligned with your core business, and making sure you spend your dollars wisely.
“I think its important to keep up to date with the trends both here but especially overseas around things like shared value and the direction both the business community and the CSR profession is taking.”
le Mesurier’s time at Superpartners has been marked by a new focus – a more strategic focus.
“[Before] there was a lot of great activity, a lot of initiatives involving staff, but there wasn’t a strong strategic overlay. There was no tangible link between our business, which is financial services and superannuation, and our CSR and our community program.
“Engaging employees and honing our Spirit program has been the key focus over the last 12 months. The primary goal of the SPirit Program is to connect our employees with the communities in which they live and work and connect them with our purpose.
“We’ve gone from having a program with twelve different monthly activities to narrowing that to having four key pillars – volunteering, community, health and financial literacy – the latter obviously makes a direct link for our employees to our business.
"We thought we could start off our own internal program just by educating our employees and in September we will launch our first lunchtime learning sessions about financial matters,” she says.
le Mesurier says Superpartners has also tried to structure its corporate volunteering program more rigidly through a partnership with Volunteering Victoria. Lunchtime gatherings see organisations from different parts of the community give out information and encourage a volunteering community in the workplace.
Community alignment of the broader superannuation community is also playing a part.
There is an industry partnership with the Mother’s Day Classic, which also acts as Superpartners’ key national community partnership.
"All our clients and the wider industry superannuation network are involved… That's our flagship event,” le Mesurier says.
"We also have an industry community group called the Super Life which looks at the three key areas of community investment across superannuation funds.”
le Mesurier says she sees a great future for the super industry in the CSR arena.
“I think there’s fantastic potential. Superpartners doesn’t have a customer facing brand but when you look at our clients, and the 6 million account holders and working Australians we service, our reach is incredible. Long term I hope there will be opportunities where we can harness the efforts of the industry.
“It’s an area that’s certainly worthy of being explored.”
With a small team, Superpartners CSR staff wear multiple hats and are integrated into the company’s communications department. The arrangement has proven successful.
“I think it works really well,” le Mesurier says. “I think it’s a logical home. In the last three roles I’ve been in, I’ve been responsible for both internal communications and CSR. The internal comms expertise helps the CSR messages be crafted and we know how to use our channels to get maximum bang for buck.
“Likewise for the CSR team, where there are dedicated personnel for that, they can bring a different view to employee engagement. It’s not just information -informational communication can often appeal to the head, while CSR or community investment can appeal to the heart.
“Having the external communications responsibility as well, when we get to the next stage when we feel ready to tell our CSR story externally in a bolder way – having that media expertise will no doubt help.”
To get its CSR program off the ground, Superpartners has embraced all its aspects – including the nuts and bolts of reporting.
“We’ve reported against GRI guidelines for the past two years. We’re just reassesing that now. It is quite onerous on a small team, so we are currently looking at where we can maximise our reporting efforts rather than ticking every box on every aspect of for GRI. The potential is there to go deeper and focus in on more specific areas where you are making your investment or activity focus,” le Mesurier says.
“I think in some areas there should be less focus on reporting and more focus on strategic alignment. It’s very easy, certainly when you have a lot of resources at hand, to devote those resources to the production of a CSR report.
“I think a better future for CSR will be through storytelling and talking about the initiatives and the outcomes – not just the data.”