Jun 222010

Ten years ago, corporate community investment was a much different ballgame than it is today.  Companies were judged solely by how much money they gave away.  Today, it’s all about the impact a company is having, and the value being created.

Last week, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) unveiled its new publication, “Strategic Community Investment: A Good Practice Handbook for Companies Doing Business in Emerging Markets,” with a three-day conference in D.C.  The publication is a comprehensive guide to where corporate community investment is heading–away from ad hoc giving, and toward strategic investment–and is well worth a read by practitioners at all levels within an organization.

In its guidebook, IFC defines strategic community investment as:

Voluntary contributions or actions by companies to help communities in their areas of operation address their development priorities, and take advantage of opportunities created by private investment –in ways that are sustainable and support business objectives.

Leading practitioners from around the world had a chance last week to sit down and discuss the publication’s frameworks and findings in the context of the issues they’re facing today–issues like making the business case for CI, effective stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation, and implementation challenges.

What follows is a list of eight best practices that were shared by IFC’s Debra Sequeira, in answer to the question “What are effective companies doing differently?

1.  Have clarity of purpose–Identify key business drivers, prioritize areas where CI can make the biggest contribution to business objectives, and formulate a clear business case.

2.  Build on business competencies and resources–Ask yourself, “what can my company bring to the table besides money?”  Think about the unique contribution that your company can make, the comparative advantages you naturally possess, and support CI programs in areas in which you have the most to offer.

3.  Align internal functions to support CI–Strategic CI cannot be the domain of community relations only.  It needs to involve all internal functions and units in a concerted effort, from human resources to R&D, procurement to security.  This ensures not only business-wide support but business-wide accountability for CI strategy.

4.  Be specific, not generic–Engage in the issues that matter in the local communities in which you do business.  Don’t adhere to a blanket approach that does not take local context into account.  How do you find out what’s unique to the local community? Ask them! Engage local stakeholders to uncover issues, risks and opportunities.

5.  Partner with the community–Effective companies go beyond asking the communities what they want/need (in fact, doing only this typically leads to unsustainable, ad hoc CI).  Instead, engage the local community as a partner.  Assess its assets and strengths, and use these to promote stakeholder-driven action.

6.  Carefully select investment areas–Seek to invest at the intersection of government, community and company interests.  This is where true shared value can be created.

7.  Make good implementation choices–Companies have many choices in implementing their CI strategies.  Should they do it themselves? Set up a foundation? Partner with an NGO?  The choice is strategic in itself, and is based on a number of factors including the time horizon, local context and budget.  The trend today is toward hybrid implementation models that incorporate multi-stakeholder partnerships.  Partners share risks and leverage resources, which leads to better reach and scalability and a greater likelihood of success.

8.  Set goals–Not just goals, but explicit, forward-looking targets–and then be gutsy enough to make them public.

So now the question remains: how do we turn good practices into standard practices?

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