Corporate social responsibility has been practiced by global businesses for decades, but it's a relatively new consideration for meetings and events. CSR didn't gain real traction in the industry until late 2008, in the aftermath of the AIG scandal, as groups looked for ways to avoid the dreaded "corporate excess" label and at the same engage a younger generation of attendees, many of whom have a passionate interest in "giving back."
Yet, among the early adopters who incorporated CSR activities into their events, too often it was an afterthought. "Back then, planners would call and say, 'I have 100 people in the group; what CSR activity can we do quickly?" recalls Alan Ranzer, managing partner of Impact 4 Good, a Bethesda, Md.-based team-building firm. "There was no strategy beyond 'wanting to do good' in some way."
A few years ago, CSR activities typically were cash or item donations made on behalf of the group to a local shelter or other charitable cause. While these are great starting points, many organizations now are looking for the next generation of give-back events, says Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, president of Vancouver, B.C.-based Meeting Change, a consulting firm specializing in sustainability for events. McIlwraith says "CSR 2.0" is based on "a fundamental shift from making simple donations to strategic, transformational activities that affect positive change; offer a team-building element; work on a cause aligned with the company or destination; and provide meaningful, face-to-face interactions with members of the local community."
Following are examples of the next wave of CSR activities. For details on program costs and logistics, contact the suppliers listed.
SCIENCE FAIRImpact 4 Good
Inspiring young science and math geeks is one goal behind this activity, which combines team building, mentoring and a donation of science equipment to a worthy cause. The program was developed by Impact 4 Good specifically for groups in fields that represent the left-brained disciplines -- science, high tech, engineering and math.
The event, which can include children from a school or youth club with limited resources, has teams competing on three science projects involving sustainable modes of transportation -- the construction of functioning small-scale hot-air balloons, rockets (made of straw and clay) and solar-powered cars. The models are judged by a panel of local community leaders and/or the company's top executives, and prizes are awarded for the "best in show."
Afterward, races are held to see which model goes fastest or farthest; finally, all models and materials are donated to the participating school to help inspire students to conduct the same fun, hands-on experiments.