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.
Making It Meaningful
successful CSR activity today requires forethought and planning. Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, president of Vancouver, B.C.-based Meeting Change and author of the book Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Meetings Industry,
offers the following advice for planners of CSR events.
• Meaningful. Be sure any community-service activity has real, lasting impact and is more than a photo-op to garner good publicity for the group.
• Aligned. The activity should relate to your organization's business or objectives. For example, a pharmaceutical firm might consider an activity that benefits the community's health.
• Unique. Choose an activity that leverages participants' unique talents and skills.
• Destination-specific. The event should take into consideration the host community's needs and challenges.
• Engaging. Make sure the chosen activity or cause is appealing to a wide variety of participants.
BEYOND RUGBY The Fairmont Southampton
to Bermuda's idyllic resorts typically don't have the opportunity to
interact with residents. But through Beyond Rugby, a program that
provides at-risk youth with an alternative to the streets in a nurturing
atmosphere, attendees can spend part of their meeting or incentive trip
as coaches and mentors.
Rugby is Bermuda's own national
pastime, and participants can sign on to assist in coaching teams,
running drills or even helping young athletes in an after-school
homework academy. The two-year-old program has close ties with the
593-room Fairmont Southampton; it was started with seed money provided
by the resort and, in honor of a resort employee's son who was
tragically murdered last year, the hotel has established the Malcolm K.
Outerbridge Jr. Memorial Trophy for the winners of an annual students'
PAY IT FORWARD Impact 4 Good
this activity, designed for financial organizations, Impact 4 Good
partnered with Kiva, a nonprofit entity that connects low-income
entrepreneurs from developing nations with financial groups or
individuals interested in making loans. Recipients use the funds to
purchase business-related items such as sewing machines, livestock, farm
Participants are divided into teams, then fill out a
loan application for a hypothetical business (similar to those started
by Kiva applicants). They then make their case to a review board,
typically composed of the participating company's top executives, to
become "investors" in their project. Teams are awarded "Kiva Cards" in
$25 denominations, based on the strength of their case.
review board then chooses the best presentation, and the winning team
gets to pick a real Kiva applicant from those posted on the
organization's website, and all of the team's accumulated Kiva Cards go
to that individual to fund his or her venture. Participants can track
their pet project's performance and get updates on its progress via
OPERATION WOUNDED WARRIORAllied/PRA San Antonio
program, designed by destination management company Allied/PRA San
Antonio, is geared to assist the injured soldiers at San Antonio's
Brooke Army Medical Center, a long-term care facility.
to Gina San Agustin, national sales manager for the DMC, the activity
kicks off with a local military official coming to the meeting venue to
speak about the wounded soldiers, their experiences in combat and their
ongoing rehabilitation. Participants then break into "squads" for a
number of theme-related activities such as wheelchair relay races and
bandage-wrapping contests, which help them win items like shampoo,
deodorant, toothpaste, razors, candy and condiments that will go into
care packages for the wounded warriors.
activities, the group delivers the care packages to the hospital and
gets the opportunity to personally thank these individuals who have
sacrificed much in service to their country.
LOAVES OF CARE Fairmont Copley Plaza
383-room Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel partners with another CSR-minded
business, the King Arthur Flour Co., to offer a group activity that
helps communities with fresh-baked fun.
A baker from King
Arthur's Baking Education Center leads participants in a hands-on
bread-making session in the hotel's kitchen. The group then delivers the
delicious breads to a local shelter or soup kitchen like the Haley
House and helps serve them to needy clients.
A SPECIAL SERVING OF COOKIES, TEA AND EMPATHY Four Seasons Hotel Dublin
CSR activity was created by the 197-room Four Seasons Dublin, in
Ireland. Attendees start out baking cookies with the hotel's chef in the
property's kitchen. Afterward, they visit the nearby Little Sisters of
the Poor Holy Family Residence where they serve elderly residents the
fresh cookies and tea and have a nice chat. "Sometimes, it's the
smallest things that make the biggest difference," says Aline
Fitzgerald, the hotel's marketing director. "It's easy to organize, and
offering simple things like homemade shortbread cookies and tea brings
lots of pleasure."