. New Trends in CSR | Meetings & Conventions

New Trends in CSR

The new strategic slant to corporate social responsibility

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 illustrationSCIENCE 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
Mariela Mcllwraith
Crafting a 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

Visitors 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' rugby tournament.

PAY IT FORWARD Impact 4 Good

For 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 tools, etc.

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.

The 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 kiva.org.

OPERATION WOUNDED WARRIORAllied/PRA San Antonio

This 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.

According 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.

Following the 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

Boston's 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.

Cookie illustrationA SPECIAL SERVING OF COOKIES, TEA AND EMPATHY Four Seasons Hotel Dublin

This 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."