Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Corporate Social Responsibility in mobile phone companies

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR has virtually become a keyword over the last few years. With the global business outlook deteriorating dramatically, the current question is how businesses would maintain their approach towards CSR while maintaining their bottom line. Clearly companies and organizations will need a better understanding of the terms of engagement with their customers and CSR.

Interestingly, more and more mobile phone companies are waking up to their responsibilities to the environment, the larger community and the global implications of their activities even though the question remains whether companies are embracing CSR for purely selfish reasons. There is also this general perception that the mobile phone companies are rather casual in their approach towards CSR and that they only worry about the company's bottom line. In challenging times it is easy to take this short-term view, but the convergence of the mobile, internet and PC have become a reality. Mobile phone companies have become aware that people are not searching for devices alone, but want complete solutions with invisible technology. Consumer relationships are the new unit of value in this converged industry.

The problem is that despite the increasing importance of Corporate Social Responsibility as an effective management practice, there has been only limited understanding about its presence in mobile communications, and mobile phone companies.

Mobile phones have the potential to bring enormous social and economic benefits, thereby boosting economic development and improving quality of life. Mobile phone organizations ensure that connecting people is connecting people to what matters - whatever that means for each person - giving them the power to make the most of every moment, everywhere, any time. Connecting the "we" is more powerful than just the individual. They have realized that in a world where connecting people to what matters, empowers them to make the most of every moment. The Finnish mobile giant, Nokia’s, Corporate Social Responsibility agenda is carried out in all aspects of their work to ensure customer satisfaction and respect. Nokia sets the standards for the industry through initiatives that not only make a positive impact, but also makes good business sense. By including all members of Nokia's community in this process, they demonstrate their overall commitment to the belief that “responsibility is everybody's business”.

This was clearly demonstrated in Haiti, where mobile phones had helped save hundreds of lives, and kept families connected when disaster struck. What really helped the people was that life saving information was available through a few mobile phones with internet access. Another little known fact was that the Motorola Foundation had also provided more than $0.5 million in cash and more than $1.5 million in products such as two-way radios, rugged laptops, mobile phones, network base stations and other equipment to assist customers and other relief agencies who were involved with the support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

It was the same situation during the Chilean earthquake where a single person, using his mobile phone and the internet, designed a Google map which was of great assistance to people inflicted by the quake. It helped people find gas stations, department stores and other important links. Besides, people could also contribute to this map as well. It was an example of innovation in communications and demonstrating how the world connects. This behavior of functioning independently for the sake for greater good could not serve as a better definition of an individual’s social responsibility using his mobile phone.

It is the same scenario in India, where many of the poor rural people carry mobile phones despite the fact that brand marketing is of little use to this poor community. Like any other developing country, many Indians from the poor rural areas do not have a landline and often consider mobile phones more as a precious resource to be shared by other family members, rather than treating it purely as a personal device. The average household in India that own a mobile phone averages over 5 persons, which is relatively higher than that of China, which averages over 3 persons. That is to say, the result of 1 person communicating online, aids over 5 people offline in India. In shorter terms we are watching awareness of market conditions among this cross section of people who have never had this privilege before. Hence, it is doubtful that CSR and lower costs will put a strain on any profits, but in contrast India's mobile phone segment can only grow further by targeting more such small users.

The concept of using technology for microfinance institutions through the use of SMS or Short Message Service technology is another interesting aspect where mobile technology is assisting poor people in their banking and communication services. The objective here is that such an exercise would eventually reduce costs for the MFIs or microfinance institutions, and they could further extend their social reach into below poverty level segments through the use of mobile communications.

An example where mobile phones indirectly contributes to CSR is the RUMA project in Indonesia, where the project’s objective is to pull poor rural people out of their poverty. This project is building entrepreneurs out of poor women who sell essential products and services to their fellow communities. They are being helped by the Grameen foundation who measures their poverty levels ensuring that the project is meeting its desired objective. RUMA provides the idea, the skill and training, the necessary capital so as to meet this objective and they also ensure that these women are connected by mobile devices with computing power.

Like Nokia and Motorola, there is Docomo, Vodafone, Kyocera and Samsung etc., who all have an active Corporate Social Responsibility program agenda.

Summarising, although solving problems of inequality and poverty may require a lot more deal of integrated action, the bottom line is that every step of CSR contributes a new attitude towards mobile phone companies. It is also obvious that mobile phone companies have enabled families to stay in touch, made businesses and government more efficient and helped them to do their jobs safely and effectively and have convinced the community with the belief that responsibility is everybody's business. However in the long run, it is the ethical and moral practices which they practice through their Corporate Social Responsibility policies that could help people in developing a more positive attitude towards mobile phone organizations.