My mother was born on the island of Mauritius on the east coast of Africa. While considered paradise by most, I have always seen it as a place full of opportunities. Back in the 1950s and ‘60s my grandfather built his fashion business at a time where the country was starting to find its feet. A tailor with a growing reputation, ministers would flock to his shop to get their suits and eveningwear made. He would even make dresses for my mother and her sisters and cousins to wear for special outings. I fondly remember the story of how he learned his trade in secret. He would finish work on the farm where he grew up, take off-cut material to a shack and chalk out designs. Once he honed his craft, he would go door-to-door trying to sell his creations – learning from his mistakes every step of the way. The dynamism, desire and sheer belief to go out and make a name for himself, is a memory I tap into when I struggle to make things happen.
I’ve been to Mauritius many times, each time I see an opportunity to give back. With Development3 focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) globally, it’s only right that I help. In exploring Mauritius and the broader CSR context, I found that:
In 2009,“the Government of Mauritius established a policy with the overall objective of mandating registered companies to pay 2% of their profit towards programmes that contribute to the social and environmental development of the country.”
This is a signal of intent from the country, national companies addressing local issues. In a country, where people are focused on helping one another, mandating companies to take social and environmental issues seriously creates possibilities. If a company can impact the lives of women and youth through donations, programs and activities, there is less need for external support or aid. Yet, this mandate can stifle the creativity that comes with “doing good.” It can also mean that companies contribute just to appease government regulations.
Regardless of the situation, having the island’s companies engage in CSR-related activities is valuable. It can create win-win-win opportunities for the government (putting the policy into practice), for the beneficiaries (giving recipients the chance live better lives) and for the companies themselves (supporting beneficiaries while building brand value). I have taken a closer look at one large Mauritian company that has invested in CSR but could do a better job of communicating its activities.
Phoenix Beverage Company*
Phoenix Beverage Company or PhoenixBev is the leading beverage company in Mauritius. They offer a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a public company listed on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius, with a 2016 revenue of around US $160m and a profit of just over US $10m (PhoenixBev 2016, Annual Report). In 2016, the company contributed 7.4m Mauritian rupees, about $215,000 US to CSR. To say that a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages is a shining example of “doing good”, may be off the beaten path, but stay with me here!
- 2% of profits put towards CSR contributions – check.
- Annual disclosure to the government of contributions – check.
- Communication of company CSR programs and activities to stakeholders – sort of.
Let me explain why point three is “sort of”. On the surface, from their website and social media, the company takes sustainability and CSR seriously. It participates in numerous activities ranging from continually improving their Quality & Food Safety Management systems to recycling waste glass by engaging glassblowers to create artwork and souvenirs. You have to dig through the annual report to uncover the exact activities. The company could better communicate its CSR endeavors.
1. PUBLICIZE SUSTAINABILITY AND CSR ACTIVITIES
A stronger visual representation of existing sustainability and CSR related activities would a good starting point. Under Community Reporting from the company’s website, there is statement that outlines the Phoenix Foundation, its five focus areas and the various NGOs that benefited from the foundation’s work. The simple fix, is to hyperlink the URLs of each NGO on the page. Make viewers learn about the NGOs and give them incentive to learn about their work. The longer and more valuable fix is to show how the NGOs have benefited from PhoenixBev’s assistance. Putting together case studies, photo-video journals and testimonials from one or two of the beneficiaries will help people see how and why the company is committed to the community. “Our Foundation also supported a beach cleaning campaign in Bambous Virieux, led by the Loreto College of Mahebourg and Belle Verte Ltée.” PhoenixBev can calculate its impact on people’s lives by showing how exactly Loreto College and Belle Verte Ltée benefited from the foundation’s support.
2. LEVERAGE BUSINESS TO BRING VISIBILITY TO RECYCLING
PhoenixBev can build on existing environmental recycling activities to develop and publicize creative ways to engage on the importance of recycling. Generating and demonstrating data that shows how and why the company invested Rs 13.7M in recycling projects in addition to CSR contributions. There are beautiful infographics that describe key “Waste & Recycle” outputs of the company’s activities in the Annual Report. Why not anchor these outputs as assets that can bring visibility to the importance of recycling? Instead of having people dig deeper to find out about the environmental impact of the company, make it known to them!
3. SHARE HOW EMPLOYEES POSITIVELY IMPACT THE COMPANY
While CSR contributions are made to programs, NGOs and the foundation, how can PhoenixBev better engage its employees? How can the company leverage existing talent to increase motivation and promote wellness? There is potential for PhoenixBev to feature success stories of employees who have helped address the bottom line. Solid quality assurance processes is core to the company’s strategy. For example, featuring an employee who has developed a solution to a bottling issue, resulting in lowered operating costs is a good way to show that the company listens to its employees. Particularly if the company wants to embody “the Mauritian spirit of resourcefulness, warmth and [show that] it listens to each and every one of its employees.” Showcasing employees in this way, could help attract talented candidates who can picture what working at the company is like.
For PhoenixBev, there is a clear opportunity to leverage existing CSR activities to build brand value. It’s clearly not just an afterthought for the company. It’s not a checkbox exercise in their eyes, but if they can show their CSR activities they will reap tangible and intangible benefits. Building solid and successful CSR legacies like PhoenixBev has is hard work, but why not think creatively to leverage them? I hope the Government of Mauritius can help companies look beyond the 2% mandatory requirement and think about how they can create valuable opportunities. This would justify the policy, and root CSR not as lip service, but as a solid foundation to support communities, companies and the government itself.
In some ways Mauritius is years ahead of its time with regards to sustainability and CSR. Putting a policy in place, and having companies actually deliver is fantastic. I want more companies and governments from around the world to take note. Talented people exist in places that few in the world know exist. Be it a company trying to make the world a better place or a man trying to make a name for himself using a piece of chalk, nothing stops progress. There is a lot to be learned.
La Commission de l’océan Indien, (2011).CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY Retrieved from: http://www.commissionoceanindien.org/fileadmin/resources/AIRIS%20documents/Guidelines_On%20_corporate_Social%20_responsibility.pdf
PhoenixBev (2016). Annual Report 2016. Retrieved from: http://phoenixbev.mu/media/pdf/media_pdf_1486035133.pdf
*[DISCLAIMER: I have not worked for or been in association with PhoenixBev. I used face-value information from the PhoenixBev website, social media, annual reports and news statements for this article]