Korea explores the beauty of corporate community investment
Article from Business Respect, Issue Number 67, dated 30 Nov 2003
By Mallen Baker
Corporate Social Responsibility in South Korea remains predominantly defined by philanthropy. The focus of the International Symposium held by the Beautiful Foundation, the fast emerging leading not-for-profit organisation in Seoul, certainly reinforced this.
There is now some research to try to identify what the top Korean companies are doing. From a survey of 45 large companies, 41 said that they were involved with philanthropic activity to a significant extent. 34 percent of them actually had established a department to manage these community donations although generally of less than three people.
The majority of this activity is sponsorship. Many donate to charitable institutions. By and large, the support given is quite short term under one month. Strategic partnerships with community organisations are the exception rather than the rule.
That isn't to say it doesn't happen. Ongoing partnerships with not-for-profits have been formed by a number of Korean companies notably Cheil Industries, LG Evergreen FD, Yuhan Kimberly, AmorePacific, CJ, Kyobo and Hanwha. Hyundai and Samsung are frequent names that crop up in such discussions also.
58 percent said that they engaged in some form of employee volunteering, although it seemed likely that the scale of this activity remains rather small in many of the companies. 48 percent of the companies said they had at least one volunteer team. Management participation in such activity was seen as being rather light at less than 10 percent involvement.
Why do the companies get involved? The three top reasons given are:
1. To fulfil what they
perceive to be their social responsibility
2. Through a wish to help the needy
3. To promote solidarity amongst employees
The main obstacles to involvement are ones that will be recognised by community affairs managers across the world - namely limitations of budget, and difficulties of getting top level buy-in within the organisation.
The average amount donated by companies came between 5 and 9bn Korean Won. However, it was noted that in some instances, companies were prone to mark down the payment of bribes as gifts or grant, which makes the true figure hard to establish.
One example of the kind of work companies are doing is Kepco's involvement in the Missing Child campaign. Korea Power Corporation (Kepco) is Korea's biggest public utility company. The company responded to a difficult problem, whereby children that have difficulty expressing themselves or with a disability often become long-term missing children. Kepco has been working since 1999 with the Korea Welfare Foundation to address this.
Photos of 3 missing children and contact information are printed on the company's monthly electricity bills, as well as in its bi-monthly magazine. As a result of the high profile achieved with this approach, 65 children out of 153 have been returned to their parents.
Another case in point is Citigroup, which participates in a broad range of community building activities, including the financing of affordable housing, micro lending programmes, supporting financial education and helping to boost the robustness of the management of NGOs. The latter included a financial management camp for 200 NGO female leaders, covering basic accounting, financial management, tax law and working with private business and government.
The organisers of the Symposium, the Beautiful Foundation, are clearly determined to ensure that the CSR agenda is driven forward in Korea. The organisation is showing energy and innovation in the way that it brings an agenda for greater sharing in Korea generally, such as through its charity shops The Beautiful Store, which are the first such shops in Korea. Its focus currently is that of community involvement spending money in a beautiful way. But some of the themes around the conference show that it won't be long before CSR is also moving onto the territory of making money in a beautiful way too.