Transparency Can Enhance CSR Impact

Nisa PatelArticle, Blog, News

By Mira Wang, Communications, GBCHealth

Transparency is an essential building block of impactful corporate health and development programs. As companies work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), clarity around motivation and disclosure of both progress and setbacks are fundamental to our collective success. Sharing knowledge in this way enables development programs to generate best practices, allowing new programs to learn from real-time course-corrections and accelerate future progress. In this way, real progress can be expanded upon by future programs, and real solutions shared with all.

This article will discuss three primary audiences that corporates should keep in mind when planning health and development programs: beneficiaries, coordinating partners and the public. Concerted efforts to improve transparency by engaging each audience has the potential to improve trust, efficiency and, ultimately impact.

Transparency to beneficiaries is vital to program success. Ultimately, the goal of any health and development program is to empower vulnerable populations who—whether due to political, social or economic conditions—have not had the opportunity or resources to make deeply personal decisions about their health. To fulfill this goal, development programs can be strengthened by building local ownership and ensuring local participation in the design of goals and methods for implementing the program. Trust is engendered by providing information, training staff in a culturally appropriate manner and sharing program goals with the community. In this way, companies and NGOs involved in development can ensure that the services provided match the needs of beneficiaries and that local people feel as if they have a stake in improving the program long-term. Participation by local populations at every stage of the program—from design to implementation—is the surest way to ensure positive outcomes.

While conducting any program, open communication with program partners is also essential. With the variety of partners available – from local and foreign governments, multilateral organizations, shareholders, private sector partners and the populations and communities served – comes a variety of partner specific goals and motivations. Taking the time to openly discuss the reasons driving a partner’s participation can strengthen a program’s ability to effectively use core competencies, clearly define roles and responsibilities and maintain shared investment in the project.

For example, one food fortification program for low-income women in sub-Saharan Africa we studied, found it difficult to bridge differences among multisector partners. The program harnessed the core competencies of each stakeholder to support local government authorities, civil society and manufacturers in strengthening technical capacity for staple food fortification. With so many partners across varying sectors, the program found that differences in organizational cultures, vocabularies, interests and working methods were limiting the impact of the program.

It was only through in-depth needs assessments and regular, facilitated partner meetings that the program was able to improve coordination among these different partners. In short, time and effective communication created the accountability-based dialogue necessary to implement the program.

In addition to transparency among program partners, health and development programs must be held accountable by the broader public health community—other companies, governments, academics or NGOs and, ultimately, the public. In order to contribute to improvements in public health methodology and consumer awareness, the responsible and transparent dissemination of results must recount both the successes and shortcomings of the program including intended and unintended effects; concerns raised by populations or partners and adaptations made; costs of running the program; and shifts in focus or leadership. Problems, setbacks and outcomes are invaluable for others to craft a more detailed image of a certain target population’s current status, learn about avoidable mistakes and build on past successes. In providing this level of detail, companies demonstrate long-term commitment to the populations they aim to serve as well as open an important feedback opportunity for consumers.

The growing sophistication of both companies and consumers over the last decade has seen the consequences of accountability—or lack thereof—continuing to rise. One way that companies can demonstrate positive action is through reporting and benchmarking the results of their environmental, workplace and community programs using third-party guidelines. This is particularly true of corporations participating in global health. Guidelines provided by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – called sustainability reports – give companies the framework to measure and communicate economic, environmental, social and governance performance. B Lab also rates companies based on their social and environmental impact and even gives suggestions for improving impact. Another company called CSRHub provides ratings of thousands of CSR programs based on multiple data sources and the data’s credibility, among other requirements. Each of these platforms provides an opportunity for companies to be publicly transparent about the effects of their programs.

In addition to third-party certification, companies can work closely with their local partners to request and publish both positive and under-performing outcomes, as well as program design and implementation strategies. Publishing the results of detailed needs assessments can help development stakeholders to gain insights into the needs and priorities of local communities. Further, publishing the outcomes of pilot programs and initiatives will allow other stakeholders to build upon each other’s learning to improve results and the health of the populations served.

Corporate accountability in health and development programs is much-needed. Beneficiaries should be consulted in decision making about wide-sweeping program goals to more practical factors during implementation. Coordinating partners should invest time and work to effectively communicate core competencies and innovative ideas to bring about the best outcomes. Communicating setbacks, problems, solutions and outcomes helps to build trust and to shape future development plans. With this increase in transparency, companies can act as accountable global citizens that truly work to make the world a healthier place.

Nisa PatelTransparency Can Enhance CSR Impact