The Relationship Between Private Sector and CBOs Beyond Typical CSR

October 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

I might be against the concept of having certain products or services targeting certain cultures or areas by private companies that provide their services to the public mass; such a strategy could be more harmful than beneficial, from a development point of view, especially for areas that are considered underprivileged; it makes those people or areas feel more disconnected rather than feeling special. However, we can’t ignore that such strategies exist already, thus, I decided to write this post and reflect my personal perspective on how private sector should be doing it, in order to really serve their target audience and help in bridging the existing gap between communities.

A conversation that took place between me and my friend about how companies apply researches regarding targeting a certain area by studying a sample of its people, or sometimes they bring in employees to deal with that certain area from within the same community. I think both solutions are not ideal for Jordanian communities, because studying a sample from the community doesn’t necessarily mean it is the typical case for all of them, and bringing someone from the same community to deal with its people or handle the product related to them is always beneficial for the company, but not necessarily for the employee.

Here comes the other definition for the relationship between private sector companies and community based organizations (CBOs), which goes beyond typical CSR and charity (mostly in Jordan they are the same anyway); For example, if “X” company, which provides grocery, decided to do a marketing campaign that targets “Aqaba”, or “Y” company, which provides telecommunication services, decided to target “Zarqa” with a new service; they both don’t have to do a research from scratch to come up with the best combination that serves these areas, and they don’t have to hire someone from that area to only serve it, because exchanging people between areas also helps in cultural exchange and exposure. All they have to do is to find the best community partner, through which they can fully understand the market they are tapping into, without putting random assumptions that are mostly based on stereotypes.

Seeing a veiled girl in a remote area doesn’t necessarily mean that her parents don’t allow her to use the internet; sorry for using this example, but I know for a fact that some people think so, and they lead crucial positions that has to deal with people from different backgrounds in big corporations. In such a case, the marketing campaign or the service provided will turn into a discrimination tool, which will also reflect a wrong image about that certain community to the public mass.

I remember seeing a campaign a year ago in Amman streets for one of the wireless internet providers in Jordan; they used “East Amman” term in their advertisement, which is very well known as one that differentiates between the rich and the poor sides of Amman. I called the marketing manager of that company when I saw the promotion and discussed it with him, the guy obviously had no clue about how dangerous and detestable the term is, and he thought that “East Amman” people will feel very special about it, while he was actually addressing them in the way that they hate most.

Here is a new valuable service that CBOs can provide to private sector, and it is definitely very beneficial for both sides; CBOs will sustain by providing their experience in the community they are working with to companies, and companies will be able to generate ideas and campaigns that are relevant to their target audience without relaying on stereotypes and misconceptions. This can be considered CSR, but in comparison with the typical Jordanian definition for the term, it is real CSR that has a lot of value for all parties, the company itself, the CBO, the target audience and the public mass.

If we look deeply into it, we will realize that it helps in:

  • Destroying stereotypes
  • Bridging the gap between communities
  • Eliminating the dependency culture for CBOs that was originally created because by the misconception of CSR
  • Creating community friendly brands and build loyal customers

It is about time for Jordanian companies to start reconsidering their definition of CSR, a few already understand how it is more about empowerment and behavioral changing approach rather than charity and PR; however most of them, especially big corporations with the highest engagement and reach rate, still look at it as a marketing platform.

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