Purpose in partnership: The changing face of corporate citizenship

It's no secret that "purpose" has become a key word in the world of business, and with increasing evidence that purpose is good for profit, strategic and meaningful corporate citizenship is becoming central to modern organizations.

A recent study found that 78 percent of US Millennials said that the values of their employer should match their own, and indeed talent is flowing towards businesses with a core well-defined purpose. But it's not just about attracting the young – purpose is increasingly being linked to profit. CECP, found that purpose and financial performance are not mutually exclusive, in that companies that increased total giving by over 10 percent year on year also had higher median growth rates.

Which brings us to the sphere of Corporate Social Responsibility. In recent years, two thirds of companies reduced the number of recipients of their corporate-giving grants, but increased the grant size by over 10 percent, meaning corporates are more interested in deeper relationships with their non-profit partners.

This year, Credit Suisse is celebrating 10 years of their two flagship corporate citizenship programmes in global education and financial inclusion. By pairing both financial investment with skills-based volunteering, the bank is proving that partnering with non-profits over a long period of time can truly scale their impact.

Credit Suisse works with partners, tailoring ongoing support to individual needs

One such long-standing partnership is with Room to Read, who focus on girl's education and children's literacy in low-income communities around the world. The partnership began in 2005 focusing on refurbishing schools and libraries. Between 2011-17 Credit Suisse's support focused on Room to Read's literacy work: 1,628 teachers were trained and 57,754 students benefitted from the library programs and /or reading and writing instruction. Since joining the Financial Education for Girls program in 2018, a further 7,000 girls will be supported in Tanzania and Sri Lanka. In total, since 2005, a total 138,190 children have benefitted from the Credit Suisse funding. Eva Halper leads the Global Education Initiative: "By investing in the start-up phase of Room to Read's literacy work, Credit Suisse made a strategic contribution to Room to Read's capacity to build a scalable, replicable program that can be adopted by other governments and NGOs. And now, through our financial education program, the organization's life skills for girls curriculum is being enriched with useful content for their economic empowerment."

Grace is a graduate of Room to Read’s Education Program from Tanzania. After taking part in life skills courses and financial education life skills clubs, Grace developed her own business, buying goods at wholesale and selling them throughout the community.

The profits helped her buy food and life essentials she previously couldn’t afford. Today, she wants to use her knowledge to help other girls in the community become more financially empowered. “I want to be an economist. As an economist, I can work with the community and help girls achieve their goals.”

» Find out more

In addition to monetary donations, Credit Suisse places top level executives in the charity for anything between one week and three months, through their Global Citizens Program (GCP). Dr Geetha Murali, CEO of Room To Read, talks about the benefits beyond financial injections: "We've leveraged volunteers to help us with some very critical and strategic projects across the organisation… they helped us very early on during our 2010-2014 strategic plan to pilot reading and writing instruction interventions in Laos, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. It was those results that paved the way for a complete shift in the way Room to Read delivered our literacy programme. It was quite risky for the organisation at the time, so I think those types of investments really help us think about our evolution."

It's not just the participants in non-profit programs that benefit: supported partners and their volunteers are also often enriched. Employee surveys of Credit Suisse's Global Citizens Program have shown that 98 percent of volunteers gained learning directly useful for their current role, and 88 percent believe that their participation sparked new ideas for business improvements. Charities, receiving free expertise in a variety of functional areas – IT, marketing, financial management – in turn offer invaluable expertise in their own field to their partners.

This mutual benefit can be seen clearly in the partnership between Virgin Media and disability non-profit Scope. Virgin is focusing resources towards Scope's new digital employment service, 'Support to Work', which aims to reach one million disabled people with employment advice and assistance by 2020, as well as highlighting the challenges that disabled job seekers face in their joint Work With Me initiative, simultaneously Scope is helping to inform and improve the work experience of Virgin's own disabled employees and customers. The charity has helped to create training programs and workplace reviews that have enabled the corporate to stay at the forefront of best practice in the space.

Support to Work is funded by Virgin Media as part of a three year partnership with Scope to understand and tackle the issues disabled people face in the job market.

Upon developing repetitive strain injury Simone found that despite having an impressive CV she had yet to receive any responses from job applications after fifteen months of searching. Simone said that Support to Work gave her the confidence to carry on. ‘With my new-found confidence, I applied for a role as Operations Assistant and I got an interview straight away. The interview went really well and I was offered the job! I felt uplifted. I was so happy, I was smiling for days.’

Scope’s ambition is to reach one million disabled people with employment information and support by 2020 so that they can realise their career ambitions.

» Find out more

Simon Feldman of Virgin Media spoke about focusing their impact, and having that work both ways: "We had previously worked with 27 charities but we wanted to move our focus to something which could have a bigger impact. Through 'Work With Me' we want to create real, lasting change for disabled people. This has challenged and inspired us to transform how we support our own disabled employees and customers; we've also held a roundtable discussion with a number of other businesses to share best practice of hiring and supporting disabled employees."

What's clear for Credit Suisse is that their corporate citizenship programmes align with the company's core values. Manuel Hoerl heads the Financial Inclusion Initiative, which has been tasked since 2008 with capacity building of microfinance organizations and beyond: "We've supported projects which have fostered product and services innovation (e-wallet, micro-leasing, education finance), training, and research … Over the years, we've developed a combined approach of funding and skills which has a good value proposition for our partners and strongly embeds our activities in financial inclusion in our overall organization."

It's not just about microfinance for social impact, there is also a potential extra benefit the bank offers to its partners: "Once a partner's needs outgrow our offering in the Corporate Citizenship space, we also have our dedicated impact investing experts in the business that can – assuming sufficient growth and success – potentially serve their commercial needs."

This dual approach of not only using specific corporate expertise to grow organisations as well as possibly add to pipeline is not uncommon with service companies. Accenture's Accenture In the Future program provides technical training, ongoing mentoring, and in-house job opportunities to tech talent from low-income communities. The program was founded on the understanding that investing in talent from a diverse range of backgrounds has positive outcomes for the company as well as the wider community – providing both a lasting social impact, an immediate advantage to the participants, and obvious benefits to the company's talent pool.

The growing trend of purpose-led (as opposed to brand marketing- or regulatory-led) CSR is increasingly a focus of the most forward-looking companies - and with this approach, Bain & Company found employee productivity to grow by 125 percent, while the Workforce Purpose Index shows that these businesses are 50 percent more likely to have employees develop into leaders. The diversion from small, sporadic donations to purposeful partnerships seems well justified.

Eva Halper sees this in action at Credit Suisse: "The closer a company's citizenship efforts are aligned with a company's core purpose and values, the more effective and sustainable it will be."

Credit Suisse is one of the world's leading financial services providers. Our strategy builds on Credit Suisse's core strengths: its position as a leading wealth manager, its specialist investment banking capabilities and its strong presence in our home market of Switzerland. We seek to follow a balanced approach to wealth management, aiming to capitalize on both the large pool of wealth within mature markets as well as the significant growth in wealth in Asia Pacific and other emerging markets, while also serving key developed markets with an emphasis on Switzerland. As part of our understanding of corporate responsibility, we see ourselves as an integral part of the economy and society. We regard financial inclusion and education as an effective means of driving inclusive growth and of helping people to help themselves. 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of our two global initiatives: the Financial Inclusion Initiative and the Global Education Initiative which complement the work of our local foundations and philanthropy committees.


Get the best of CNBC in your inbox

Please choose a subscription

Please enter a valid email address
Get these newsletters delivered to your inbox, and more info about our products and service. Privacy Policy.
This page was paid for by Credit Suisse. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.