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VT Cast #28: Corporate Social Responsibility & VolunTourism


What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? How are companies currently utilizing VolunTourism to achieve their CSR goals & objectives? Are we likely to see growth in this area in the years ahead? These questions and more will be addressed during this episode of The VolunTourist.

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Past Webcast - March 18, 2008

Research Forum

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Richard Brubaker, of Hands On Shanghai [Bio]; Donnell Ocker, of The Whole Planet Foundation [Bio]; Sarah Siddiqi, of Experience Bangladesh [Bio]; Michael Strong, of FLOW Idealism [Bio].


[In relation to your work with the American Chamber of Commerce, is there a different version of Corporate Social Responsibility in China or is there a typical definition that flows across the globe?]

"That's an everlasting side that I think we have over here, but I think it's a global issue. If you look at various - - the UN (United Nations) has one definition versus the EU Chamber of Commerce versus - - various companies all define it differently. But I think in China there's different things that are important. At the American Chamber of Commerce, at this point, we look at the environment, we look at corporate governance, we look at community outreach, which includes philanthropy and volunteerism, and then we also look at labor, as well. But, as things in China occur, we add product safety, we add risk assessment; you add a number of different things into this equation. But as we are seeing in China, probably the more important thing, publicly, are environment, corporate governance - because it gets down into manufacturing and how you produce things.

As the groups that are strongest in China, have the strongest base, then they start looking at philanthropy and they start looking at volunteerism. So, you have different companies looking at different phases - Nike looks at one thing, BASF looks at another, and GE looks at a third - but each have their own measures of importance based on their business needs, because CSR is really about business needs in the greater scope. Being a good corporate citizen, managing good process, and adding to the community, not just taking from it. Different companies and how they operate - if you are a service firm versus an industrial firm - you have a different approach to that. So, in short, there are a number of different definitions, but more than anything, everyone has a common goal.

[And that common goal - if you could boil that down - what would you say that common goal really is at the end of the day?]

I think it's to run - - to be as clean as you can, people are always developing more technologies - - but being clean, and that's internal and external in terms of governance, in terms of the environment; the whole thing of having strong community relations. Typically, that starts off with philanthropy and it grows to a volunteer side as well. But it depends on the level of maturity of the company. Many companies in China, even though they're global companies, may still be fairly new to China. So the newer companies tend to focus on their manufacturing or on their environment and add the more public relations versions later, like Voluntourism, donations." Richard Brubaker

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[Is what you're doing a natural extension of your work with micro-finance, or are you looking to broaden the footprint of that and give Whole Foods Team Members a chance to connect with projects that really step beyond the footprint of your operations in that regard?]

"It's a really good question. We just had our annual gathering of all of Whole Foods Leadership, which is called the Tribal Gathering, and we spent a lot of time talking about what differentiates Whole Foods Market from other grocery stores. And I think really it's things like our Global Volunteer Program that really differentiate our company. We believe that everyone in the company is living for a higher purpose, that everyone needs to be connected - - that the purpose of the company itself is to be connected to a higher mission. And I think the volunteer program is just one of the ways we're living that, we're experiencing that, and we're enabling all of our team members to have a chance to experience it.

I think one of the best things about the program is that while the team members that go down they learn about the micro-credit, and so its obviously connected to the micro-credit, but each project in those communities is a project in and of its own right. So they come down, they do a month-long community project - whether it's the turtle project in Costa Rica, or it's the education project in Guatemala - in each instance they're doing something that they're giving back more meaningfully. And they're giving their time; they're giving their skills; they're giving their knowledge; but more than that they're taking it back to Whole Foods and they're teaching their colleagues about what they did and how it changed their lives. And the testimonials from the volunteers that have come back from serving in Costa Rica and in Guatemala is just, it's extraordinary. It's a life-changing experience for them; they're helping, but they're also, they're growing as individuals.

And I think for Whole Foods you're going to see more and more of this because we've always been connected in our local communities from a volunteerism perspective, but now to expand that to reach developing communities, I think you're going to see it in all of the communities that we source products." Donnell Ocker

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[Regarding Experience Bangladesh's connection to VolunTourism... ]

"So this is like creating permanent relationships of collaboration and Voluntourism seems to be, at this point, a great way to do it because it is a gesture of giving and learning. They have this Eastern Philosophy where they say that 'you give more to get more' and when you are on their turf you can learn about the culture first, it just opens so many doors, which makes it a lot more powerful than just transactional; it has a great impact. It's there for people to create, to make the pie bigger for everyone.

[She goes on to say later in the program...]

But VolunTourism, I think is like a very action-oriented path to entrepreneurship, to creating brand loyalty, to basically give you a chance to be an experienced traveler as well as a business person - all at the same time. And it's a fantastic way of gaining trust of the people; it's a holistic approach to business. And I think it instantly is like starting off with the right foot. It's a sustainable way of doing business. And you're just exploring all of the possibilities then saying these are my offerings. You're basically going there and instantly collaborating with people; you're saying we're here to impact communities and we're here to learn - all at the same time." Sarah Siddiqi

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[Regarding Corporate Social Responsibility, what have you discovered in your role with FLOW Idealism as to whether CSR is a regionally or globally defined concept?]

"Well, I would say that there are numerous different strands going on here. There are, on the one hand, companies that have their own way of helping the communities around the world in which they're active - and some are more culturally sensitive and some are less. But there are a number of companies that realize that if they want to simply have more successful operations in a particular place, it's good to be perceived as good citizens; it's good to support education and health in the area in which they are based; and, if they take care of their workers, they're going to have more successful operations.

Distinct from that are what I might call 'reactions' from Global Activists and NGOs which sometimes correct mistakes that companies would have made on their own and sometimes cause them to do stuff for show that they don't really believe in. And I think one of the things that we like to encourage companies to do is to really think carefully about what they're doing, and why, and to justify it to the public, proudly and that 'this is real,' when it's real. And I find that a lot of companies are confused about what are appropriate standards given the fact that there are such different possibilities out there. There are sometimes when they're asked to do things that are simply not realistic and they're caught between a rock and a hard place.

And one of the most difficult cases came when Nike was under scrutiny for having used some suppliers in Pakistan which were using child labor and they finally pulled out in the face of global activism. But, then Christian Science Monitor had a great article on it - 'When Is Doing The Right Thing, Doing Wrong,' because by pulling out of this town in Pakistan, 40,000 families lost their jobs. And this is in a region where terrorism is real possibility and disaffection from the West, and so forth. Happily, Nike searched for a new supplier in the same region that did not use child labor and six months later they were able to hire back, through the new supplier, a portion of the families that had lost their jobs. But still, that's the sort of situation in which, when they initially just left and left 40,000 families unemployed, it was not clear that it was a net gain. So it's really challenging for them to deal with global expectations in regional situations." Michael Strong

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Guest Bios

Richard Brubaker, Founder & Executive Director, Hands On Shanghai


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Rich Brubaker is the Managing Director of China Strategic Development Partners and assists foreign companies develop and implement their China based market entry and sourcing strategies, including CSR strategies. In addition to his responsibilities at China SDP, Rich founded the charitable organization Hands on Shanghai (www.handsonshanghai.com) to promote volunteerism among young professionals in the Shanghai community and founded China at the Crossroads (www.china-crossroads.com) to provide a knowledge and event platform for CSR professionals in China.

Rich has a Masters in International Management from Thunderbird, The Garvin School of International Management and is the Vice Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai's Corporate Responsibility committee.

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Donnell Ocker, Vice President of Partnership Development, Whole Planet Foundation

Donnell oversees communications, marketing, external fundraising and public relations  for Whole Planet Foundation. She seeks out strategic alliances that will enable the Foundation to have a broader impact on changing the lives of individuals around the world through microcredit

Previously, Donnell was with Conservation International (CI) - a global non-profit working in 35 countries - for 9.5 years, where she was a founding staff member for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) - a $150 million global financing mechanism providing grants in over 35 countries. At the time CEPF was a joint initiative of CI, the GEF, the MacArthur Foundation, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. Donnell was responsible for program management, fundraising/partnership development and spearheading the fund's investment strategy in over 30 countries.

Prior, she worked with the CEO on public relations and fundraising with CI's Board of Directors. She started her career at CI as a microenterprise specialist, providing technical expertise for small businesses and tourism development projects in Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

Donnell worked for three Texas State Agencies; the Texas Department of Commerce, Texas Historical Commission and Texas Agricultural Extension Service on tourism development, public relations and community development. She implemented a global public relations campaign for the La Salle Shipwreck Project securing over $8 million in free publicity for the project, including feature articles in National Geographic, Smithsonian, CNN, the Today Show, and all major Texas newspapers, among others.

Donnell was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras, working with an NGO that manages four protected areas. As a volunteer, she set up a community environmental education program and an international ecotourism program. She has a BS from Texas A&M University, is fluent in Spanish and has worked in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

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Sarah Siddiqi, Co-Founder, Experience Bangladesh

Sarah is a visionary and a connector of people with over a decade of experience in social entrepreneurship strategy, global tourism, and marketing. Her philosophies regarding the “power of positivity” enable her to see and go beyond ordinary limits. This is going to be important since her goal to "Put Bangladesh on the map" through her chosen path of sustainable tourism is no small feat.

This positive spirit was born in her grandmother's home in the same port town of Chittagong, Bangladesh as Dr. Yunus of Grameen Bank. She graduated from UT in Environmental Biology and Fine Arts, and became a serial entrepreneur since. She sold her art throughout college, started three companies, and played numerous roles from graphic designer to market strategist. After ten years of experience, this mother of three went back to school to get her MBA in entrepreneurship from Acton – one of the most rigorous and highly regarded entrepreneurship schools in the country.

She combines her passions for art, networking and cultivating diversity through her roles as the Arts Director for Cultural Societies in the Austin community and as the Managing Director of MECCA, a non-profit educational center. Sarah began her journey toward putting Bangladesh on the map during her time at Grameen Bank where she informally arranged tours for the Grameen interns. She fell in love with the concept of voluntourism. Since then, she has laid the groundwork for pursuing her dreams of establishing tourism there through her consulting and logistics firm, Experience Bangladesh.

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Michael Strong, CEO & Chief Visionary Officer, FLOW Idealism

Michael Strong is a pioneer in education and independent learning. He is the author of The Habit of Thought:  From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice, and the founder of innovative Socratic, Montessori, and Paideia schools and programs in Alaska, Florida, California, Texas, and New Mexico. Moreno Valley High School, the charter school for which Michael was the founding principal, was ranked the 36th best public high school in the U.S. on the Washington Post's 2006 Challenge Index.  Michael is co-founder and serves as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Visionary Officer of FLOW.

As Chief Visionary Officer of FLOW, Michael is responsible for articulating the FLOW vision and for applying it in various domains. Fortunately for FLOW, Michael is a prolific thinker and writer. His work is increasingly receiving significant recognition and support.

Following is a list of current articles by Michael Strong with links to download or access them on web pages. Michael is also an active participant in FLOW discussion groups and responds enthusiastically to inquiries and respectful challenges.

You can find extensive writng by Michael in the FLOW Book, Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good.

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