Corporate social responsibility: think global, act local

Corporate social responsibility is a surprising concept: global, almost a movement, with the imprimatur of dozens of chambers of commerce, from CRS organizations stretching from India to Poland, even boasting its own UN standards. 

In late 2010, the Geneva-based, 164-member International Organization for Standardization, a UN consultative body that sets global proprietary, industrial and commercial standards, launched guidelines for social responsibility. 

Dubbed both ISO 26000 and ISO SR, the 84-page document creates standards that encourage business, government and social organizations to improve their impact on workers, the natural environment and communities in an ethical and transparent fashion. 

Locally, CSR is a little less formal, although KPMG Manager for Markets and Marketing Astra Watler says the group retains firm links to UN standards. 

“We have a robust framework for philanthropy, and support those organizations which mirror the global-development initiatives set by the UN (millennium goals), along with KPMG’s Global CSR standards,” she says. 

In 2002, the UN kicked off a campaign for eight “millennium development goals,” creating a global “partnership for development” to reduce extreme poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; and ensure environmental sustainability. 

KPMG – with operations in 155 jurisdictions – has its own international standards, built around general principles such as integrity, corporate citizenship, diversity and inclusion, and “living green.” 

“KPMG has a set of core values which run through the DNA of our organization – they define who we are and how we do things,” Watler said. “Based on these core values, we have set up a community committee that receives requests and we review them against a set of broad criteria to ensure they match our global and local values and goals.  

Locally, KPMG has focused on community development, education and environmental issues since 2008, she says, when the company developed “a committed CSR program,” creating relationships with local NGOs and bringing KPMG’s immense global financial resources to bear. 

Watler lists the Chamber of Commerce Earth Day Clean Up and its Leadership Cayman program, Hospice Care, Red Bay Reading Program, Young Caymanian Leadership Awards, Meals on Wheels, National Council of Voluntary Organizations, Feed Our Future, It Takes a Village and Literacy Is For Everyone as examples. 

Volunteering forms a major part of the firm’s efforts, clocking more than 35,000 hours donated by more than 21,000 volunteers globally each year. 

“We take our responsibilities as good corporate citizens very seriously and KPMG wants to be a part of our community’s future, which means being a part of the solution and driving change and the development of our youth in the present,” Watler says. 

In 2015, she says, “we have been focused more on the youth in Cayman, education and social inclusion” – including various sports teams and clubs. “In addition to monetary amounts, our staff has donated 2,306 hours of volunteering and pro-bono work.” 

The Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Cayman program is itself a CSR initiative, one of several offered by the organization. Every January, since 2010, it has offered 24 volunteers six months of exposure to social, economic, business and political issues; and community involvement opportunities. 

Chamber CEO Wil Pineau says Leadership Cayman “also includes a corporate social responsibility element with a class project that assists a nonprofit, charity or community organization in need. 

“This year, the class raised money and volunteered to strip the paint off the TE McField Community Centre in George Town and repainted it. Previous years, classes have assisted the Boys and Girls homes and the Hope Foundation in West Bay.” 

Pineau says the Chamber encourages members to participate in corporate social responsibility initiatives in education and environmental protection. 

“Each year we organize ‘Mentoring Cayman,’ matching 50 high-school students with mentors from business and government; annual Earth Day and Christmas roadside cleanups. More than 40 businesses and 2,000 volunteers participate each year,” he says. “We also encourage members and the wider community to sign up to the take the ‘environmental pledge’ … to reduce their carbon footprint and to reduce, reuse and recycle.” 

The ISO applies seven standards to its CSR guidelines – accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms of behavior and respect for human rights – and “seven core subjects” that every company should consider: organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and both community involvement and development. 

Cayman National Bank says ISO 26000 is a “point of reference,” applying professionally to due diligence, transparency, accountability and confidentiality – and to its 331 personnel in terms of respect for human rights, fairness, health and safety. 

“We are also working to develop an overall strategy as it relates to our impact on the environment,” says Shari Whittaker, manager for bank marketing, citing efforts to reduce consumption of printer paper and Styrofoam, with energy efficiency on the agenda. 

The list only starts with “academic pursuits,” she says. Almost 100 staff since 2003 have benefitted from CNB-paid further education and special certifications. 

In 2010, CNB volunteers launched the organization’s first charity walk/run – which began as an annual event, but is now run every two years, making room for the burgeoning number of similar efforts. The first meeting aided the Cayman Islands Diabetes Association, the Diabetes Trust, Women of Grace – Senior Citizen Programme, Rotaract Blue’s Open Arms Program, Haiti earthquake relief, the Girls’ Brigade and the Scouts Association. However, Whittaker says, “new charities are identified and selected every time the event is held.” 

In 2012, Special Olympics Cayman Islands launched the annual Eric Crutchley Memorial Golf Tournament, title-sponsored by CNB and honoring its former CEO. 

The company’s website indicates at least 43 organizations that CNB supports, including the NCVO, the Special Olympics, the Young Caymanian Leadership Awards, United World Colleges Cayman Islands, Meals on Wheels, the Humane Society and Cayman Hospice. 

The organization sponsors UCCI’s Pandemix Steel Pan Band, Stingray Swim Club and the Tennis Federation in North Side, East End, Bodden Town and West Bay primary schools. 

Last year, CNB launched a new program: a four-year $35,000 scholarship, awarded retroactively, to an aspiring Caymanian in the University College of the Cayman Islands nursing program. 

Whittaker freely admits CSR builds the company’s image, but it is also more: While donation and sponsorship help “build a positive reputation within the community” and “drive our commercial-brand objectives,” she says. “Cayman National is a product of its environment. Extending helping hands in ways that make life better for others is what makes Cayman National successful. Corporate social responsibility is not only good for business, it is also the right thing, and that is also part of the reason why we give back.” 

By all accounts, she’s right. Whittaker and Watler were both reluctant to reveal their companies’ annual spending on CSR or the percentage of revenues devoted to such activities, but according to a growing number of studies, CSR has become a corporate imperative, not just as image advertising, but as a magnet for consumers and, therefore, better business. 

An August study last year by U.K.’s Grant Thornton, the world’s fifth-largest accounting network, suggests “the benefits of adopting more environmentally and socially sustainable business practices are becoming ever more tangible.” 

“Strong social and environmental credentials can create customer loyalty and enhance reputations,” the study concluded. “We live in an increasingly digital world characterized by instant customer feedback, so businesses need to be mindful not just of what they are doing, but of how they are doing it. Companies which gain while the local population or environment loses can quickly find demand for their products or services eroding.” 

Generally, CSR advocates argue that corporations with a social-awareness perspective increase long-term profits. Critics question “lofty” and possibly “unrealistic expectations” of CSR, claiming that such initiatives are window-dressing or an effort to pre-empt government monitoring of multinational corporations. 

Amid the “corporate speak” about CSR, local realtor JC Calhoun is refreshing. The plain-spoken owner of Coldwell Banker has long seen a need to contribute, but not because of market demands or international surveys or ISO standards and its “people, planet and profit triple bottom line.”  

“To me, ‘giving’ is not a ‘social’ responsibility,” he says. “I do things because I see a need and because I feel it is the right thing to do. To me it is more an ethical and Christian consideration.” 

Calhoun founded Coldwell Banker Cayman Islands Realty in 1985, quickly helping create the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association. More importantly, however, he founded the Cayman Islands Little League in 1989, donating the 17-acre, four-diamond Field of Dreams complex. He has donated vouchers and cash to West Bay’s drug-rehabilitation Hope Foundation for years and supported YMCA of the Cayman Islands. 

“There was an obvious need and by doing these things I hoped to help make our community better,” Calhoun said. “So in that sense it is ‘social,’ I guess, but my motivation was more Christian – or ethical, if you prefer.” 

In early June, explaining his sponsorship of the inaugural Landon von Kanel Memorial Invitational Swim Meet, Calhoun said he has “always believed that young people’s surroundings play a large part in who they become as adults.” 

That is why I founded Little League and why Coldwell Banker continues to support youth programs which promote sportsmanship, accountability and discipline along with competition,” he says.
As for ISO 26000, “I’ve never heard of it and couldn’t care less,” Calhoun says. “So much of our world’s problems are built around ‘political correctness’; Legislated or enforced charity is no longer charity. What about ethical and moral correctness?” 

By far, Cayman’s largest CSR contributor is Dart Enterprises. The country’s biggest developer is involved chiefly in education, youth development, environmental sustainability and community service.  

Dart’s “Minds Inspired” initiative sponsors two scholarships, two each year for local high-school math-and-science students and another for general university study. 

The William A. Dart scholarship was initially awarded in 2013 for a four-year term at any accredited school internationally. So far, five young Caymanians have gained sponsorship. 

“It is the accompanying, complementary aspects … which demonstrate Dart’s interest in producing well-rounded, experienced individuals who will return to Cayman and contribute to the community in the future” through company-sponsored employment, internships, mentoring and professional exposure,” the company says of its youth-development programs. 

Environmentally, Dart’s “Growing Communities” includes construction – and sometimes reconstruction – and maintenance of five district parks, six neighborhood parks and West Bay’s Seven Mile Beach Park adjacent to Public Beach. 

“There’s a thousand-odd acres in the [Central Mangrove Wetland that] won’t be developed,” CEO of Dart Enterprises and Dart Realty Mark VanDevelde, adding that Dart has also worked with the National Trust to acquire other lands on their behalf or with them. 

“With no real structure to hold the lands Dart buys for conservation purposes, many people don’t know about it,” VanDevelde says, acknowledging if they did, “it might help alleviate some of the concerns people have about the ‘big, bad developer’ … and what’s he going to do next. 

“We’ve been talking about maybe … [putting Dart’s global conservation holdings] into a trust … and some of the local lands into that same trust because the story is fantastic,” he said. “Truly, it’s hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres … in some pretty fantastic locations. and people don’t know anything about that.” 

Other Dart CSR projects include the Rotary Science Fair, Destination Imagination and the Gallery’s Active Learning Sessions); Cayman Swimming, Island Games, basketball, rugby and such athletic meets as the Inter-Secondary Sports). 

Cultural activities include support for the Cultural Foundation, National Gallery and the anti-bullying social campaign. 

“Through sponsorships we are involved in a number of business-related conferences such as Fidelity’s CEO, the Health Conference and our own Cayman Alternative Investment Summit that we invest significant time and resources in putting on,” said a spokesman for the company. 

“Support of professionally managed and executed conferences such as these are good for Cayman in many ways. They bring professional networking and learning opportunities to the resident business community; and they attract people to Cayman who, may decide to do business here, may decide to invest here.” 

Dart is also involved with Hospice care through donation of land for the facility. 

Similarly reluctant to answer questions, Caribbean Utilities Company, according to company documents, focuses CSR efforts on the Lighthouse School, the Primary Football League, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Cadet Corps and the Sunrise Adult Training Centre. 

The company’s Community Involvement Team, founded in 1997, coordinates employee participation in community outreach projects under the slogans “Committed to Cayman’s Youth” and “Making a Positive and Lasting Difference in Our Community.” 

More than 100 CUC volunteers have “contributed hundreds of hours” on lunch hours, evenings and weekends “to community projects, especially youth-oriented activities.” 

Company employees aid Lighthouse School’s annual Sports Day, Easter Egg Day – supplying hardboiled eggs, glue and glitter – and Christmas Stocking Day. 

Since 2005, the company has supplied officials, uniforms, balls, whistles, cards, flags, field preparation, advertising and trophies to the 18 schools and more than 500 players in the Primary Football League.  

The utility has also signed a second 25-year sponsorship agreement with the Cayman Islands Athletic Association, while sponsoring, for nearly the same amount of time, the annual CUC 800m Sea Swim. 

Participation in Reading Day and an annual Reading Week helps promote literacy, further supported by donations of used computers to primary schools and youth groups. 

CUC volunteers also take part in Earth Day roadside and underwater cleanups by the Chamber of Commerce, and the Public Beach cleanup with the Leo Club. 

The company also sponsors mentoring at George Town Primary under the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, lends financial support to the Sunrise Adult Training Centre and supports Meals on Wheels, the Special Constabulary and the Cayman Islands Scouts Association. 

Finally, the Bank of Butterfield has a long record of community-building activities in Cayman. 

“For more than 40 years,” according to a formal statement on the bank’s website, “Butterfield Bank has been encouraging progress and enriching lives through support and funding of local organizations. 

“We dedicate a significant budget to local charitable organizations each year. In addition, our employees regularly contribute their time, expertise and energy to projects that benefit our islands and people.” 

Among regular Butterfield-sponsored programs are the Young Caymanian Leadership Awards, Junior Achievement, the Cayman Arts Festival, the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s Young at Arts program; the National Children’s Festival of the Arts; the Young Musician of the Year award; and instrument purchases for George Hicks High School concert bands. 

The organization also sponsors such sports and fitness programs as Little League, the Squash Association’s Junior Squash program and various rugby programs; charity walks such as March’s annual Butterfield St. Patrick’s Day 5K Irish Jog and May’s annual Butterfield 800-meter Sea Swim. 

Also on the bank’s list is Cayman Hospice Care, the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Heart Fund. 

In the end, few are likely to forget what may be ultimate expression of corporate social responsibility, by the Bank of Butterfield or anyone else: The Sept. 23, 2004, inauguration of the Butterfield-conceived-and-seeded National Recovery Fund. 

In the wake of the near destruction of the Cayman Islands at the hands of Hurricane Ivan in early September that year, Butterfield Managing Director Conor O’Dea personally brought to Governor Bruce Dinwiddy the idea for a privately funded $50 million pool to rebuild. 

While the $50 million figure was never achieved, an large sum was gathered, financing an enormous recovery effort, and O’Dea personally solicited from top Butterfield executives the founding $1 million donation, a move that will long remain the gold standard in corporate social responsibility. 


Shari Whittaker


Astra Watler