It could be argued that running a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme is no longer optional. With stakeholders demanding that corporates be held accountable for impacting sustainable positive change, organisations across the world have made a renewed commitment to CSR. Sri Lanka’s corporate sector is following suit, launching CSR projects to address key social issues across the island.

Chamath Tennekoon – the Chief Executive Officer of Softlogic Holdings’ subsidiary Future Automobiles – echoes this need: “While it’s important for image building, there’s an opportunity to contribute to the country as the government has limited resources. People need assistance with agriculture, water management, basic sanitation, women’s empowerment and other activities.”

He continues: “Giving back to the community is fundamental and should be enshrined incompanies’ constitutions especially in a country like ours where the government alone may not be able to reach our most vulnerable communities.”

HSBC Global Service Centre (GSC) shares these sentiments, noting that “every corporate is looking at corporate sustainability as a part of its objectives for employees.” The organisation adds: “It’s important that companies give back to the community.” HSBC GSC also looks at how it can support vulnerable communities and “involve staff in corporate sustainability activities, so that they understand the value and importance of what they’re doing.”

In 2016, the Department of Census and Statistics estimated the poor among Sri Lanka’s population to be 4.1 percent. Moreover, 15 of the country’s 25 districts fell under the national poverty line in June this year with people lacking access to basic necessities and livelihood opportunities.

Organisations like Future Automobiles and HSBC GSC work with NGOs such as World Vision Lanka to address these pressing social issues.

“NGOs like World Vision Lanka are needed because they bring dynamism, professionalism and project planning abilities,” notes Tennekoon, adding that “the way they go about it makes them successful. When NGO work assumes this calibre, the nation stands to benefit. More projects are completed and completed speedily – and they target the right places and communities.”

In HSBC GSC’s view, much has to be done to address poverty as people “take for granted what most in the country lack” such as clean water.  It finds that working with World Vision Lanka – a world renowned nonprofit organisation committed to Sri Lanka’s communities – helps it become “more sustainable over time, addressing issues through an honest and open framework.”

Active in Sri Lanka for over 40 years, World Vision Lanka collaborates with the Government of Sri Lanka on projects under the key pillars of education, water and sanitation, health and nutrition, livelihood development and child protection. Coupled with these pillars are crosscutting themes such as gender, environment, disability inclusion, disaster risk reduction and peace building.

The National Director of World Vision Lanka Dr. Dhanan Senathirajah notes that “the work of NGOs in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) supplements government efforts. And this is why partnerships with government institutions and corporates become important.”

World Vision Lanka’s global strategy for 2030 looks to focus on vulnerable contexts. “As our standard of living improves, we continue to have pockets of vulnerability across the country. So our efforts will be focussed on supporting extremely poor and vulnerable communities,” Senathirajah reveals.

He highlights the importance of involving the communities in development efforts: “We operate primarily by pursuing long-term sustainable work. Along with local government, we identify vulnerable areas and implement projects in such places. We work with communities to identify their needs and provide support to build their capacities. After 10-15 years, the communities take these projects forward, ensuring sustainability after we leave.”

Tennekoon reveals that the company recently embarked on its third community water project with the NGO on the Uchchamunai islands in Kalpitiya. “With funds from Ford and World Vision Lanka
as the facilitator, we adopt cutting-edge technology to provide these communities with drinking water,” he affirms.

HSBC GSC’s partnership also covered long-term area based projects with a current water project serving at least 843 families by building on the work of a completed project that provided water, sanitation facilities and infrastructure. Moreover, it conducts annual events with the organisation’s FRIENDS Project to help children living on the streets to develop soft skills and motivate them to continue their education.

Both organisations involve staff members in these projects. In its last project, 1,000 staff from HSBC GSC contributed 14,000 hours in “an eye-opening experience.” Besides allowing staff engagement in community development projects, volunteering acts as a team building exercise – and this fosters a responsible and sustainability focussed corporate culture.

“In a country where we’ve failed to reach out to the most vulnerable communities, every corporate has a responsibility to contribute,” Tennekoon asserts.

The impact of corporate involvement in development efforts in countries such as Sri Lanka is far-reaching. Beyond uplifting lives, tackling the root causes of poverty also contributes to economic rejuvenation and growth.

Senathirajah sums up: “With their marginal propensity to spend, the economy will definitely surge if more money is in the hands of vulnerable communities.”

Dr. Dhanan Senathirajah
National Director
World Vision Lanka

Chamath Tennekoon
Chief Executive Officer
Future Automobiles
(a subsidiary of Softlogic Holdings)
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