Optimy launches CSR Podcast

We are happy to announce that Optimy is launching its first podcast. And in this very first episode, we thought it would be nice to start with the very basics: What is CSR? How is it different from philanthropy and charity? How can someone who just started their journey on corporate social responsibility create a strategy in COVID-19 times? To answer all these questions, and many other more, we talked to Christian Robillard. Currently, Christian is a board member of non-profit charity Youth Ottawa, part of the Global Shapers Community and Strategy Advisor on the Carleton University, Ottawa. Here is a small teaser of some of the questions we asked him. 


What is the difference between CSR and philanthropy? 

I think it’s interesting because right now in particular as COVID-19 is wrapping our planet now, I think the concept of that corporate social responsibility is changing and is becoming a bit more integrated into more of a corporate citizenship type way. 

Before, when a company was looking to engage in social good they had a suite of tools, whether it was pure philanthropy, which means executing something positive for the community, or whether it was sponsorship activities in which was very much about trying to get some type of business objectives fulfilled by doing this thing through a marketing mechanism.  

I think now you’re seeing a lot of that blending in terms of repurposing some of the company’s assets to achieve some of those social good activities. You see companies small like some distillers here in Canada that have repurposed their entire operations to be able to produce things like hand sanitiser. You also see big companies like HP repurposing and allowing for other companies to use their models and their blueprints to create personal protective equipment with 3-D printers. 

It’s an interesting spectrum. I think more companies are using a lot of different tools and looking at doing not only pure philanthropy. They are using all the tools in their tool kit to engage in those types of social good activities.

I think now we see more of a rise in corporate citizenship where we see a full integration of companies not just having activities to show that they care about the community. Because corporate citizenship goes further and looks into ‘how do we redesign our business systems so they integrate elements of social good.’ 


Talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you think is the best way to allocate funds during this pandemic? 

I think they’re a couple of things we should consider. The first one is either a foundation or as a company it’s important for you to  say: ‘okay is everyone working with us okay and in a good spot?’ I don’t think it’s possible for you to support communities and support others without having your own affairs in order. In fact, that could cause further issues down the line. The second, is taking a look at your existing partners and saying ‘who are we currently funding and what can we do to further support them?’  

I always have suggestions around making the funding really flexible, asking if there’s anything in terms of support that you can offer to those grantees. You should ask them: ‘what are some additional resources we can provide to you?’  Because if you want to keep that partner for the long term but you’re refusing to give out grants this particular year, those partners might not be here next year. We need a robust charitable sector and social safety nets, and charities and nonprofits make up a big part of that. We need those people and now is not the time to be pulling out finding. There is this campaign happening in North America, called Give 5. It is about granters and funders to commit 5% of their assets towards grants. 

Some organisations might even withdraw (funds) because they don’t want to risk eating into their capital reserves. But these are the times where it’s the rainy day that we’ve always saved up the money for and that we exist to do something for. I think foundations and grantors and whoever else is a funder needs to be able to step up and say: ‘we’re willing to not pull out, but instead, keep our assets.’ Because this is the time that philanthropy really needs to shine.


How to have a strategic CSR game plan now? 

 I think that the fundamentals are still relatively the same. I think you want to align it with the core purpose of your business with the strength that you have and being able to create those shared values. I think the resources are the difference. The amount of money that’s able to go around is significantly different, so it’s about getting creative on how you can achieve the same social mission without focusing on just cash.

A technology company, for example, can ask itself how can you deliver better services for those initiatives. Some organisations need to pivot their strategy to an online platform. Technology companies can help them with that in a cost-effective way. If you can contribute with money, ask yourself how do you make sure that you’re also able to contribute to not just with the organisation business bottom line but also thinking about how this will also help them create a community. The support of the arts is important, for example, because people need things to be entertained and things that inspire them. Food banks also need support at the moment because if people are going hungry in that community, chances are you’re not able to focus as much. Investing in that social safety net is still key. Those elements are important during this time and I think you’re seeing a lot of it. 


To hear the whole conversation with Christian, you can access Optimy’s Podcast here