Emerging Economies are starting to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility

In 2018, it was estimated Fortune 500 companies spent over $20bn on corporate social responsibility. The idea that companies should ‘give back’ to their communities through charitable spending has been ingrained in the culture of developed economies for many years.

I have been deeply concerned by the impact Covid-19, especially on the most vulnerable in our society. However, one of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic is the embrace of charitable giving by companies in emerging economies – and I am proud of the modest contributions Kusto is making, writes Yerkin Tatishev.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not a new phenomenon. For decades, business figures have sought to improve their communities while growing their companies. John D. Rockefeller for example donated more than half a billion dollars to a variety of education and healthcare causes in the US. Modern versions include the Just Giving pledge, where high-net-worth individuals pledge to give away over half their wealth after death. However, these are dependent on the motivations of individual philanthropists. Systematic contributions are an entirely different matter.

I believe a vibrant corporate social responsibility program can allow companies to signal their values in a way that day-to-day operations cannot. Of course, building jobs, growing prosperity and boosting local economies are, arguably, the most valuable things a company can do. The thousands of skilled jobs Kusto Group have created across Kazakhstan and beyond is a source of great personal pride – but I ask: is this enough?

Today, in countries such as the United States, any business over a certain size will be as conscious of its obligations to society as to its shareholders. In annual reports and boardroom discussions, indicators on charitable giving and environmental impact routinely sit alongside measures of financial performance. The same cannot yet be said of corporations in the developing world, but that is changing.

In some respects, the coronavirus outbreak has been a catalyst, demanding developing-world companies also step up and help their workers and broader society. I sincerely hope this will bring about a permanent change in attitude towards this corporate role.

In Kazakhstan, Kusto Group allocated $2,5m for charitable purposes and has already delivered about $1m of aid to support at-risk populations, sending 11,000 food baskets to families in need and providing medical organizations protective equipment worth $420,000, as the coronavirus outbreak took hold. We make these contributions on a voluntary basis, because supporting the health of our community is the most important action we can take. A healthy economy cannot exist without a healthy community.

The countrywide “Kusto Help” programme has allowed us to see first-hand the difficult conditions many Kazakhs endure every day. It has helped us better understand the struggle for survival that vulnerable segments face. Along the way, we have met some amazing people: community leaders and volunteers who have risked their health to provide assistance, doctors and nurses who give selflessly, and countless others. For example, in the Kostanay region we were able to provide an ambulance, the hospital’s first, fully equipped with a respiration apparatus serving a population of nearly 35,000. Kusto Help also provided specialised catheters to 177 children around the country suffering spina bifida, identifying a local manufacturer and ensuring a two months supply.

It is rewarding to see our contributions have an on-the-ground impact – and seeing that, as a company, putting effort into charitable work is its own reward. I have been inspired by their stories and determined to do more to help.

In a 2019 report, the Norwegian Government found that large Kazakh businesses had ‘acknowledged the importance of CSR and implemented socially responsible strategies’, but noted that this culture doesn’t exist amongst SMEs. This suggests in developing nations like Kazakhstan, much is still to be done in establishing responsible business as standard practice. We hope our modest efforts will encourage others, and that companies in developing economies around the world will more fully embrace the positive impact a that giving back to the communities that you live in can create.

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Yerkin Tatishev

Yerkin Tatishev

Yerkin Tatishev is the founder and chairman of Kusto Group. He started out as an entrepreneur in single industry towns in Kazakhstan, turning around ailing mining and manufacturing enterprises in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, Kusto Group operates across five sectors, including agri-business and real estate, working in 10 countries across the globe, employing more than 8,000 staff. In addition to his business interests, Tatishev established the Yerzhan Tatishev Foundation in 2005, named after his later brother, which supports Kazakhstan’s youth to develop their skills in business, finance and industry.

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