Doing good can come in many different forms, such as donations, volunteering and other kinds of philanthropy. To ensure sustainable change for the future, technology giant Intel has taken its corporate social responsibility in China to another level by looking at the big picture and applying the business’s core competencies
By Leon Lee
Every large corporation runs a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in order to give back to the community and society. While the reasons behind the programs might be to improve a company’s public image or a genuine desire to make a change, CSR tends to be overlooked when compared to other initiatives that would generate a profit.
However, Intel China and its Director of Corporate Responsibility, CY Yeung, has set out a strategy that can benefit business and society at the same time.
“Every company and business has their social purpose. For Intel, our role is figuring how to leverage core competency to drive societal change and progress.”
Strengthening a sector
Like many multinational companies, Intel’s initial CSR forays in China were corporate volunteering, philanthropic and social contribution programs. In 2000, they started the Intel Teach program with the Ministry of Education to address the quality of education.
“We launched Intel Teach with the focus on training teachers around the globe. The program tries to improve the quality of teaching because we believe teachers are the key to students,” says Yeung, who is formerly Chair of BCSR (Business Council for Sustainability and Responsibility) at AmCham Shanghai.
So far, they have trained 12 million teachers around the world. But over time, the program in China gradually shifted from just training teachers to improving and sustaining education through advocacy with policymakers, in addition to professional development and cross-sector partnerships, creating an ecosystem of like-minded thinkers for deepened collaboration.
“The key essence is how we maximize our societal impact and leverage some of the core capabilities within the organization. So Intel CSR is how to bring together the totality of the goodness and focus on a couple of key societal needs, and how we use innovation, the same thing that we have applied into the business world, into a social context.”
The senior executive coined it as social innovation which uses innovative approaches to address societal challenges.
After the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008, they found an opportunity to apply the concept to the social sector in China. Despite being in its infancy, the domestic non-profit sector played a big part in the recovery. Intel saw that the NGOs had a wealth of potential to do more and contribute beyond disaster relief.
“In order for China to grow sustainably and harmoniously, a stronger social sector is needed. Our team looked around the globe and realized all those issues including education, urbanization, aging health-care, pollution are really a result of development. If you look at the US, Europe, they’ve gone through a similar process as part of the urbanization process. So then I realized that maybe we should really learn from each other instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Yeung wondered with his team if Intel could take their success in building an information and communications technology (ICT) business in China and apply it to the social sector. They started work on a proposal and approached the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) about replicating the successful business ecosystem they’ve built into building a social ecosystem. Wang Zhenyao, the then-Director General of MCA, was very supportive of the idea.
“The approach was to figure out and identify who are the future leaders of the sector, who have the most potential to be those leaders. We wanted to find out where they are, who they are, what their core skills are and their history and to celebrate their success and promote their practice.”
A network for doing good
In the early nineties, the ICT industry in China was just starting, and the personal computer industry was dominated by large multinational corporations. The country didn’t have a healthy independent hardware and software vendor community.
Intel came to the conclusion that in order to grow its business in the country, they needed to help China grow first. The company engaged with local companies and set up the Intel Architecture Lab in Shanghai in 1994 to help create a domestic computing ecosystem. They brought in experts from around the world to train and develop local talents. Today, China has become of the largest countries for ICT production and consumption.
Thinking along the same lines, Intel launched the Innovation Initiative for Nonprofits (IINP) in the beginning of 2010 as part of their plan to grow the social sector in China. In the first year, they received more than 300 applicants. They were able to identify the key players, gather them and have them share with one another ideas and programs that worked and what didn’t. They organized events where leading experts from around the world share their expertise and experience with the nonprofits, increasing their knowledge and potential. By the second year, they were up to 900 applicants for the initiative.
“If you go through your innovation network, you’ll be able to gain a lot of insights. You have a lot of people doing rapid experimentation, and other NGOs that will share with you their knowledge. You basically become a data analyst. It’s interesting because within one or two years, we realize we know much more than a lot of people who have been in this business for a long time. That’s the power of innovation. You don’t use the old ways of addressing an issue.”
Yeung adds: “Instead of talking about what we have been doing ourselves, we focus on how to help other companies to do better. By engaging in CSR holistically, you’ll be able to get in touch with social ecosystems. It’s a hub of innovation that translate outside needs into business or technological ecosystems.”
The director believes that by acting as an intermediary for NGOs, it is a much more effective way of helping rather than just from donating money. “As the NGO sector grows, they can be the future small and medium businesses to address social challenges versus just donations.”
To help further discover and promote social innovation among local NGOs, Intel has incubated an NGO called Cinnovate. The group identifies and recruits changemakers across different sectors to establish a network of people and organizations to push social innovations. Working with Intel, they have developed a nonprofit online platform to connect volunteers, nonprofits and corporations. Nonprofits can share any needs they might have, such as for computers or office equipment on the platform, and any corporations looking to help can easily see what is needed.
Starting two years ago, Intel and Cinnovate organize an annual one-week long event dedicated to social innovation. Social Innovation Week brings international experts and thought leaders together to mingle and interact with local practitioners.
At an earlier one which focused on bringing technology, humanities and arts together to address community and city issues, Yeung recalls a government official telling him that the NGOs were talking about the exact solutions the government needed in dealing with urbanization and smart cities.
He realized that this could be the topic to bring more attention to how NGOs can be of service to a bigger, more corporate audience. His team has developed a campaigned called DIY Smart City to start a conversation on how citizens, NGOs and the government can work together to build their cities.
“Instead of talking about selling technology, we discussed how to address government and societal issues. In the process, NGOs can play a key role because NGOs know the needs of citizens better than the government and businesses,” Yeung says.
He believes that cities and communities will become the hub of innovations to tackle issues like low-carbon economy and aging.
When Yeung began his current role seven years ago, he saw that when people talked about CSR they weren’t even using the same terms. This made discussions complicated so he decided to come up with a framework to easily explain it as only as an ICT veteran can. When corporations take part in donations, volunteering, philanthropy and other traditional forms of CSR, he labels it as CSR 1.0.
Then about five years ago, there was a movement influenced by economist Michael Porter who wrote several papers saying that for a business to have sustainable societal impact, its actions should be tied to the business’s core competency. For Intel, this was innovation and Yeung calls it CSR 2.0.
For CSR 3.0, an organization moves further away from the business and instead looks to work and partner with other organizations from all sectors to identify the causes of social issues and share resources to come with an effective solution.
Using the classic analogy, CSR 3.0 and social innovation move beyond giving someone a fish to eat, teaching them how to fish or even establishing a healthy fishing industry. It’s about finding out what is limiting that fishing industry socially and then working with fishermen and their customers to tackle the issue, grow or even revolutionize the whole industry.
As for now, there isn’t a CSR 4.0 as Yeung says they’re still trying to make CSR 3.0, an open innovation ecosystem, work.
“The interesting thing about innovation is every day you have a new insight on what’s better. It’s really important to tap into the rapid experimentation. Everyone is doing experimentation and sharing to figure out better ways of doing it,” he enthusiastically explains.
“So instead of having a few people willing to sit in the office doing innovations from inside out, you can have so many people be part of it through a network of innovation, basically a virtual social innovation lab.”
As the ecosystem and CSR grows, Yeung sees benefits that go beyond just socially. He points out that CSR can act as the eyes and ears of an organization that wants to move forward as it helps the company be in touch with different aspects of the community. Knowing what is happening on the ground level can help a company sets its business strategies.
“In the past, it was inside out – let’s figure out who’s going to buy our products. This is really looking at the outside, at societal and eco circumstances. What is coming, what’s the emerging trend like aging or others? Then you look at how to translate that into business,” Yeung explains.
“CSR becomes a strategic apex of an organization, setting the future of the business direction. That potential opportunity transforms a society and transforms the business model inside out. It’s real shared value for societal impact and for business sustainability. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Steps to implement a CSR 3.0 strategy
- Establish a CSR champion or group that is part of the company’s senior management and empower them to explore and test innovative approaches that can transform the business model in line with societal expectations and opportunities.
- Identify the most pertinent societal issues and identify where these align with the business’s strategic intent and core capabilities that would maximize shared business and social impact.
- Map the issue-specific stake holder ecosystem and convene key stakeholders across social organizations, academia, government, businesses, media, and others.
- Dismantle boundaries between sectors by mobilizing and rallying both internal and external stakeholders in the ecosystem to collaborate and innovate to develop and scale effective solutions.
- Create an open feedback platform to capture realtime learning from rapid experimentation and scaling in the field to guide future efforts.
Source: Intel China