Title Sustainability and social responsibility through learning in SME
Project Number LLP-LdV-TOI-2008-LT-0021
Project Type Transfer of Innovation
LIFE, WORK, TRUST!!!
We are offering a simple, step by step guide how to be socially responsible and sustainable for small and medium companies will help to win anytime, even in crisis.
Reason of the project. Big and multinational companies have clearly understood the new trend: they present themselves as companies having adopted Corporate Social Responsibility as a mission, towards their employees as well as towards consumers and the society as a whole. This is well founded, since acceptable relations with employees as well as consumers and other stakeholders is an increasing factor in competing for socially conscious consumers, but also for the best talent to hire. SME’s and micro enterprises are dealing with the same group of socially sensitive consumers as well as potential employees, therefore more and more of them have to deal with this new concept, if they want to preserve their market and their relation with local communities.
There is a strong connection between CSR and Life Long Learning. Research and experience of training providers shows that often complaints from stakeholders, but also initiatives to attract and retain valuable talent – classical CSR issues – initiate learning activities within companies. Therefore discussing CSR related incidents and strategies is often a valid starting point for systematic life long learning policies within SME. Training providers, consultants and other facilitators of learning therefore have to develop competence in identifying and consulting CSR related problems and to relate them to the learning initiatives that have to take place to solve them. SME’s and micro enterprises are short on resources. Therefore they need tailored support to implement a socially responsible learning strategy. In many cases SME’s already have social responsible activities with regard to their workforce but a lack in discovering and promoting them in a systematic way.
The main aim and objectives. The project aims to transfer and further develop an innovative methodology to develop a CSR strategy within SME, using a balanced scorecard monitoring methodology and helping to develop systematic learning activities.
Objectives of the project:
• to identify SME leaning needs in CSR in every country in order to adequate project product to each national situation;
• prepare a package of methodology to develop learning initialized by CSR concerns for SME in English and adapt of this package in other languages due to the needs of the respective transfer partners (Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Polish, Spanish, Romanian, Greek, Latvian, Portuguese)
• test the adapted CSR learning concept in SME in Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Cyprus and Portugal SMEs
• produce a package for CSR related learning development in SMEs addressed to SME’s consultants;
• disseminate and valorize project product in each country during the project and after.
The characteristics of the partnership. The European dimension to this project is based around the size of partnership, a combination of Western and Eastern partners: from Latvia to Cyprus, from Spain to Poland. The innovation transferring partner is a research institute (ISOB, Germany) which has a big experience in innovation transferring and evaluation processes. The innovation will be transferred to Bulgarian, Romanian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Cyprus, Spain, Poland and Portugal SME. Partners, representing these countries have strong relationships with small and middle enterprises and experience in consulting of businesses in various fields, thereby following the call of the European Commission to “mainstream CSR and develop open coalitions of cooperation.” COM(2006) 136 final, p.12
Outcomes. The main outcomes are a redeveloped package for consultants (CD) that will enable them to develop learning strategies within a strategic business approach based on CSR for SME and web site of the project oriented to end-users of the project. Also every partner will produce the brochure in their language for dissemination.
Impact. This project is proposing a corporate social responsibility “Step by Step” process centred on promoting work integrated learning activities within SME which is a specific tool tailor-made for SME and tested in SME in order to understand the importance of becoming Social Responsible, also a self-evaluation system, based on the Balanced Scorecard approach, that leads SME to reflect on social responsible activities: results of the dialogue with CSR consultants will help to visualise companies strong elements as well as to discover areas in which improvements are needed. This “Step by Step” process can be an important starting point in order to promote life long learning within the company, improve internal and external communication, management quality, company image, relations at local level, productivity and enlarge the customer base.
Continuously changing market conditions in EU determine that enterprises, especially small and medium sized, must be able to create meaningful relationships, which deliver both economic and social value not just to their consumers, but also to all relevant stakeholder groups, that hold the enterprises accountable for their actions. This trend has strong relations with the Life Long Learning concept in the context of sustainable business strategy creation and CSR adoption in SME. Many SME are active in learning and also in socially responsible activities towards their stakeholders and employees. But the lack of strategic perspective is the most common deficiency identified in the performance of SME inhibits the full exploitation of these activities. From the other side, trainers and facilitators of learning are oriented to the traditional classroom teaching and they are not able to meet concrete SME requirements of learning most often. Thus, a clear need for comprehensive, sustainable and responsible business strategy for SME exists. On the core of such a strategy has to be sustainability and responsibility and it must be oriented to organizational as well as individual learning initiatives, provided by well prepared learning facilitators. The project will be contributed to the fulfillment of this need.
The formulated need can be proved by following relevant aspects:
- Analysis of current situation regarding CSR in countries, involved in the project’s partnership, shows, that:
• Accomplished researches in CSR field are not sufficient enough, but from their results increasing interest in CSR can be identified and the need of specialists (consultants) of this field can be perceived. For example, research done in Lithuania’s and Latvia’s SME (financed by EU, 2006) regarding CSR has indicated that most of SME CSR activities are incidental. Also there is a lack of information and practical advices on CSR. The majority of respondents have emphasized the need of learning in this field. In Bulgaria public sector (i.e. EUFACINET Project for transfer of corporative social responsibility guide for SME) and some public beneficiaries (NAVET) launched the CSR as a factor for competitiveness for business in general and SME in particular.
• The increasing interest in CSR issues can be proved by the increasing number of various information sources provided on this topic in different countries: in Lithuania the conference is organizing every year from 2006 dedicated for CSR and www about CSR has been created. In Bulgaria during the last two years two conferences were held with wide representation of CSR topics and the green book of the European Commission on CSR was presented. Cyprus University, along with the Planning Bureau of the Republic of Cyprus, is organizing for the first time in Cyprus the 1st EuroMediterranean Forum on CSR in April 2008. The event aims at the promotion of the CSR issues not only among local SME but also to those in the neighbouring Middle-East and North-African countries that form close trading partners with EU. In Portugal CSR business association exists (most of members are large organizations); workshops, seminars, marketplaces and other promotional activities are being organised by public and private organisations in order to promote CSR; certifications related to CSR are being applied by companies.
• Governments support CSR initiatives in SME and priority is given to learning in this field in Lithuania, Latvia. Thus, the list of socially responsible enterprises is composed. Moreover, the emphasis has placed on CSR development methodologies in SME in Lithuania (Incentive of Ministry of social security and labor, 2005). Still it is only political statement. In Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland there is no strategic document on national level developed for implementation of that policy of the EU until now.
• Toolkits, guides, business cases have been published in partner countries, but an easy to use and practical tool targeted to SME consultants that could “show” how CSR can be integrated into the business strategy and sustainability could be an important contribution to “demystify” CSR to SME in all partner countries.
- This need has been identified already by the comprehensive needs analysis in Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium in the context of COSORE: “General awareness of the CSR concept among SMEs is currently low and imprecise. Nevertheless SME conduct a lot of practices that follow the logic of CSR. The reason for this is that they felt such activities might indirectly support their business, reduce transactional costs with their neighbourhood or support the sustainability of their business. Another reason for this contradictory position of SME towards CSR cited frequently in the literature but also identified in COSOREs requirement analysis is the dominant role the owner plays in most SMEs. Therefore his/her ethical standards and personal integration in the community is often an important factor in determining what activities the company participates in. As a consequence almost all SME lack a consistent strategy for the identification, systematization and development of appropriate and feasible activities” (COSORE Evaluation Report).
- This perspective is underlined strongly by the research on CSR in SME that has been synthesized by the European Commission:
• In its Communication on CSR the Commission clearly identifies the needs of SME as a priority target for the activities of all actors: “The Commission recognizes that a specific approach is needed to foster CSR amongst SME. Such an approach requires giving greater recognition to what many SME already do in the field of CSR. It also requires the active cooperation of mainstream SME intermediary organisations and support providers. The Commission will facilitate the exchange of experience about how best to encourage CSR amongst SME in Europe” (COM (2006), 136 final).
• COM (2002, 347 final) clearly identifies the “development of CSR management skills” as a need specifically in SME. “Since SME do not draw value from their engagement in the same way as a large company, it is important to assist SME in adopting a more strategic approach”.
• In report “Opportunity and Responsibility – How to help more small businesses to integrate social and environmental issues in what they do (Rhee Report) the DG Enterprises clearly stresses the interrelationship of practical business problems and CSR: “CSR is an opportunity to resolve real problems. CSR needs to be kept practical and results oriented, providing solutions to real problems faced for example by an enterprise, a locality or a sector. All stakeholders should be encouraged to see the opportunities that can arise from engaging SME on social and environmental issues. Policy-makers and others actors should not treat CSR in isolation…” Among other needs to be addressed by further developing CSR related strategies the report underlines that “9. Language and terminology must be appropriate. The term “corporate social responsibility” is confusing and off-putting to most SME. While the term remains useful in policy-making circles, in most languages alternative terms need to be found for the purposes of communicating with SME.”
- Creating an area of life long learning as well as promoting CSR ranks high on the agenda of the European Commission and all of the member states, as the consulting processes on the EC policies have shown. On the development of CSR, the “communication from the Commission to the European parliament, the council and the European economic and social committee implementing the partnership for growth and jobs: making Europe a pole of excellence on corporate social responsibility (COM(2006), 136 final) 22.3.2006, declares: “Sustainable growth and more and better jobs are the twin challenges the EU must now address in the face of global competition and an ageing population to safeguard our model for European society, based on equal opportunities, high quality of life, social inclusion and a healthy environment”. The informal meeting of Heads of State and Government at Hampton Court in October 2005 called for innovative answers to address the competitive challenge while defending European values. In its policy to promote CSR the Commission makes special reference to the urgent need for learning strategies within SME by identifying as fields for CSR development among others.
- The employment of a Balanced Scorecard approach in developing and reflecting the business strategy of SME will help to address specifically the fifth objective of the European Commissions White Paper on teaching and learning – towards the learning society, to “treat capital investment and investment in training on an equal basis” (p. 47ff.)
As can be seen form the situation analysis, work on CSR in SME up to now has focused on promoting SR in more or less abstract terms, while learning strategies often had a quite limited perspective on overcoming current and pressing deficiencies but lacked a consistent strategic perspective of middle and long-term development. Therefore this project seeks to synthesize and valorize previous work in two areas: guiding SME to develop a sustainable business strategy by using a simplified Balanced Scorecard approach as developed by the project COSORE (Corporate Social Responsibility in SME) as well as to transfer experiences from the projects “Learn and Work” and FILIP that developed methodologies of work integrated learning.
The development of learning systems within the context of CSR practices should not be an abstract moral appeal to SME and their managers and owners, but will have to be developed from real business needs and practices. With regards to language and terminology it has to be admitted that the material that will be the starting point for the adaptation in this project leaves room for improvement in this regard. This will be a strong focus of the valorisation efforts of the project. Recommendations of the British website “smallbusinessjourney.com” will be taken into account, as recommended by the Rhee Report.
The evaluation of COSORE showed that the application of the Balanced Scorecard Approach although challenging for some of the SMEs, proved its general capability to foster the improvement of the general quality of management and allows for the monitoring and measurement of activities. The field test showed that the COSORE model is accepted to a very high degree by the target groups, namely SME owner/managers and consultants dealing with SMEs. Among the issues for further development identified in COSORE has been “a further modularization of the process and instruments, further simplification of language and terminology, development of regional networks and consulting services capable of providing ongoing support, establishment of a appreciation process for SMEs engaged in a systematic CSR policy.” (COSORE, synthesis report, p. 22)
Aim: The project aims to develop a package of methodology and practical guidelines for a sustainable, CSR oriented business strategy development in SME on the basis of transfer of experiences from the projects COSORE, Work&Lean and FILIP. This strategy will use organizational and individual learning as a main method to address deficiencies, challenges and opportunities for the SME consulted.
After the SME needs analysis regarding CSR specifics accomplished in every country, the methodology for CSR initiatives will be developed and adapted in other languages (Bulgarian, Cyprian, Greek, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Portuguese) and tested in every country. Considering the feedback of testing period in every country, the project will yield a comprehensive on-line handbook for consultants of SME that will provide methodologies for developing the interplay between a comprehensive sustainable business strategy and a comprehensive learning system in SME. The handbook will feature three specific methodologies: a Balanced Scorecard approach to develop the CSR business strategy, a needs analysis for learning based on identifying frictions among the business and its employees and customers as learning needs and a method of consulting based on the appreciative inquiry approach.
Objectives of the project are closely related to the Programme objectives since the development of innovative learning methodology oriented to sustainable, socially responsible business strategy will improve the quality of vocational education and training systems, institutions and practices. The deficient situation regarding systematic learning and sustainability within SME will be changed by providing material for consultants that supports them in integration the business perspective of SME with the learning expertise of the training provider and its consultants by developing learning centered, socially responsible but sustainably profitable business strategies. Consultants and facilitators will be supported to contextualize their expertise in learning strategies and measures in a broader picture of SME needs and problems SME identify. This will create positive learning environment for specific continuous learning activities in which training providers, facilitators of learning and SME owners/managers and employees will be involved.
The international state of the art shows that principles of the CSR are shared by relatively little number of companies, and most of them are large ones, especially offices of world corporations in all countries. Business has started to acknowledge the significance and benefits of applying CSR logic but there is a lack of integrated approach to the implementation of this logic in SME. Furthermore, inadequate cooperation between training institutions and SME, partly due to “contrasting languages” (business centered thinking vs. thinking centered on classroom type training measures) exists.
Didactic approach: guideline for face to face consultation based on three methodological pillars:
a. Appreciative inquiry: starting point are positive activities. They have to be supported, fanned and systematized.
b. Integration of business and learning perspective using a very simplified version of Balanced Scorecard methodology, comprehensible and implementable also for smaller SME.
c. Integration of the whole range of methodologies of workplace learning into the portfolio of consulting SME.
The material will be tested in a number of consulting processes within SME as well as by peer review from training, consulting and SME experts. Among the dimensions that will be tested (following the methodology used in the project to be transferred (COSORE)) will be: the usability of the guidelines for the consultant, the usability and value that end users (SME managers) feel in using the consultancy process, character and scope of initiatives initialized by the consulting process. Indicators to measure or describe these dimensions will be developed in a self-evaluation exercise within the project.
The direct target groups of the project are consultants and trainers from training and consulting institutions, SME owners and managers, management staff from SME, social partners within SME.
Long term beneficiaries are consultants and facilitators because they will gain the possibility of getting wider qualification in facilitation of learning, but not training or teaching, they will become experts in sustainable business strategy adoption using CSR logic in SME. Beneficiaries will also be SME: they will get better services done by professionals who apply an approach to learning which is oriented towards the SME needs and problems.
Indicators for project progress measurement. The quality management plan (WP 6) will ensure that the progress of the project is constantly measured and monitored, by designing evaluation forms, surveys and questionnaires.
The material transferred and redeveloped will be made accessible in the additional languages of the partnership, broadening the regional scope of the approach and contributing to the development of a common European paradigm.
Real Estate Activities
Transportation and Storage
Wholesale and Retail Trade; Repair of Motor Vehicles and Motorcycles
Mining and Quarrying
Accommodation and Food Service Activities
Other Service Activities
Information and Communication
Administrative and Support Service Activities
Financial and Insurance Activities
Electricity, Gas, Steam and Air Conditioning Supply
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
The SOCIALSME product aims to help consultants and SME’s owners and managers, offering a “6x3 Step by Step” process:
The process consists of 6 workshops of 3 hours each, involving a pilot group of 1-3 decision makers from the company and a facilitator.
The workshops will be:
Step 1 Have a look at the situation in your company
Step 2 Find out what’s already there to build upon
Step 3 Identify what is needed to be even more helpful to employees and customers
Step 4 Find indicators of achievement
Step 5 Make a plan on how to implement activities
Step 6 Check how the outcomes are and adapt activities accordingly
Duration will be about 6 months, depending on the needs of the individual company.
Guidelines, handouts and worksheets will support the pilot groups.
Between workshops facilitators will support the implementation of the first steps of the strategic SR plans by coaching via telephone or Emails, while the pilot groups works with the company staff to implement the plans.
Monitoring and evaluation of the activities will assure the quality and continuing improvement of them.