Christmas comes early for a number of children in Malaysia whenever 800 members of the Malaysian English Language Teachers’ Association (MELTA) convene for their annual conference. Gifts of books and stationery, collected through MELTA’s Melt-A-Heart charity campaign, are channelled to schools and needy children.
The Melt-A-Heart campaign, a permanent feature in MELTA International Conference, donated RM2,500 (US$801) worth of books to four schools in Sarawak during its gathering in Kuching in June this year.
Gnanakumaran Subramaniam, president of MELTA, told TTGmice that the campaign was in line with the association’s goal of advancing the education of Malaysians. He said: “It represents our deep sense of commitment about raising the literacy level among children in Malaysia, especially those from disadvantaged and marginalised communities.
“We have never faced resistance to this programme. I believe this is because deep down most educators are generous and selfless people. Appealing to teachers is particularly easy when the cause is to help under-privileged children.”
MELTA is just one of the growing number of trade associations and companies that are paying greater attention to their communities and environment, and are leveraging on the collective power of their staff and event attendees to achieve corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives through specific activities as part of a business event.
The 21st International Council for Commercial Arbitration Congress, which took place in Singapore from June 10-13 with event support from Ace:Daytons Direct (International), also featured charity elements. The organisers engaged the Society for the Physically Disabled and Gift and Take (GAT) to produce conference notepads and batik folders for delegates. GAT markets creative products made by disadvantaged people, giving the community financial independence.
Within the MICE industry, attendees of the annual Incentive Travel & Conventions, Meetings and Corporate Travel World trade events in Bangkok have been called upon for the past eight years to donate toiletries, clothing, stationery and toys to selected children’s homes and orphanages through the Donate a shoebox of love initiative in support of the Carry For Kids organisation.
There are also business events that offer participants the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and physically contribute to the community. A group of CEOs from a global oil firm planted seagrass in the vicinity of Cambodia’s Koh Ouen and Koh Bong isles as part of their meeting programme in Song Saa Private Island resort.
Pacific World regional director, Manuel Ferrer, has observed an evolution in the way corporate clients adopt CSR programmes. He said: “While the number of MICE groups adopting green CSR measures – holding green meetings, ensuring that chosen venues are sustainable and so on – has risen steadily over the past few years, the adoption of community-led CSR programmes – those that involve helping the less fortunate communities – has been fluctuating.
“Before the 2008 financial crisis, community-led CSR programmes were very hot. It was trendy to do something for the community, whether or not the participants truly cared. The trend tapered off when the crisis hit, which I think was mostly due to the fact that people started to stop and think more carefully about how and why they are spending on those programmes.
“The adoption of CSR programmes by corporate clients has started to make a comeback, as people begin to make community work part of their lives.”
“The adoption of CSR programmes by corporate clients has started to make a comeback. It helps that well-known businessmen such
as Bill Gates are propagating the use of own fortunes for philanthropy.”
For off-site CSR programmes as part of a bigger business event, event specialists said corporate clients tended to favour community-led activities.
Kuala Lumpur-based Leisure & Incentive Tours has been organising corporate visits to orphanages and facilities for the disabled around Klang Valley. The company’s director of sales and marketing, Wan Munirah Wan Puteh, said: “CSR programmes that help the needy and the disabled are appealing because well-to-do (delegates) want to feel good about helping those in need.”
Borneo Trails in Kota Kinabalu has also been working with charity and welfare organisations in Sabah, Malaysia to develop CSR programmes for its corporate clients. Past programmes included a sponsorship of a four-wheel drive vehicle for a school, donation of furniture and food to private organisations for disabled people, and painting an orphanage.
Exotissimo Vietnam has organised half-day CSR programmes that fit well into a corporate event as well as full-day activities. General manager George Ehrlich-Adam, found that full-day CSR programmes were generally better received by his clients. “(Full-day CSR programmes) offer a more complete experience, as there is adequate time and budget. These programmes are not standardised, and are created specifically for a client. Activities could be held in Ha Long, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Nha Trang – wherever the group visits,” he said, adding that clients favour activities that involve everybody in the group.
However, not all corporate clients have the luxury of time when it comes to CSR programmes, say event specialists.
“CSR programmes that take up not more than half a day are the most sought after. It is usually slotted in the middle of a meeting. It would be disastrous to have the activity at the end of the meeting, as delegates would have lost their focus by then and would want to go home,” said Wan Munirah Wan Puteh. “Our challenge is to develop a programme that is attractive enough so that delegates will not wish to skip it. It must also not take up too much time or involve a lot of hard (work) on their part.”
Ferrer said: “What keeps corporate groups from including CSR programmes as part of their meetings or conference is the delegates’ lack of time. Therefore, successful CSR programmes must be simple and appealing. There are some wonderful CSR activities in the market, but they are too complex for delegates to understand and take up too many days. Most delegates want to comprehend and do it right away.
“I think Banyan Tree’s (Hotels & Resorts) involvement of hotel guests in their in-house CSR programme is effective. Hotel guests will be asked to make a donation towards the hotel group’s turtle conservation project, and if he/she agrees, a small amount will be added to the daily room rate.”
Ferrer was referring to Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts’ Green Imperative Fund, which invites every guest to be a supporting partner through a small contribution of US$2 per room per night (or US$1 at Angsana properties), under an opt-out arrangement. Banyan Tree then matches the guest contributions dollar for dollar. The fund, audited by Ernst and Young, can only be utilised for projects that benefit the community or environment.
While Borneo Trails director, K L Tan, said there was a tendency for companies to drop CSR programmes in times of financial difficulty, Exotissimo Vietnam’s Ehrlich-Adam observed otherwise in the current economic slowdown. He said: “We are seeing more companies asking for CSR recommendations now.”
Extend a helping hand
Opportunities for business event organisers and delegates to contribute to their community and environment are aplenty. Here are a few ideas to get you started
From left: RiverKids Project in Phnom Penh; Giving Back Project by Royal Ambarrukmo Yogyakarta; Rag to Riches by Team Building Asia
How it is done: Donations and assistance are garnered for Phnom Penh’s RiverKids Project through a series of fundraising initiatives by Singapore-based event specialist, M.I.C.E Matters. For instance, M.I.C.E Matters appeals for donations at its own Christmas parties and also encourages clients to visit the RiverKids Project as part of their tour programmes to lend a helping hand.
M.I.C.E Matters is now looking at designing a permanent tour programme to Cambodia that incorporates a visit to the Riverkids Project. Profits raised from the programme will be donated to the Riverkids Project. M.I.C.E Matters will provide all the raw materials and equipment needed to carry out the activities.
Why it is good: Participants can play a part in helping to kickstart change in poverty-stricken families and prevent the exploitation of children and their families through a series of educational, health, social and work programmes.
Contact: Melvyn Nonis, director, M.I.C.E Matters, (65) 6323-3004
Le Lotus Blanc
How it is done: Located in Phnom Penh, Le Lotus Blanc serves Western and Khmer cuisine while imparting service skills to children who once scoured garbage dumps for a living. This restaurant and vocational training school is run by Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, which means ‘for the smile of a child’ in French.
Why it is good: Lessons learned by the children will be useful when they grow up and join the work force. Dinner events at Le Lotus Blanc will play a part in training the children.
Contact: Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, (855-17) 602-251 or email@example.com; or Exotissimo Travel Cambodia, firstname.lastname@example.org for tailored programmes that include a visit to Le Lotus Blanc
Melrose Home, Singapore
How it is done: Through InterContinental Singapore’s Insider Community programme, attendees of meetings held at the hotel are invited to join Melrose Home’s team of volunteers to help organise recreational activities for the children, and to spend some quality time with them.
Melrose Home is run by The Children’s Aid Society, providing protection and care for children aged four to 18 years old, whose parents and guardians are unable to care for them within a residential setting.
Why it is good: Besides interacting with the children, participants can provide assistance and support to disadvantaged children from broken homes.
Contact: Rachel Hee, marketing communications & PR manager, InterContinental Singapore, email@example.com
Giving Back Project
How it is done: The Royal Ambarrukmo Yogyakarta in Indonesia, a hotel managed by Santika Indonesia, offers a one-day activity that takes participants into a village where local women run small businesses for survival. Participants are asked to guide these women on ways to run their businesses more effectively, for instance, by teaching simple accounting skills and offering tips on product packaging.
Why it is good: Participants can share their own business experiences in the cities with small local business owners, while learning about life in the villages.
Contact: Royal Ambarrukmo Yogyakarta, (62-274) 488-488
Meeting with Meaning
How it is done: Organised by Conrad Bali, guests are brought to remote artisan villages in Bali, where they will see master craftsmen at work, and try their hands at wood carving, silver or pottery making and batik weaving.
Why it is good: Opening participants’ eyes to the world of the ancient crafts is a way of sustaining traditional art and culture. Immediate benefits to the artisan community will come from the participation fees paid by visiting corporate groups, and from purchases of art pieces participants make at the village.
Contact: Conrad Bali, (62-361) 778-788
How it is done: Cairns Convention Centre in Australia offers conference organisers the option of having their satchels packed by the Endeavour Foundation, which provides opportunities for people with a disability to participate in the everyday life of the community. The convention centre itself engages the Endeavour Foundation in preparing newsletters for mailing.
Why it is good: This programme provides employment for people with a disability.
Contact: Cairns Convention Centre, (61-7) 4042-4200
Support the indigenous people
How it is done: Conference organisers have the option of purchasing delegate satchels and gifts that are artistically designed and made by local indigenous communities for their clients and speakers.
Why it is good: These purchases provide much-needed income to the indigenous communities, and recipients of these products will have in their hands a unique keepsake from the conference.
Contact: Cairns Convention Centre, (61-7) 4042-4200
Habitat for Humanity International
How it is done: Habitat for Humanity invites local and multinational businesses to address the challenges of poverty housing in Asia-Pacific. Corporates can partner with Habitat for Humanity in five ways: by providing funds to build homes for families in need; by involving employees in the constructing homes; by donating construction products and services that will lower the costs of building homes; by having corporate executives and professionals lend leadership skills to Habitat for Humanity; and by seconding professionals such as architects, engineers, accountants and public relations executives to help Habitat for Humanity adopt cost-efficient best practices, which will enable more homes to be built faster, cheaper and better.
The organisation has corporate relationships with many companies such as Boeing, Caltex and General Motors.
Why it is good: The programme provides corporates a tangible opportunity to give back to communities and strengthen public relations, among other benefits. Participants will also bond when building houses together.
Contact: Habitat for Humanity, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tung Chung Green Organic Farm
How it is done: The Tung Chung Green Organic Farm is a social enterprise serving the Tung Chung Community and provides employment opportunities for those with difficulties in finding jobs, as well as for unemployed Tung Chung residents. The two-hour farm visit will allow participants to experience organic farming, produce their own herbal green tea, as well as harvest and purchase fresh organic vegetables. The programme costs HK$60 (US$7.70) per person, and can take groups with 15 to 30 pax.
Why it is good: Visits to the farm will help to sustain its cause.
Contact: Tung Chung Green Organic Farm, (852) 3480-7883
Rags to Riches
How it is done: After the client identifies a charity that will benefit from this activity, Team Building Asia will organise the collection of clothing and other recyclable items from participants. At the session, teams will take part in a challenge to recreate a giant version of their logo in pre-determined marked-out areas using all the donated items. The end product makes for a great photo opportunity as everyone celebrates their collective creativity. All the items will be delivered to the chosen charity at the end of the day.
Why it is good: This activity encourages participants to give back to the community while simultaneously recycling unwanted items.
Contact: Team Building Asia, email@example.com
This article was first published in TTG Mice, September 2012 on page 10. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.