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A Tough Business

Posted By: julia

“That was another waste of time!!!” On our way out of the first meeting of the day, which went on in a very polished way with occasional laughter and a spice of personal story, Ching Ching was complaining. It was her third time visiting this company that showed interest in Salaam Wanita products for its CSR program, but nothing was set, hopefully as of yet. And she had to run into an unexpected second meeting that was kindly set up for her, over the phone during the first meeting, to discuss the teleworking opportunity for eHomemakers’ disadvantaged women.

Were it not for the relatively free schedule the lady over the phone happened to have that day, being able to sit in her office, take the call on time and say yes to his last minute request, Ching Ching would have to come over KL again from her home office at TTDI, sometime soon for the forth meeting. After all, that was supposed to be the agenda of ‘the meeting’, the reason why Ching Ching came to visit them; so, why not.

Our second partner in CSR was a nice person probably in her fifties. We have been referred to her company by our first contact as being able to offer teleworking jobs for our disadvantaged women. Ching Ching, with her usual charm and enthusiasm, started explaining her about how eHomemakers is excited about this new relationship through CSR, only to find out that this ‘CSR program’ was actually about recruiting telemarketers to sell hotel package memberships to middle to upper class people. Obviously, you can get commission only upon actually selling the membership, which would be no way suitable for our Salaam Wanita women to whom, such investment of time and phone bill without a guarantee of small but regular hourly wage is just too much of a risk.

On our way back home that evening, in a monorail that glides through capital’s tall buildings, we talked about what it means to be a partner NGO for CSR programs. How Malaysian companies are now starting their CSR, but how tiring sometimes it is to be on the side of ‘recipient’. Perhaps, they never care how much sacrifice this ‘partnership building’ process would entail for a small NGO like eHomemakers, since Ching Ching is the executive director, project manager, marketing person, grant writer, web editor and sometimes administrator all in one. And this was not her first time of experiencing this frustration. Even though we have trained teleworkers so willing to work at a competitive price, eHomemakers should always be standing on the side of a passive beneficiary, coming and going whenever it is called upon by the corporate partners, not being recognized as an equal partner who also has capacity to provide something valuable to them.

Recently I came across a podcast lecture on ‘Social Outsourcing,’ where traditional concept of recipients are no longer considered as just passive consumers of products in CSR relationship but as producers themselves by offering their services (mostly in IT sector) to the business.* It means empowerment and livelihood but at the same time fair contract with deliverables in relatively low cost. On top of that, business gains a social outcome by fulfilling their responsibility toward society. Just the simple recognition that people can offer something valuable in return to establish a mutually beneficial relationship is the key to success.

The meetings were not very fruitful, as she acknowledged. “It’s going to take them at least another two months to decide what they want to do.” Leaving behind the noise and bustle of KL central, I questioned to myself. Is she expecting too much from CSR? Is she targeting at the wrong direction? Is it possible that through CSR, ‘all parties win’? But what if she has to lose to get into that relationship, and what if she can not afford losing a single game? Should we keep on heading toward it? Questions remained, but we nodded, agreeing that working in CSR is really a tough business.

*To listen to the lecture, click here
It is from "Women's ICT-Based Enterprise for Development" project,coordinated by the Development Informatics Group at the University of Manchester.

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Comment from: Mary [Visitor] Email
It does seem like quite an imbalance between eHomemakers and those large companies trying to figure out CSR -- "all parties win" sounds almost too good to be true...and yet it, how could one pass up a promise like that?
06/28/07 @ 09:24
Comment from: julia [Member] Email
Thank you Mary for your comment. I agree that it sounds just like a line of recommendation from a UN report - it would be the best way ideally, but is it really possible? But thinking about providing strong incentives for the companies to continue participating in the program (and make it sustainable from an NGO's point of view), I think it's necessary to frame it in a way that companies can realize the benefit they may earn from the partnership. That was why I was very interested in this podcast lecture about social outsourcing.
06/29/07 @ 09:11
Comment from: Nasir [Visitor] Email · http://www.worknotjobs.com
Dear Julia, take a look at some of my posts at Pajamanation Malaysia Blog which are very much related to social outsourcing, and do let me know of your thoughts on our initiative/project. BTW, I have actually had some discussion with your organization, which happened to be in the same trend of your CSR dealings so far (non-fruitful) -- except that we're no way to be considered a 'corporation' at this point of time.

I admire the persistence of the leader(s) of your organization though.
07/01/07 @ 22:58
Comment from: Fareen [Visitor] Email
Corporation based support like CSR do come with strings attached. These kinds of support maybe a wolf in sheep's clothing. Creating financial dependency and could distract focus. A community initiative should get community involvement and support.
07/30/07 @ 12:11

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Julia Hanah Zoo is an Advocacy Project Peace Fellow, volunteering this summer with eHomemakers, AP’s partner organization in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She recently received her master’s degree in international public policy from New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, where she focused on studying development policy for information communication technology for development (ICT4D).

She interned at the United Nations ICT Task Force in summer 2006, and this experience furthered her interest in this topic. Prior to graduate study, she worked as a computer programmer for an IT service company in Seoul, Korea. She received her BA with dual major in education and sociology from Yonsei University in Seoul, and attended Assumption University in Bangkok for two semesters as a transfer student in her sophomore year.

Julia is volunteering with eHomemakers, an innovative grassroots organization that uses ICT as a tool for improving the lives of women homemakers in Malaysia. In particular, she will help the organization prepare for the upcoming World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), drafting and editing position papers and assisting planning for panel sessions.

The work will highlight eHomemakers’ projects, including Salaam Wanita, which seek to empower disadvantaged women by providing them with opportunities for training, business and networking via the Internet.

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