In the West, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a term that has become the new “buzzword” for corporations looking to show their customers that they care about their employees, produce safe products, protect the environment and support charities. But Russia has yet to embrace the phrase or what it is supposed to stand for.
Businesses in Russia are growing at a pace that brings them face to face with one of the most serious problems facing the nation – the lack of human capital. Businesses are experiencing a growing shortage of sufficiently educated and trained personnel to support the growth of commerce and industry. Without adequate human capital to support operations five or ten years down the road, how are businesses supposed to sustain growth, let alone survive?
The issue of corporate responsibility and human capital are inexplicably linked. Only by investing in future generations today, can corporations ensure a solid supply of educated, well trained employees in the future. Not only is Russia’s population declining by .17% annually, but 2% of its children will grow up in institutions or on the street where they learn no social or vocational skills; 50,000 men, women and children are trafficked into prostitution and slavery each year, and Russia has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world among heterosexual youth ages 15 to 35.
According to Dr. Juliette Engle, Founder and CEO of MiraMed, a non-profit and member of the USRBC which focuses on reversing the downward population trends in Russia; “Addressing the decline in human resources is not just the responsibility of the Russiangovernment, but corporations as well.” After all, corporations are the ones that will be hit the hardest by the shrinking workforce. “If corporations start exploring new avenues for building human capital by partnering with non-governmental organizations and government agencies now, more future employees can be educated and trained,” Engel says.
Searching for new avenues does not mean just looking for the best and the brightest people through new methods, but rather completely changing the mindset of who an employable person is. And it means hiring orphans, disabled people, minorities, those living with HIV/AIDS and other marginalized groups. It also means supporting programs that provide vocational training in orphanages, HIV/AIDS preventive education and fight policies and conditions that make Russia a major source and destination country for human trafficking.
In the West, anti-discrimination and victim protection laws help integrate these groups into the workforce. While, to some degree, such laws do exist in Russia, they are very rarely enforced, and as result, discrimination is rampant and accepted by society. The disabled are kept away from the office because of inadequate handicapped facilities. Orphans remain unemployed because they don’t possess the upbringing and discipline to be effective in the workplace. And those living with HIV/AIDS are rejected by a society that largely believes the disease can be easily transmitted. Yet, these are all perfectly capable employees. Employing them not only reduces the burden on the social system, but brings new perspectives about the value of human lifeinto a company.
But how can corporations in Russia reach out to marginalized groups in order to integrate them into the workforce? The answer: Partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are already doing the work. NGOs have fallen under the radar screen of corporations throughout Russia and most of the funding for the work they do comes from foreign sources. NGOs work closely with a wide variety of marginalized groups and know how to develop programs that can help businesses integrate them into the workforce.
When this is done, Russian corporations will have created a definition of CSR that is applicable to them. They will have proven they care about their employees, increased their human capital, lessened the burden on the social system, and made a difference in Russian society that is not merely short-term, but enduring.
by Eric Schempp
MiraMed Development Director