CSR Asia Summit 2013: impressions of day 1

Finally, today, the reason why I added Bangkok to my itinerary started: the CSR Asia Summit 2013. I have been looking forward to this conference for the past few weeks, so I’ll post a few quick impressions here. So far so good, and I’m happy that I decided to spend a few days here.

The summit’s theme is ‘Responsible growth – inclusive development’. Especially in Asia this is a relevant theme I think, as business has an opportunity in many countries here to also help local communities in their economic and social development through their business activities. However, this is tough to do and requires a different way of doing business, which the session on Bottom of the Pyramid opportunities showed, where three companies – each very different in size, in strategy and in industry – shared how they provide energy, health products, or financial services to local communities. And make a profit (it is, after all, a business).

Some points on what I’ve noticed so far:

  • the summit has brought together a mixed and interesting group of people with over 450 participants from more than 30 countries. People come from big & small business, active in a variety of sectors (retail, palm oil, insurance, pharmaceutical etc), ngo’s, consultancy – the only group that I haven’t really come across yet is (local) government. And, everyone is easy to talk to, interested (and interesting!) and open for new contacts. Pretty essential for a successful conference! Interestingly, the Dutch seem to be the best represented coming from Europe – not counting Europeans based in Asia. I guess we’re living up to our international reputation of being a sustainability leader…? Not a lot of Japanese (or Koreans, actually) here though, which is not a good sign, but I also think the fact that the language here is English without interpretation available might have something to do with that.
  • the programme is filled with only a few plenary sessions, and mostly smaller panel/Q&A sessions on more specialized topics. And: plenty of time to network and meet new people in between. The sessions range from climate change business strategy and the role of women entrepreneurs to GRI’s G4 and business and human rights. The sessions I’ve attended so far have been interesting with good speakers (this seems to be a requirement to make it in CSR!) and practical discussions: how do you set up a successful Bottom of the Pyramid-business? (part of the answer: with lots of time, trial and error, creativity, and lots of conviction to overrule the sceptics) How do you put together a constructive community dialogue? Especially the session on community engagement was interesting for me: a topic I don’t know that much about (apart from that this is complicated to do when you are in the extractive of agriculture industry), but the speakers spoke a lot from their personal experiences in Papua New Guinea and Sarawak: we heard some fascinating anecdotes on when it goes wrong, but also on how you can work together well. Very interesting, because this seems like such a complicated topic to me that has so much potential impact on people’s livelihoods.
  • despite the many choices in sessions, I also miss some topics that I think are relevant in the Asian context – and relevant to the summit’s theme. But I’ll see what happens tomorrow, and I might be surprised after all, so more on that later.
  • and… finally, the participants don’t seem to be active Twitter-users. Not necessary of course, as CSR practicioners, but it would’ve been great to follow more of the discussions online – especially because there are so many different sessions. For now, the #csrasia hashtag that I’ve been using (assuming it’s the right one) is quite lonely…

And in between it all, interesting conversations (I’ve loved being able to talk about the things I care about with so many different people today, and hearing their views and ideas), useful contacts and am curious about what tomorrow will bring.

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