Anisa has extensive experience developing and implementing social impact, climate change, and employee engagement strategies gained during her years in the banking, finance, insurance, and utility sectors. She is based out of Infobip’s London office and is currently studying for her Masters in Environment and Business (MEB) from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Passionate about uplifting young people, she volunteers for Shadow to Shine, an organization that helps young people reach their full potential through skills training, work experience, and mentoring.
Businesses that practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) aim to improve communities, the environment, the economy, and their business bottom line. But what is CSR, why should you care, and how do you go about standing up a CSR program? This practice, which has increased as a result of the pandemic, offers a good deal of opportunity as well as risk. To learn more and determine how CSR addresses digital policy risk, such as data privacy, I reached out to Infobip’a Anisa Taraj.
INTRO: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications, directors, and others throughout the organization, balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar!
KRISTINA: [00:00:18] Welcome back, friends, to the Power of Digital Policy podcast. Today. I'm delighted to welcome Anisa Taraj. Anisa has extensive experience in developing and implementing social impact, climate change, and employee engagement strategies gained during her years in the banking, finance, insurance, and utility sectors. She's based out of Infobip London office. And if you don't know who Infobip is, they are dubbed Croatian startup unicorn, by the way. And she's going to tell us more about that work and also what we all need to know about engagement, strategies, change in climate, and what organizations ought to be doing. So Anisa, welcome.
ANISA: [00:00:55] Thank you for having me, Kristina; I'd say it's a pleasure to be here today.
KRISTINA: [00:00:58] So I have to say, Anisa. I geeked out a little bit in the background because I used to live in Rijeka, Croatia. And I was delighted to hear that you're now affiliated with Infobip, which is headquartered in Vodnjan, Istria, which is about an hour and a half away from my family. Tell us more about Infobip and what you're up to there. What is the company about for those who don't know, and what are you personally up to there?
ANISA: [00:01:21] Thank you for that. It's awesome to know that you have been to Croatia. I will be very honest and say I still haven't been yet. So post-pandemic, I really look forward to going to and meeting my colleagues in person. We're a global cloud communications platform that enables businesses to build connected customer experiences across all stages of the customer journey, contextualize interactions over each customer's preferred channels. We are accessed through a single platform, and we provide omnichannel solutions that simplify customer communications and build both businesses and brand loyalty. I would say we have a very, very unique story. As you mentioned, you know, we're, uh, we're a unicorn, in Croatia, we were born in 2006, and since our inception, 15 years later, we've expanded to include 65 plus offices globally. What's more than 2,800 employees. And a fact that really surprises me, and it's awesome, is that we reach over 7 billion mobile devices and things in 190 plus countries. Now, to me, that's awesome. Despite our scale of growth for our company in the past 15 years, we still stay true to the roots of our founders, Silvio Kutic, Izabel Jelenic, Roberto Kutic and the business is still run from Vodnjan.
KRISTINA: [00:02:39] So Anisa, it seems like every company these days has a corporate social responsibility program. I know that that's your focus at Infobip. Can you tell us a little bit more about what is corporate social responsibility and in terms of the program, who needs one? Why should we even worry about or talk about that today? What should it contain? Tell us more.
ANISA: [00:03:00] CSR, a corporate social responsibility, for short CSR, has been quite a trending topic, I would say the past ten years. And what it is that it's a business concept that describes a company's commitment to carry out their business in an ethical way. This truly means managing their business processes while also taking into account a company's social, environmental, and economic impact. I think in terms of, when we talk about framing CSR, I think the framing of it should change a bit. I do not believe that it's about companies having to have a CSR agenda. I think it's about CSR being embedded in your DNA and your operations, and then your day-to-day decision-making just to give you a bit more perspective in terms of CSR general overview of CSR really looks at three verticals and social, environmental, and governance. And within those verticals, we have different indicators, and we look at the social aspect; we are really looking at our community investment strategies. How are we contributing back to the communities where we live and work? But we should also look at analyzing how diverse our workforce is. What does our remuneration policies look like across different employee demographics on the moment aspect though, we should really look at what does your organizational footprint look like? And what can you do to minimize your impact? And from a governance perspective as well, it's about the policies and practices that a business can implement to ensure that they're always operating in an ethical and transparent way.
KRISTINA: [00:04:33] You said magical, several magical words there, at least to me magical, you said governance, and you said policies. And,
I consider myself to be kind of the policy Sherpa, and I love everything governance. And so I'm wondering, as we think about CSR, what is really the benefit to the organization of adopting that? Do you think that everybody has to have a CSR program?
ANISA: [00:04:56] I definitely do. And I think it's about, as I mentioned, being embedded in your business there's a lot of benefits to having a CSR program. A lot of those benefits would be specifically looking at; for example, CSR can help you become innovative as an organization, and that could be senior product offering. CSR can help you reduce your costs, and that can be small in your environmental practices and what you are doing as a business. Other than it being seen as an add on to your business, it can really help improve your business practices, but not only that, it's also an indication to your stakeholders, your shareholders, your customers, your employees that your lessons to operate is being used in a positive way. And you're contributing and giving back to the communities where you do business on a day-to-day basis.
KRISTINA: [00:05:43] You mentioned innovation and how CSR allows you to be more innovative. Can you give us an example of that?
ANISA: [00:05:50] Yeah, for sure. When we look, for example, when we look at the fashion industry, lately the fashion industry has become synonymous with having major pain points in producing sustainable fashion; the fashion industry can take CSR and really integrated it into their business and ensure that they are sustainable through and through their products. Currently, you'll see an increase in individuals when they're looking at sustainable products, and that would then increase your profits at the end of the day.
KRISTINA: [00:06:21] That's really, really helpful. How about regulations? We see EU governance efforts, their number 681 component shaping, but how does that shape programs like CSR, and is the EU dominating how organizations govern or are you seeing other parts of the world also coming up with their own frameworks?
ANISA: [00:06:38] A very fair question. I think CSR has been as, as we both know, you know, voluntary for a long time, but we're seeing a push from governance and creating CSR transparency, making it more regulatory rather than voluntary. And there's been some good progress, but I think we definitely have a long way to go. As a European company with that global presence, we definitely encourage and welcome ESG governance for businesses, both in Europe and in North America. I would also like to add that a lot of that governance is, is definitely pushed by the current governments in place. Just yesterday, we saw that the Biden administration announced that they would be cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. So having a government that really keeps climate change in line really does help push forward those programs.
KRISTINA: [00:07:27] And how much do end consumers really care about that right now? I mean, when we consider things like convenience and cost versus sustainability and ethics, where is the balance in that? What are you finding to be true in the marketplace?
ANISA: [00:07:40] I think there's there are two drivers: COVID was one of them as terrible as it was for a lot of us. I think when it comes to the environment and climate change, it's done wonders for us and, and people do see that. And there's the new generation of consumers who are really looking forward to being more thoughtful about their choices and what they consume, but also that new generation of employees who are really looking to only work for organizations that are making a positive impact, I would say changing a lot. And that's a positive change that we definitely do welcome in the CSR world.
KRISTINA: [00:08:16] That's actually a really great point in terms of employees. We used to be in an era where a company's annual balance sheet was the big driver in terms of who you worked for. If you were at IBM or Oracle, it was really good because it was all about the balance sheet. It's no longer enough. And it seems like the most important document of the year, or at least, the bigger ones now, are that sustainability report or the transparency on corporate social responsibility. So how transparent should organizations be? I mean, employees see one side and users see another side, but how transparent should enterprises be with their employees? And also with our end consumers?
ANISA: [00:08:52] Sustainability reporting or CSR reporting or ESG reporting. There are many, many terms for it. It's truly used as a communication vehicle and in showcasing how organizations are performing from an ESG perspective in terms of the strategies and the programs that they have implemented and, and, and also, how they're tracking towards their progress. With that being said, there are various ESG reporting frameworks such as GRI, IR, SAS, and so on and so forth. And that means that there isn't one unified standard of reporting. This, of course, now creates gaps in transparency—quality of content. However, in my professional opinion, the aim is to be very transparent about your business practices. I think consumers appreciate and customers, and then your investors would appreciate honesty about what you are not doing well and then committing to doing better but also tracking progress year over year to show that you really have made an impact.
KRISTINA: [00:09:52] Many listeners who are part of digital operations or a digital marketing team, they're thinking probably to themselves right now. You're talking a lot about CSR, and you're talking a lot about these reports, but how does that get us expressed externally to the organization in what I'm doing? Or is it really a topic that executives and board of directors need to worry about?
ANISA: [00:10:14] Well, when we look at CSR and what we're doing, or what organizations do from a CSR perspective there's various ways in which we communicate what is happening, your CSR reporting, I would say would be number one or your showcase, what happens in the previous year from a governance employee environment, community investment perspective for your organization. But also through communicating internally with your employees and keeping them up to date in terms of what's happening from a CSR perspective. I find that that is also very, very important.
KRISTINA: [00:10:46] And what I'm wondering, does CSR also get somehow embedded into everyday marketing? For example, I'm running a social media campaign, or I'm trying to reach new consumers via our SMS channel or maybe chatbots. Is there an aspect of CSR to that? And how does that actually translate, if at all?
ANISA: [00:11:04] For sure, absolutely. As a cloud communications company, there's a lot that we could do from a CSR perspective. One of our biggest offerings, I would say, is our Tech for goods. We do use our technology a lot in either donating it to organizations who are doing positive work in the community but also providing it at a deeply discounted price. I would say that one of those examples for us would you be the public health of England using our chatbot to help inform the public on COVID. And these are some of the ways in which we, as an organization, can help impact CSR in a positive manner. So it's all about looking at your products as an organization and seeing how does CSR gets embedded and what is your expertise, and how can you give back through a CSR lens?
KRISTINA: [00:11:53] That makes a lot of sense. So given that every company is now a data company, very few are not. Where's the overlap. I'm thinking, as you're talking about what you're doing with chatbots in the UK, Thinking about data and privacy and social responsibility. Can we separate out ethics and responsibility from what we're doing with technology day-to-day because you've got Infobip, for example, but then you also have Facebook, and you have LinkedIn, and you have Clubhouse, and you have Twitter, and you have all of these kinds of more nuanced, big tech companies? How do we separate out ethics and responsibility from what we're doing with technology? And should those organizations be doing the same thing in terms of CSR that the smaller ones are?
ANISA: [00:12:36] Great question. I think it's, it's a very, very important topic, and that's because privacy is becoming more and more common as a CSR thing. And this has, I would say, been influenced by the increasing visibility of privacy actually as a concept. And it's really been spurred by several trends, such as the California consumer protection act or GDPR. And of course, with the increased use of technology, consumers are now becoming more and more aware. And I think it really helps to reconceptualize corporate actors as data and fiduciary is a relationship of stewardship, which we purpose that a corporate actor is really handling the data on the person's behalf and for their benefits. And that means that people trust companies with our personal data and are protecting the data and handling it responsibly is therefore seen as part of a company's license to operate. And I would say that the principles of transparency such as. Privacy by design and privacy by default would be some of those key manifestations of privacy as part of CSR. Now, externally these principles would be furthered by genuine engagement with communities, people, researchers, policy work, privacy education, et cetera, et cetera. And these principles are really applied equally across the company to all kinds of personal data. So surely there should be no distinction between customers versus employees or lead prospects. And this, I would say, then ties back to our very definition of CSR at the beginning of our conversation, where we speak about what organizations are supposed to operate in an ethical and transparent manner.
KRISTINA: [00:14:11] And I love that idea. And oftentimes, when I talk to small companies or even small startups, they talk about the fact that it's all sounds really great, and they want to do the right thing. They want to do privacy by design. They want to do what's ethical, what's right. But by the same token, they're struggling because they're small, they're entrepreneurial. Perhaps they're startups, and they find it's really hard to keep the lights on and also strive for this excellence and meet what seems theoretical CSR objectives. What tips do you have for those types of organizations?
ANISA: [00:14:44] Very, very great point. I think the most important tip would be to truly integrate CSR into your DNA from the beginning of your startup. And if it's properly integrating it, any strong teams, not just an option. Then you know, it truly becomes part of who you are, and therefore there's no question around, do we have enough money to do it or not? But really it's, it's part of who you are as an organization. It's part of your product offering, as I mentioned before when we look at fashion or retail groceries. There's been a wave of sustainable clothing, a wave of donations of excess materials and food, and much more from new brands and established industry leaders. Now, these practices can then become synonymous with a particular brand and truly give them an advantage in the mind of the consumers. And really, they would look at that brand as synonymous with CSR, and I would say, especially the younger generation will trust that brand even more.
KRISTINA: [00:15:41] That's what was going through my head right now. How users and consumers are viewing maybe smaller organizations that are being true to CSR principles versus an Amazon, for example, because it seems like Amazon cannot miss-step. And yet, I'm not sure how strong their CSR is. Can you maybe give us a little bit of insight or your opinion on how that space is playing out?
ANISA: [00:16:04] Yeah, for sure. I mean, I can't speak about Amazon CSR practices, but what I can speak about is we saw a rise during COVID and people wanting to support smaller businesses, more businesses that are doing stuff in the house and that are within their communities. And that's, to me, true, genuine care about really paying a bit more for products that are organic or there are, kind of grown in your backyard or clothes that are sustainable and use organic cotton versus unsustainable practices. And I do see that there's a rise in the younger generation, really supporting more sustainable practices for businesses and truly putting their money where their mouth is.
KRISTINA: [00:16:47] So for any organization that doesn't have a CSR program in place already. How should they get started? Like where are they turning to? What is the first thing that they're doing? Let's say that they wanted to kind of take that step. What's tomorrow bringing or what is Monday, I guess, bringing?
ANISA: [00:17:03] You'd have to start slow, right? You'd have to look at your organization and see what some of the most amazing things that you are doing are and also analyze what some of the gaps that you can fill and really, truly benchmark yourself against the sector that you're in are.
When we look at CSR at IB, we're looking at what are we really good at. In terms of, what we do as a business and technology, and what can our offering be from that perspective in the CSR space. But really, when you look at how, where do we want to be in the next three to five years, we're really looking at benchmarking ourselves against our competitors and also against the industry in general. But I would say definitely starting slow. There's a lot of great stuff out there in terms of research, you know, Harvard business review, for example, has some great articles on CSR. There's, there's been a growing body, of academics and research that really speak to CSR. So, I would say you would start small and then, and then continue to innovate.
KRISTINA: [00:18:00] Let's say that we have a company that starts the CSR program next week because they feel very inspired by what you've said and the value that they can achieve. How do they go about rolling that out to employees? What does that look like in practical terms in day-to-day life?
ANISA: [00:18:15] And it all depends on and the size of your organization. When we look at IB, for example, we're working with a global employee base. I've also worked in Canadian, only companies, but I would say you would start with communicating about why CSR is important to you as an organization but also keeping in mind that employees, I do find that in my field, for example, employers are genuinely interested and curious to really know more about CSR. So keeping them engaged throughout the journey. I find it is quite beneficial. One because it helps employees understand that your organization has a positive impact. And two, it helps them contribute to that impact. The skillset that you have within your business and your people, I would say, are the most important assets. So engaging them in that process would be very beneficial to you as an organization. That's how I, I truly believe you can start in CSR and get your employees engaged in that process.
KRISTINA: [00:19:13] And for any organization that's global in nature, do you find that the type of CSR training and the messaging is the same, regardless of whether somebody's sitting in London, in Vodnjan, in Bangkok or in New Delhi, or does it need to differ?
ANISA: [00:19:29] Yeah, I would say that it definitely needs to differ. It needs to take into account cultural aspects and sensitivities, but also when you look at CSR on a global scale or not; even CSR, but what's some of the most prominent social issues are across the world. They're, they're very, very different, what we're dealing with in Canada, for example, in terms of what our social issues are, would be very different than what our social issues would be involved in Vodnjan. So I think you would be amiss not to really understand what the issues are in the country that you operate. And that's where we tied back with engaging your employees in those countries. You know, having subcommittees in the different regions. And bringing those employees to aim to understand what are the issues that they're, they're dealing with on a day-to-day basis, because they are the experts and they are living with those issues and really focusing on making an impact in those specific countries. You can definitely have an overarching strategy of focusing, say, on certain social issues, such as poverty or youth wellbeing that we would be amiss not to really look at what's really happening on a regional level and really trying to make an impact in those specific regions.
KRISTINA: [00:20:42] That's great. I know you mentioned earlier, and I was thinking about how you're talking about localizing the CSR strategy and really involving employees. One of the things that are coming loud and clear to me is the fact that all of this builds value to the organization. And so it seems like CSR really keyword in any business, driving for success. You mentioned earlier it can become a profit center. How does that happen? How does that translate into value directly beyond just making consumers feel good?
ANISA: [00:21:12] I think it's, it's a long journey. There's always been a question in the CSR world of how do we show that we bring value to the business, but I think it's really important to take the business along that journey. Right now, for example, we are in the midst of preparing our first-ever corporate social responsibility report. And it's a big exercise, which is not just me sitting at my desk and really typing it up. But it's me really working with stakeholders across the business, our VP of products, our VP of customers, talking to the head of HR about what are some of those important aspects that we have worked on as a business. What do our diversity and inclusion look like? For example, what do learning and development look like for us and really looking at what have we done, but also looking at benchmarking ourselves against the sector and identifying what those gaps are and really showing what is the impact for us as a business to close those gaps and really do better year after year? But it's definitely collaboration and taking your colleagues on that journey with you.
KRISTINA: [00:22:20] Anisa, so you just mentioned benchmarking; how do organizations go about benchmarking themselves and understanding where they are at the moment?
ANISA: [00:22:29] Great question. I think a lot of the work that I've done in the past is involved speaking to experts in specific areas, looking at those organizations, such as business in the community, out here in the UK who really has a plethora of organizations that they work with and, and really understand what everybody else in the sector is doing. But I believe it's, it's based on research and really look at what other competitors are doing. And also what is the trend? How are we evolving as a society? And really trying to make sure that we are not just keeping up but providing the best for our employees, communities, and stakeholders.
KRISTINA: [00:23:07] Are we mature enough yet as an industry, as a society to do formal benchmarking so that people can actually do some kind of a kind of probing prodding investigation and say, look, we're scoring a five out of a 10 or seven out of a 10, and here are the areas we need to improve upon or is CSR still an area where we're starting to mature, and we haven't reached that level yet?
ANISA: [00:23:27] I think we're still maturing. I think there are some great examples out there. But I think there's still a long way to go. But what I love about the CSR aspect is that as much as we're competitors, for example, with other tech companies, when it comes to CSR, we're all sharing best practices and what works best for us to help each other really make a positive impact. And I think that being top of mind has really helped us advance in the CSR space.
KRISTINA: [00:23:54] Well, this has been a really great conversation. I personally feel like I've learned a lot more about CSR and I'm actually feeling very inspired as I hope the listeners are as well. So thanks so much for taking the time today to hang out; tell us more about this very important area and how it really relates to the governance and the policy work that we're doing every day.
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