Why Focus Is Fundamental in Corporate Social Responsibility

CMO Spotlight: Diane Scott, Western Union

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I think we can all agree that diversity is the spice of life. In politics, in our diets, even in our stock portfolios. When it comes to business, however, focus is sometimes the smarter alternative. I'm talking specifically about choices in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Diane Scott, Western Union
Diane Scott, Western Union

Commendable indeed is the company that seeks to alleviate multiple world problems through CSR, but as I learned from Diane Scott, global chief product and marketing officer at Western Union, laser focus in just one area is no less noble. Her team's efforts have impacted more than 1 million lives around the world, with an astounding 75% employee participation, and landed her a Social Responsibility Award from The CMO Club late last year. Here's how Scott and her team do it:

The Western Union way

"Western Union defines itself as a purpose-driven company," says Scott. Through financial inclusion alone, Western Union helps drive social and economic growth around the world, proving easier ways for non-governmental organizations (of which WU has donated to more than 2,700 in 135 countries), universities and small and medium enterprises to move money. But at Western Union, the effort is simply referred to as "corporate responsibility," the idea being that truly responsible companies engage in activities beyond the social sphere. Says Scott, "We seek to marshal all our assets -- e.g. products and services, cause-related marketing, executive leadership, employee volunteerism, philanthropy and our core operations -- for both business and social impact."

Education for better

In the past three years, the company's focus has been on one main program, called "Education for Better," a commitment to secondary and vocational education for marginalized populations, including women and refugees, that will extend through at least 2020. "As a company whose mission is to help create global economic opportunity and growth for individuals, businesses, communities and economies, education is a natural focus for our citizenship efforts," Scott says.

Business for better

As for the impact of Education for Better, the results speak for themselves. Scott's team looks at its achievements from two perspectives. First, the social lens: It exceeded targets in principal for education by $6 billion; provided $11.6 million in philanthropic funding to over 1 million students, teachers and administrators; enabled more than 1 million days of school for disadvantaged students through UNICEF; and provided more than 11,000 hours of employee volunteer support.

On the business end, Western Union's education products saw double-digit growth in 2014; online consumer engagement increased over 100% thanks to global promotions; nearly 75% of employees have gotten involved, building pride and further raising awareness; and relationships deepened with the over 70 Western Union agents who became engaged with the program.

Brand for better

While the positive influence is evident here, CSR often carries a reputation for being little more than good optics. I ask Scott whether she takes this into account when communicating about Education for Better: "I think one of the first questions is whether the work itself is authentic. Is it just writing a check, or does it tie to the company's values, operations and brand identity?" Western Union's community commitments date back to the 1800s, she says, granting the company license to trumpet its achievements.

She cites studies by Cone, Nielsen, Edelman and others showing that 9 out of 10 global consumers are more likely to patronize a brand that supports an important cause over a non-engaged competitor. "That's particularly true for WU," Scott says, "since I think our commitment to 'moving money for better' is a meaningful brand differentiator." In that vein, she tells me that raising awareness, let alone building a deep brand association, requires a lot of work -- another reason why Western Union focuses on a single cause for its CSR activities. "That focus," says Scott, "is critical to enabling us to both track and deepen our impact and speak loudly with one voice that can be heard."