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The brilliant task of investing in society

17 July 2019

By Bernardette Sto. Domingo   

The jewellery sector is engaging in socially responsible endeavours with greater effort, following the example of global corporations. Now more than ever, a better society can be used to gauge business performance and impact in the community.






 

Enterprising buyers of today continue to look for authenticity in the products and services they purchase. On top of that, they maximise their influence and spending power to achieve a common goal: A sustainable world that protects the environment and aids the less privileged.

According to global analytics firm Nielsen, the impact of corporate responsibility and sustainability strategies on consumer mind set is undeniable. Customers will work hard – through intensive research – to determine whether a brand aligns with their values before making a purchase.

In fact, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report revealed that 66 percent of consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013.

Purchases are largely influenced by key sustainability factors such as a product being made from fresh, natural and/or organic ingredients (69 percent), a company being environmentally friendly (58 percent), and a company being known for its commitment to social value (56 percent), according to the study.

Brands are taking notice and being more responsive to evolving consumer demands. Giving in Numbers 2018, a separate study by Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), showed that the corporate sector across the board increased its median total contributions to society by 15 percent in 2017 compared to three years ago.

The report delved in various businesses’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, with inputs from more than 300 of the world’s largest firms in the communications, consumer, financial, technology, utilities, healthcare and industrial sectors.

CECP said companies focused their aid mostly on education, disaster relief; community and economic development; culture and arts; environment, healthcare and social service.

The jewellery industry, often viewed as a lucrative venture dealing with diamonds, gemstones and precious metals, saw a 4 percent increase in global diamond jewellery sales to US$85.9 billion in 2018, according to Alrosa’s global luxury and jewelry market research.

Over the years, a number of jewellery companies have increasingly been investing in the lacklustre side of the business and boosting philanthropic activities globally.

Education

In March this year, jewellery retail giant Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd and Touch A Life Foundation Hong Kong Ltd launched Books for Change, an initiative aimed at providing books to impoverished students in India.

Books for Change is envisioned to support more than 3,000 students in more than 30 schools through the donation of 26,000 books.

Touch A Life Foundation, established by diamond dealer Naresh Surana, is a “non-profit social enterprise” that uses a multipronged approach to help deliver CSR assistance to remote villages in India. It primarily connects donors with recipients using a traceable digital platform, developed by Surana and his team, to ensure accountability.

Through this unique component, donors can manage their own funds and track the movement of donations and the project’s progress online. This ensures that every recipient is accounted for and the resources reach their intended beneficiaries.

Bobby Liu of Chow Tai Fook praised the foundation’s platform, noting that the use of technology injected more transparency into the project. “There was no wastage and all partners were more engaged. This kind of transparency gives more confidence to corporate sponsors,” remarked Liu. “Charitable efforts become more effective and impactful since they are auditable. These are necessary to attract bigger CSR investments in the future.”

For Surana, the corporate sector has a responsibility to build a better society for future generations. Even more so now that consumers expect companies to be socially responsible, he stressed.

The technology that Touch A Life Foundation offers can eventually be used in other countries, involving different social responsibility projects.

“Every consumer is looking for social accountability and sustainability. We offer companies the platform and technology to carry out their charitable initiatives. If we all start doing our small part, we can make a huge difference in the future,” he added.

Community and environment

Responsible sourcing as a corporate social endeavour has to be integrated throughout the business to have an impact, said Emily Dungey, group marketing and communications director at mining firm Gemfields.

While the company aims to modernise the coloured gemstone sector, it also remains committed to building a lasting, sustainable livelihood for communities around the mines, she added.

“Responsible sourcing means industry-leading actions to minimise our environmental impact, protect and benefit the people within our mines, and contribute to the national economy. We operate community projects in the areas of health, education and livelihood to build a positive legacy,” noted Dungey.

The company recently partnered with National Geographic to shine a light on projects supporting African communities and conservation.

According to the gemstone miner, its operations in Zambia and Mozambique benefit local communities through taxes and additional projects that help protect Africa’s rich biodiversity and promote sustainable livelihood.

Two short films, created through the collaboration, follow National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Shannon Wild as she explores communities benefitting from projects supported by Gemfields.

The first film, based in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, highlights the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), which studies large carnivores and addresses threats to them and their ecosystem.

The programme monitors Kafue’s large carnivores using advanced satellite tracking collars that are crucial to life-saving research about these animals. Gemfields’ Kagem mine has provided funds to the ZCP since 2016. To date, it has received US$25,000 in funding with a further commitment of US$50,000 over the coming year, the company said.

The second film explores Mozambican community projects in the immediate vicinity of Gemfields’ ruby mine in Montepuez, which include a primary school, mobile health clinic and a farming association.

Before Gemfields set up its mining operations, the Montepuez community had little or no access to healthcare. Now, two mobile health clinics in Mozambique serve six remote villages of around 10,000 people.

Nine farming associations meanwhile train villagers in agricultural techniques such as crop rotation, pest control and conservation farming. Four schools have also been established in Mozambique with a combined capacity of 2,000 students.

Women empowerment

Brands also offer non-profit organisations the financial muscle as well as the ability to reach out to a wider audience through events and social media exposure, according to Caryl Capeci, CEO of Chow Tai Fook North America.

In April 2018, diamond jeweller Hearts On Fire, which is owned by Chow Tai Fook, aligned with Girls Inc, setting aside marketing, financial and volunteer support for the US-based charity. In December last year, Hearts On Fire donated 5 percent of net sales from its Lorelei Classics collection to Girls Inc.

“Corporate sponsorships and partnerships with non-profit organisations offer important and much needed support critical for these groups to carry on their work,” noted Capeci. “Without corporate aid, many organisations will find it challenging to achieve their goals. Plus, the increased exposure a brand can offer through events and social media help these groups tell their story.” Earlier this year, young girls from the organisation helped design and produce a capsule collection for Hearts On Fire. The girls were exposed to the entire process of jewellery making from design conceptualisation to CAD, jewellery production, marketing and sales.

A portion of the proceeds has been allocated to Girls Inc to continue their mission of raising strong, smart, and bold young women through mentoring and research-based programming.

“Through this partnership, we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact Girls Inc has made on thousands of girls who have gone through the programme over the last decade. Our goal is to make the Hearts On Fire x Girls Inc Jewellery Collection a commercial success so we can help the organisation invest even more in educating the next generation of brilliant young women,” stated Capeci.

Healthcare

For diamond and gemstone manufacturer KGK Group, businesses cause an enduring impact in society through crucial CSR programmes that promote social and economic inclusion.

The company is making sure it leaves a lasting legacy through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Cancer Hospital & Research Centre (BMCHRC), which was established in 1996 as a flagship cancer treatment facility in Rajasthan. The hospital is fully funded by KGK. KGK's Lokesh Mansukhani commented, “We aim to achieve responsible growth by providing the most advanced medical services to cancer patients in an environment that fosters humanity, compassion and concern. BMCHRC is our blueprint for community engagement, which has resulted in saving lives.”

In August 2014, the hospital initiated the “Donate A Life programme,” aimed at extending free treatment for treatable blood cancer in children aged 1 to 14.

Aside from a fully funded treatment, the programme also offers internationally approved chemotherapy protocols; a cure rate of over 90 percent; and experienced and competent medical staff, among others. At the moment, 74 patients have been declared cancer-free while 19 new patients are undergoing treatment.

In India, cancer in children constitutes 5.5 percent of total cancer cases every year. However only one in 10 cases receive complete therapy, according to KGK. Cure rates for common childhood cancers like lymphoma and leukaemia are at 30 percent, compared to over 80 percent in developed countries.

“At KGK, CSR is not just a name but a practice through which we guide our team members to become responsible and committed citizens. It’s essential to use our position to facilitate and support causes that impact the lives of others,” explained Mansukhani. “The group is committed to operating and growing its business in a socially responsible way.”