In 2008 when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partnered with the then-South Trinidad Chamber of Industry and Commerce to map Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) locally, they found that CSR for the most part consisted of a focus on philanthropy, charitable giving and public relations that were not strategically planned.
In fact there was little knowledge by corporate Trinidad and Tobago of the business benefits of CSR.
And with limited involvement from government and civil society, the initiatives of CSR were not aligned with national development goals.
Fours years later, the UNDP's latest "View from the Boardroom - CEO study on Corporate Social Responsibility in Trinidad and Tobago", a spin-off from the 2008 CSR mapping, the executive summary of the 2012 report shows that not much has changed.
Only 51.4 per cent of all CEOs in the country interviewed for the study said that they had a CSR strategy in place despite the fact that more CSR initiatives have been taking place.
Only 11.4 per cent of the CEOs reported that increased competitiveness motivated their CSR actions.
An overwhelming 96.8 per cent of the corporate leaders identified their motivation for CSR as name brand and reputation and only 14.3 per cent of all CEOs acknowledged the importance of strategic CSR.
However, the massive amount of CSR guesswork being done by local CEOs does include president of Phoenix Park Gas Processors Eugene Tiah and his team.
Tiah who spoke at the UNDP launch of the CEO study on CSR last week at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business at Mt Hope told fellow CEOs and managers that as leaders, they were the ones who must drive CSR.
"Years ago I came to the realisation that inaction is not an option, if you want things to change you have to do it yourself or lead by example. Those of us in leadership are in the position to make extraordinary things happen. Our businesses are only as successful as the systems we institute and the people we employ. Our country is as good as every individual in this room," Tiah said.
Attempting to motivate his colleagues who were not among the 37.1 per cent of CEOs who operate an official volunteer scheme, Tiah said he was an avid advocate of volunteerism within his employee's population because he engaged in volunteerism himself.
Reflecting on the shift in the country's social positioning, Tiah said the country has moved away from a village mentality to that of an individualistic one which is another reason CEOs need to encourage their employees to volunteer through their own actions.
"In this world of consumerism and individualism helping others and bettering society may not come naturally to everyone so leading by example is key to engaging employees in volunteerism activities. Never ask your employees to do what you are not prepared to do yourself."
He added that CSR was important to every business because it is operating in a manner that demonstrates a deeper understanding of what the businesses need to survive and the impact the companies operations have on all.
"A commitment to strategic CSR means a commitment to excellence," he said.
As president of Phoenix Park Gas Processors Ltd, Tiah said he had the responsibility to guide its present performance and shape its future but he was fortunate that when he got there the organisation shared his personal creed of CSR and so he did not have the difficult task of convincing shareholders about CSR.
Tiah said he has instead had the pleasure of enhancing the company's solid foundation on which it was built ten years before, where employees volunteer their time and resources in different ways, including making financial donations providing technical assistance leading community initiatives, mentoring, teaching and serving on boards.
Acknowledging what he described as a steady progress of CSR within this country's energy and financial sectors Tiah said:
"Many companies outside these sectors do not grasp the true benefits of CSR and rather, see it as unnecessary loss."
The UNDP study showed that 94.3 per cent of all CEOs admitted to never making the link between CSR and their bottom line.
However, once again Tiah separated himself and his team from the majority.
"As part of the Energy Chamber's CSR committee we are embarking on an initiative to help Small and Micro Enterprises (SMES) within our supply chain to embrace CSR within their operations," he said.
Tiah also pointed out that although this country basically imported the practice of CSR a few decades ago, without truly having experienced the wave of activism that initiated what is a relatively new business strategy businesses should not expect it to remain this way.
"We have not witnessed consumer advocates demand for lower prices or boycott product brands. The public's interest has always leaned towards government responsibility so Trinidad and Tobago businesses have operated with relative ease not too affected by the licences to operate concept.
However, a few years ago something shifted and today lobbyists, in particular environmental activists, have made the front page, although limited, citizens are less tolerant than in the past."
Hinting at the fact that only 37.1 per cent of CEOs who participated in the study said they recognised the importance of civil society as drivers in CSR, Tiah noted that companies did not function in isolation.
"So it would therefore be unwise for a board of directors or a CEO to continuously make business decisions that ignore the company's key stakeholders.
"Whether the stakeholders are employees, consumers or communities, we as CEOs must acknowledge that they too, however small or marginal, have the power to affect our businesses. Not just for a year or two but for the future."
He said it was wise to invest in training programmes in the community so that the company can tap into this pool when employees are needed.
In this scenario, he said, the community benefits and the quality of the company's human capital is guaranteed. This approach, he said, was deeply linked to his company's approach to CSR.
"Our CSR rests on community partnerships, social investments, regulatory plan and environmental stewardship. What we are mindful of are quick-fix projects that cannot be sustained. Instead we prefer to take more time to develop projects and programmes."
Giving examples of the strategic CSR initiatives done by his company Tiah said Phoenix Park looked at national issues that affected its business and moved forward.
Some of its social investment projects were in sync with national issues like road safety where the company focused on training young drivers in defensive driving and sensitised the driving population about road safety in 2011.
His company has built houses, through its homes project, for families in south and central Trinidad who were without means of securing loans to build homes.
"One of the areas that our company has lagged behind on is reporting on our CSR so the general population is not fully aware of how we have intervened to make society better."
Looking beyond local shores, Tiah told his peers that CSR should not only be extended within this country but throughout the region where much of this country's products and services are exported.
It was something that at least 53.1 per cent of CEOs agreed on in the study.
"The Caribbean marketplace is actually bigger than we think. Poor communities have collective resources to actively participate in economic development and if we want to reach our full potential each country must first utilise its resources wisely and leverage its various strengths.
"We must all tap into our own individual potential. That means looking at what we do and how we do it."
Tiah said this meant that decisions made in the boardroom – core values, standards, policies and systems and corporate governance structures, environmental stance, procurement procedures, safety systems and recruitment policies must all take CSR into account.
"CSR can be used to improve our companies' competitive context by assessing specific business needs to sustain existence over long term," Tiah added.