Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is sometimes perceived as a catch-all term. In my experience, however, it is a clear description of the matter at hand – a way of doing business that society sees as responsible. As CSR Manager at RAI Amsterdam, I work hard every day to help grow this way of doing business within the RAI organisation.
Where are we part of the problem?
In the context of the many social challenges we face today, two questions are of continuous importance. Where are we part of the problem? And where can we be part of the solution? The first question leads to many areas where we are working to prevent or reduce the negative social impact of our activities. For instance, we are committed to preventing waste by encouraging recycling, spreading logistics better to reduce neighbourhood nuisance and saving energy through smart solutions in our building.
Where can we be part of the solution?
The second question, 'Where can we be part of the solution', is one that fascinates me personally. This is partly because there are so many opportunities to make a difference if you actively seek them out and are open to change. My search started years ago when I went out into the neighbourhood on my bike to find out what social initiatives are based around the RAI and what social needs exist locally. I came across a wide range of initiatives as I listened to people’s stories, wishes and needs over many cups of coffee,.
I also asked each initiative what it needed in order to find out how the RAI could make a potential contribution. And this is how I met Titia and Mia, the founders of a wonderful local initiative called Stichting Heen en Weer. Volunteers from the neighbourhood drive people with mobility issues from their home to the supermarket or doctor, for example, and back again. They use small, bright-green electric cars and give people the chance to remain an active part of their surroundings. Titia and Mia told me that they were looking for parking spaces for their cars, as they had to vacate the places where they were parked at the time. I contacted the RAI’s Traffic Manager Wim to see if we might be able to help. Wim said that although we obviously have a lot of parking spaces at the RAI, we really need them all for some events. Could we think of anything else?
I went for a walk with Wim around the RAI grounds and in one of our car parks we found an empty, unused corner. This space was useless to us as normal cars could not park there due to its limited size. Heen en Weer's cars are small, however, so it was the perfect place for them. We installed charging stations and since then the Heen en Weer fleet has made grateful use of this corner in our car park.
Looking in from the outside...
If I hadn't met Titia and Mia, we would never have seen social value in this unused spot in our car park. Indeed, it would probably never have caught our eye and remained worthless from a business perspective. Thanks to our meeting, we were able to both find this corner and transform it into a valuable location that is now making a difference in the neighbourhood. It made us realise that we can find hidden value within our organisation when we take an outside view. It has taught us to be open to requests from society and start searching for opportunities to meet them.
Thanks to the many meetings we’ve now had and continue to have with a wide variety of social initiatives, we’re finding hidden value in many places. A type of surplus that we do not exploit within our business but can be incredibly valuable to society. Another example is the way we help initiatives with our facilities at times when the business is not using them, with items left over after events or conferences, with the knowledge and expertise of our staff when it can help within a social context and so much more...
Tapping into your hidden value
By learning about social needs, we find opportunities to meet them and be part of the solution. That the RAI possesses hidden value is not unique. Every organisation, every event, every conference has hidden value. It is a shame not to exploit this value and instead waste it.
I am constantly amazed at the endless ways in which an organisation like the RAI can help social initiatives in Amsterdam. I therefore invite everyone to get to know the organisations in your region... Start with one initiative, become familiar with that and start your search for an 'empty corner in the car park'. In these times when we are all looking for solutions to social challenges, we each have the potential to be a part of the solution and make a difference. Don’t waste it!