How Are Millennials & Gen Zs Changing Corporate Social Responsibility?


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Millennials and Gen Zs Are Changing the Face of Corporate Social Responsibility

For many years now, companies worldwide have been making efforts to partake in corporate social responsibility. Brands such as Lego, Walt Disney, BMW, Intel, and Rolls Royce, among many others, have often been cited as exemplary organisations regarding their corporate social responsibility practices.

However, there has been an increase in the number of start-ups – many led by millennials and Gen Zers – championing corporate social responsibility and grounding their businesses within that framework. For the uninitiated, millennials are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen Zers are those born from 1997 onwards. With this younger generation leading businesses, corporate social responsibility has taken on a different meaning. It is no longer simply a side practice done by organisations to give back to the community in order to improve a business’ image.

One key example is Ruangguru, an Indonesian start-up founded by Adamas Belva Devara and Iman Usman, who made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list in 2017. Hailed as the largest education technology start-up in Asia, Ruangguru was listed in the world’s top 10 most innovative education companies of 2021 by Fast Company. It also came 25th in Fast Company’s list of the world’s most innovative companies of 2021, alongside heavyweights such as Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, SpaceX, and Netflix, among others.

Ruangguru offered its sought-after livestreamed online classes for free when Indonesia announced school closures in March 2020 due to the pandemic. This corporate social responsibility move garnered international recognition for the start-up, and Ruangguru was lauded for its innovative solution that brought millions of affected students an interactive way to continue their education during this period of study disruption. In doing so, Ruangguru took a bold approach to giving back to Indonesia and its people in the best possible way it could have done during a pandemic.

This move by the founders of Ruangguru was very well received, with “hundreds of thousands of students… livestreaming classes” on the platform. This benefitted millions of students and teachers greatly, as they could keep learning and upgrading their skills despite the ongoing disruption to education.

In another example, Ayako Shimizu, a millennial from Japan, started Hikari Lab to benefit the Japanese community, offering a channel for dealing with mental health issues via an online platform. While mental health is a prevalent issue in Japan, it is not widely discussed due to the societal stigma. However, Ayako Shimizu saw it as a crucial matter that needed to be addressed, and found a solution that the Japanese community could relate to, especially the younger generation.

Understanding the upward trends in online gaming and role-playing games, Shimizu found a way to bridge the gap between gaming and mental health by repurposing a role-playing game known as SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-Factor). Her team developed it further to incorporate cognitive behavioural therapy designed to reinforce positivity. Ayako Shimizu believes that the virtual psychological treatment embedded in the game, and the behavioural conditioning developed in the virtual world, can be translated into real-world experiences.

A company with a similar business ideology is Freedom Cups, an Asian social start-up founded in Singapore by three sisters: Vanessa, Joanne, and Rebecca Paranjothy. It is a feminine hygiene company based on benefitting the planet and helping women.

Freedom Cups has highlighted that its purpose is to “reduce waste” in developed countries and help women in third-world countries to access a reusable sanitary product that can last them up to 10 years. According to the company, each menstrual cup is estimated to replace 5,000 disposable sanitary pads, significantly reducing waste and benefitting the female community.

The three sisters also made it to the 2017 Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list. They were recognised for selling their medical-grade menstrual cups to those who can afford them and distributing them for free to the underprivileged in countries like India, Uganda, Nepal, the Philippines, and others. They also started a “Buy One, Give One” effort: for every Freedom Cup purchased, the company gives one to the underprivileged.

The companies listed above highlight the change in mindset regarding corporate social responsibility, especially among millennials and Gen Zers. The concept of corporate social responsibility is no longer one that a company may feel obligated to follow in order to create brand loyalty. Instead, it is the driving factor that builds the business model. This shift in mindset could transform business, bring about more socially responsible organisations, and lead to a sharper focus on corporate sustainability goals.

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