Jan 22

Raks Thai Foundation and Merck Thailand: Evolving CSR – Partnerships

Promboon Panitchpakdi
Promboon Panitchpakdi is the Executive Director of the RaksThai Foundation/CARE Thailand.

Many of you may not have heard about “Raks Thai Foundation” and are much more familiar with CARE International in Thailand. The two names actually refer to the same organization. CARE International Thailand (or CARE Thailand) began operating in Thailand since 1979, initially responding to the influx of Cambodian refugees along the Thai-Cambodian border and later in other areas of development. In 1997, CARE Thailand registered locally as Raks Thai Foundation, “Raks” coming from the word “Rak-Sa” which means protecting or caring. Raks Thai Foundation also became the 12th member of CARE International in 2003. As such Raks Thai and CARE Thailand now refer to the same organization.

The Thai economy was booming until 1997 when it was hit by the “Tom Yum Kung” economic crisis. Raks Thai Foundation’s hopes to generate a significant amount of local private funding fell through at that time. Fortunately, however, international funding sources for development continued and Raks Thai Foundation was able to expand its programs in health and HIV/AIDS, livelihoods (occupational support) as well as in agriculture and natural resources.

In 2003, Mr. Heinz Landau, Managing Director of Merck Thailand, contacted Mr. Sukich Utinu, Director of Resources and Development, Raks Thai Foundation, to talk about a partnership between the two organizations. Through this partnership, Merck would support the Young Leadership Development project of Raks Thailand aimed at building occupational and life skills for students and out-of-school youth in Udonthani and Nongkai in the Northeastern region of Thailand.

I remember that at the first meeting, Mr. Landau said clearly that he hoped that Raks Thai or CARE Thailand would become a partner of Merck Thailand and not just a recipient of funding. This, I was to learn and now take pride in, was a fundamental element of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I was also presently surprised to see how Merck Thailand was taking the partnership. Merck’s internal campaign was “We Care” which supports the partnership with CARE Thailand. “We care” for Merck Thailand included employees, customers, shareholders and society – another key element of CSR: involving a wide range of stakeholders.

Mr. Landau was keen in having quarterly meetings between Raks Thai staff and Merck Thailand senior staff and the Merck Thailand relevant staff. Mr. Landau was always present at these 2-3 hours meetings and personally led many of the discussions. We learned a lot from these meetings, particularly on some of the differences and similarities between corporations and the non-profit organizations.

Timeliness is a key characteristic cherished by the private sector, while the non-profit organizations tend to see dates and deadlines on a relational basis, thus time becomes less exact in the non-profit world.

Timeliness is a key characteristic cherished by the private sector, while the non-profit organizations tend to see dates and deadlines on a relational basis, thus time becomes less exact in the non-profit world. Raks Thai struggled quite a bit in getting quarterly reports to Merck Thailand, while Merck needed timely information to produce their CSR-Magazine to share with their customers who were also donating significantly under Baht-to-Baht Merck customers’ donations to Merck’s own donations.

It was also apparent that Raks Thai’s reports were not satisfying Merck’s information needs. Raks Thai Foundation like many other non-profit organizations was used to reporting processes and outputs to traditional donor agencies, while the corporate world is used to immediately tracking bottom line indicators  or “results” and “outcomes”. Social development projects usually used surveys to measure impact (that would be comparable to outcomes), but such information was not available on a quarterly basis and usually involved extensive measuring exercises. Still the communication need of Merck was understood and this had to be solved by Raks Thai’s programm staff by referring more and more to social  para-indicators that demonstrated results / outcomes such as youth earning income or demonstrated leadership among youth.

Thanks to the excellent work of the Merck employees, particularly in the sales department each product-unit was able to secure donations from their customers. That enabled Raks Thai and Merck to agree on a second project titled “Collaborative Action Partnerships” located in ethnic group communities in the highland watershed district of Mae Chaem District, Chiang Mai province. Raks Thai had been working in this district, since it was CARE Thailand helping villagers to care for their natural resources using community established forest rules, agro-forestry farming techniques and non-farming income generation activities for women. Unfortunately, institutional donor funding for Thailand’s development programs had been on the decline for more than a decade due to Thailand’s growing Human Development Index (HDI). In around 2007, large scale institutional funding for forest conservation in Mae Chaem ended. The agreement with Merck Thailand enabled Raks Thai to use about 1 million Baht per year to support ongoing activities in Mae Chaem. This was also supported with Raks Thai’s other funds raised from small individual donations.

Again the partnership between Merck Thailand and Raks Thai had proven itself valuable, not only Raks Thai received funding, but Raks Thai was also able to select its own strategic priorities for where and how the funds would be used. This is quite unlike many CSR-supporting programs aiming mainly at creating “public attraction” on a project identified by the company. Merck Thailand’s funding enabled Raks Thai to continue its support to communities in their sustainable management of valuable natural resources that also are a key source of the water supply of large parts of  Northern and central Thailand – including Bangkok.

Mr. Landau and his team were straightforward in their discussions about the CSR – relationship which enabled open discussions and led to adjustments on both sides. It was pointed out that while the Merck Thailand employees are engaging in soliciting customer donations, there needed to be increased employee engagement in social programs. A major barrier with the Raks Thai Foundation projects was the distance to these locations. Merck Thailand made periodical senior management team visits to these sites, but it was not possible for the majority of the Merck staff to participate in these social programs and to practice volunteerism in social development. Raks Thai Foundation did not have suitable programs in Bangkok and neighboring provinces that would allow employee participation. This was obviously a good intention, good for the employees and the society. Therefore Merck Thailand developed additional employee-led development activities – ranging from school improvements to forest planting. It was agreed that a partnership cannot be everything and finding solutions jointly is key.

The December 2004 Tsunami disaster that hit many of the coastal regions of Asian countries left vast destruction and hundred of thousands deaths. Raks Thai Foundation as the CARE International member immediately set up support programs for the affected populations. Support from Merck was equally immediate. This led to the third Merck supported program through Raks Thai Foundation. Merck Thailand and their German-based headquarters Merck KGaAsupported the construction of a multi-purpose building at the Bang Baen School in Ranong province in Southern Thailand. Merck Thailand supported two community-managed / owned disaster rehabilitation and occupational revolving funds in Krabi province and continued student training on disaster preparedness in Bang Baen. The swiftness in decision making and support shown by Merck was impressive and demonstrated the spirit of trust in the partnership.

During the seven years of Merck Thailand and Raks Thai Fiundation partnership, Merck Thailand (including Merck KGaA) and its customers provided over 22 million Baht to Raks Thai Foundation for the program activities in the three regions. The program has reached 7,000 children in the Northeast, supported 6,000 subsistent-level farmers and supported the school and revolving fund activities in the South. In addition, Merck Thailand employees have become familiar with Raks Thai Foundation and several employee-to-employee activities have been initiated. Through Mr. Landau’s commitment, the Merck Thailand and Raks Thai Foundation’s partnership in CSR became known to many other companies in Thailand and has been referred to as an example of best practices in CSR.

For Raks Thai Foundation, this was a journey of learning about a partner in a different context – i.e., the for-profit world. I can proudly state that the learning experience was invaluable and has strengthened Raks Thai Foundation in many aspects both at the program level and the organization as a whole.

Finally, I wish to extend the appreciation of Raks Thai Foundation towards Merck Thailand and its employees for continuing to support programs of Raks Thai Foundation despite the fact that Mr. Landau is no longer working there.

This entry was posted on Friday, January 22nd, 2010 at 01:00 and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Features, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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