A growth strategy given priority within the Ricoh Group is “value-creating CSR,” which achieves two goals at the same time: solutions to social problems as well as corporate growth. We conduct collaborative activities with stakeholders to become part of the solutions for social issues, and in doing so, we not only address global concerns but also simultaneously utilize our technologies, products and services, and human resources to build new markets, attract new customers and introduce innovation.
■ Value-Creating CSR
While rapid economic growth is being witnessed in many emerging and developing countries, there are still considerable population groups in these nations living in poverty, often referred to as the BOP (Base of the Pyramid). These people are suffering from a wide range of social challenges. Merely bringing products that have been developed to market in developed countries will not solve these issues. Ricoh therefore started its efforts by understanding the issues that poor people are facing. Ricoh staff stay in a local community to experience life there and build trusting relationships with local people. We believe that we can contribute to sustainable development in local communities only after understanding their culture and customs and identifying their problems and by making a concerted effort to find solutions.
Ricoh and Drishtee, a local social enterprise and partner for the project, selected a rural village in Bihar state located in the northeast of India as a target village. Employees selected from among more than 100 volunteers stayed in the village twice, for a month each time. During the first stay (October–November 2010), emphasis was placed on building relationships with villagers. Local people do not speak frankly about their problems if you suddenly turn up to conduct a survey, so we organized events including cricket, debates, singing songs and painting exhibits, with the hope of spreading information on Ricoh so that as many people as possible become familiar with our company. The staff staying there visited local people many times to talk with them and tried to understand their culture and how they think. This kind of continual face-to-face communication fosters a sense of security, making it easier to observe their living environment. After taking sufficient time to build trusting relationships with villagers, group interviews and other surveys were conducted to gather information, which was classified and organized.
We concluded that in order to ensure sustainable business in this rural village facing many challenges, we should start the project by identifying business opportunities and finding and supporting entrepreneurs who would be able to run such businesses. After this initial phase, we intend to move on to the next phase, which will i
nvolve continuing our support for local entrepreneurs and their businesses, helping to maintain and develop them by simultaneously searching for opportunities for Ricoh's own business interests.Accordingly, in our second stay (January to February 2011), we focused on activities to identify ideas for new businesses and entrepreneur candidates with a business-oriented mindset by following the two approaches below:
In February 2011, we held a competition of business ideas to tap into local people's insights and identify future entrepreneurs. Among 31 proposed ideas (13 from female applicants, 18 from male), three were selected using the following screening criteria: entrepreneurial passion, how determined the applicant is to start a business, the possibility of developing the business, and its contribution to local employment. We provided them with training on business management, marketing and other knowledge and skills required for starting business. Since May, two of the successful applicants have started their own small businesses. While helping these entrepreneurs to make their new businesses successful, Ricoh will continue to search for more ideas to support their businesses.
After two rounds of staying in the local village, we obtained in-depth understanding of local needs and issues and reviewed many business ideas that would benefit the local community. As a result, we selected the following two businesses and started pilot tests of them at the end of 2011:
① Photo Print Shop: A shop to support photo-loving locals through utilization of Ricoh's resources
② Women's Shop: A shop for the empowerment of women and job creation for women, operated by women:
For both businesses, we will be selecting prospective local entrepreneurs who wish to operate their shops in the village, and providing them with necessary training and support for the opening of their shops. We are planning to open 2 Print Shops and 23 Women's Shops by September of fiscal year 2014. In parallel with supporting the businesses of local entrepreneurs, we will help them grow by developing Ricoh's own businesses that will provide useful products and services toward this end.
There are three reasons why I opened the shop. First, a shop in the village would mean that the women here would not have to go shopping at the store four kilometers away. Second, I could do my own shopping right here. And third, I could bring in some money for my family.
Since the shop opened its doors for business, I’ve handled lots of products and I’ve been able to talk to a variety of people. I just love it. The village women say the shop is so convenient. They really appreciate having a shop right in the neighborhood where they can buy an item that they suddenly run out of or pick up a small gift to take if they suddenly have to pay a visit to someone.
Before I had the shop, I just whiled away my time at home, not doing anything of particular importance. But now, I spend time working, and I can chat with my customers. My days are much more rewarding. I’m now making profit of several thousand rupees a month. If I can boost sales higher, I’d like to expand the shop. Then, when the kids are older, I’d like to get qualifications to be a beauty professional and that should bring in more customers.