Carla May Berina-Kim: Local participation fuels CSR success

    Carla May Berina-Kim, head of sustainable development department at the Manila Water Co. Inc. and executive director of the Manila Water Foundation. Photo by: Devex

    At Manila Water Co., Carla May Berina-Kim ensures social responsibility is integrated into core business. She and her teammates regularly invite feedback from stakeholders on where the company can improve operations for the betterment of communities it serves.

    Berina-Kim leads the sustainable development department of one of two primary sources of potable water in the Philippines’ metro Manila area, and concurrently serves as executive director of the Manila Water Foundation. She is one the most influential development leaders aged 40 and under in Manila.

    Devex is recognizing 40 of these young trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives and journalists.

    We asked Berina-Kim about leadership and the changing face of corporate social responsibility. Here’s what she said:

    What’s your strategy for ensuring that Manila Water adheres to sustainability and corporate social responsibility as guiding principles in its day-to-day operations?

    Key to this is inculcating the principles of sustainability and corporate social responsibility in all employees across the organization. For new employees, we make it a point to let them know what sustainability means to Manila Water and how it impacts the way we do things in the company. We also let them immerse in communities and have a firsthand experience of how clean water can enable change and uplift the quality of life of marginalized communities. We believe that only then can they fully understand the meaning of sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

    To ensure that our business and sustainability objectives are perfectly aligned, we likewise seek inputs and constant feedback from our stakeholders. We recognize the fact that there can be gaps in our operations that we might not see, and so we ask our stakeholders to flag these items so we can promptly address them.

    How do you manage to keep beneficiary communities engaged in Manila Water’s corporate social responsibility initiatives?

    We always adopt a community participatory approach whenever we implement a project. This means that we involve the leaders and members right from the start, making them project co-owners and business partners. They actually appreciate this setup because they become part of the solution to their own problem, and are instrumental in improving the water and sanitation conditions in their community.

    Because of the good relationship we have established with the communities, we are able to maintain our partnership long after the project has been completed. Our territory managers and other field personnel regularly interface with them, with or without any problems. Now, the communities are themselves watching over the pipes and water meters, reporting to us illegal activities by their neighbors. And they do this even without compensation or any formal agreement with Manila Water.

    We also organize simple events where beneficiaries from different communities come together and share experiences with one another to show them that we are deeply grateful for community partners like them. As a result, some of our beneficiaries volunteer to help out in other community projects. This way, they remain engaged in our sustainability initiatives.

    In large part due to your leadership, Manila Water has bolstered its sustainability reporting. How do we get more corporations in the Philippines and beyond to follow suit?

    I always encourage other companies to view sustainability reporting as a journey instead of a simple marketing or communication exercise. With this mindset, they will regard sustainability reporting as a vehicle to constantly review their sustainability objectives and commitments and consequently challenge themselves to do more social and environmental projects. Also, it would do companies good if they involve their stakeholders in their journey to make sure that their sustainability initiatives are relevant and value-adding to them. Needless to say, the entire organization should likewise be involved in the development of the report.

    With this paradigm shift, I believe that more businesses will embrace sustainability reporting more openly and will strive to comply with international standards.

    Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in Manila.

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