22/05/2017 - 11:06

Passing the social licence test

22/05/2017 - 11:06


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SPECIAL REPORT: A commitment to supporting local communities is a win-win for some of the state’s best-known business names.

Passing the social licence test
Russell Gibbs says giving at Hawaiian is more about relationships and not always about money. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Challenging economic conditions may have led many in Western Australia’s corporate sector to wind back the scale of their charitable activities, but not Woodside Petroleum.

The oil and gas producer has more than doubled the dollar value of its social contribution during the past five years, in recognition of the ongoing responsibility it has to earn its ‘social licence to operate’.

Six years ago Woodside contributed $7.7 million to the community; in 2016 it invested $15.7 million.

Woodside social investment manager Jo Ferrie said the company had made a conscious decision to ensure it sustained its levels of support over the past few years.

“For a state that’s very dependent on resources, and the investment that derives from the resource sector, it’s become more important for us to help communities through those tough times as well,” Ms Ferrie told Business News.

“It’s not just about doing things because it makes you feel good or because it has our logo on it.

“It’s actually about the genuine change and outcomes that you make in the community and how that adds value back to your business.”

Ms Ferrie said one of Woodside’s longest-standing partnerships was with Life Saving WA.

“It makes sense for us because we are a marine operation, most of our host communities are coastal and we also really love the surf lifesaving safety ethos,” she said.

“The profile (of our giving) has stayed quite consistent, but probably less in the philanthropic space and gifting of funds.

“It’s wanting strategic investment; identifying the key things government and communities value the most that are also of value to us.”

In 2016, Woodside committed $25 million over the next five years towards innovation and technology, which involves resourcing learning centres.

“That’s the pool of talent we want to draw on,” Ms Ferrie said.

She said Woodside had exited some of its Perth-based partnerships, with its remaining portfolio of Perth organisations having some function to supporting activities in communities that hosted Woodside’s major operations, such as Karratha, Roebourne and Exmouth.

Woodside’s partnerships with groups such as Aboriginal performing arts organisation Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company extended to staging performances at some of these locations.

Since 2012, Woodside has contributed $33 million to indigenous communities, and Ms Ferrier said the company was always seeking to create investment to coincide with stages in each project’s development.

“To develop resources anywhere in the world it will always be based on the success of our past; by having strong relationships in our community and demonstrating a long-term commitment to them,” she said.

“If we do a bad job then the next community we go into is not going to welcome us.

“Social licence to operate isn’t something you can turn on and off; you have to build and maintain relationships with your communities.”

Building relationships

Giving is also big business for Perth property management company Hawaiian.

The company name is a regular on Perth’s philanthropy calendar with high-profile events including Youth Focus’s Hawaiian Ride for Youth and Hawaiian Walk for Women’s Cancer, which supports Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

However, chief executive Russell Gibbs said there was more to giving than just naming rights.

“People want a lot more out of their giving activities; it’s more about a relationship and it’s not always about money,” Mr Gibbs told Business News.

“When you look at our footprint we’ve got several shopping centres and each one of them has the opportunity to reach out to the community.

“Some organisations want to increase their awareness so we are great partners to be able to give them that.”

Last year’s Hawaiian ‘gold giving box’ assisted partners Anglicare WA and Foodbank with their annual Christmas appeals, where drop-off stations for gifts and food were located throughout several of the property group’s shopping centres.

Hawaiian was also the only corporate to directly partner with an act at the Fringe World Festival earlier this year, and as an extension of that partnership invited the indigenous dance group Djuki Mala to perform at its shopping centres.

“More businesses are starting to understand the need to work with social licence, which means you can’t just take, you also give back,” Mr Gibbs said.

“We don’t link it (giving) to a percentage of our profit or revenue because it’s often when everyone’s profit numbers are down that people need support the most.”


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