Big business, bigger aspirations: Building CSR at a scale-up

July 10, 2018 Jess Lingwood

I had a wobble the other day – one that made me doubt the work I was doing, and how I could know if it was any good. You see, I’m putting together the beginnings of Onfido’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, and trying to figure out what our long-term aspirations are. 

What is CSR?

Let’s set some context here. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been described in various different ways, but it’s essentially an approach to business that looks at social and environmental impact, along with an ethical approach to your workforce and marketplace. 
It’s important to Onfido because we see ourselves as privileged to live the lives we lead – to have jobs that challenge us and help us build a career, to have had access to education, and to be continuing to grow professionally and personally. Now, as a business, we have a chance to help level the playing field for others.

For Onfido, this means holding ourselves to a higher standard of accountability: being a transparent and ethical business; giving back to the communities in which we live, work and play; creating a diverse and inclusive working environment; reducing our negative environmental impact; and finding a way to redefine what success can mean for a business.

Even for a CSR professional, it’s a daunting task. But I have no CSR background. What I do have, however, is a career built in start-ups, a personality type that craves challenges, and a passion to work at a company that cares about its impact on the world. 

My fabulous team lead listened to my concerns (“How do I know if any of this is right?”, “I don’t know how other people have done it”, “I have no experience in CSR”), then reminded me that as a scale-up, we don’t need to follow what other people have already done. Being at a fast-growing tech company means not always following the norm; it means forging your own path and learning things for the first time.

Creating a collaborative vision for CSR

So, how did I approach this? I started with three of my most important stakeholders - our co-founders. It was important to make sure that what I was creating aligned with their vision for the company. They spoke, I listened, and it gave me a better understanding of what’s important to them – and why. Yes, success for Onfido means making money for our shareholders. Yes, we’re passionate about creating market-leading products. But we also want to reduce our negative footprint on the world and leave behind a positive, lasting legacy. I’ve heard others say that the leaders of their companies can be blockers to CSR initiatives; I can happily (and ever so slightly smugly) say that our leaders are the reason we started the whole process. For that, I’m proud to be part of their team.

But a successful CSR programme needs collaboration from the whole company, not just the co-founders.  That’s why I sent a survey to the whole company (five offices across four countries) asking: 

  • what great work we had already been doing 
  • what the team is passionate about
  • what the team thought we should care about as a company. 

Our team came up with ideas I’m sure I would never have thought of – and even more importantly, it got them all thinking about where and how CSR could impact our business, from strengthening our client relationships to attracting the best talent. I also extended the survey to a couple of focus groups passionate about CSR, which gave me a chance to dig into their ideas and test some presumptions I had made.

What we’re doing at Onfido

Along with a lot of reading and chats with some great charities and B Corp companies, I settled on what would be the first building blocks of our CSR vision. Firstly, we set up an environmental policy, so we can start regulating our approach to recycling and sustainable procurement. 

We’ve also just launched our Volunteer Days scheme, giving the whole team a chance to take paid time off to volunteer for the causes that matter to them (I’m super excited about this one). For those that already volunteer, it gives them a little time back to continue the excellent work they’re doing; for those that don’t, it’s an incentive to start. Volunteering was the most suggested CSR activity highlighted by our team - which made me proud to work with so many awesome humans.

In fact, a fantastic bunch of our team have put themselves forward to join a CSR Squad. With their help, we’ll be able to come up with a detailed roadmap for the next 12 months, and figure out how it aligns with our overall company purpose and brand. 

So, my wobble is over. Confidence renewed and raring to get stuck back in.
What would I tell other people in a similar situation? Do something – just get it off the ground. Small steps towards your CSR aspirations are worth celebrating, because it means you work for a company that cares about a longer-lasting impact than just money. And that’s enough to get me out of bed in the morning and onto a commuter train!


About the Author

Jess Lingwood

Jess leads special projects at Onfido.

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