Focus on a Partner – Interview with Marko Siller, Executive Manager of RBF Estonia

What are the current CSR issues and trends in Estonia and who are the actors that address these issues?

We have seen a positive shift of mind-set during recent years – spontaneous charity is no longer the dominant understanding CSR. Instead, strategic approaches and core work-related business practices are becoming increasingly important for leading companies. However, in general, international businesses tend to be the leading examples. It`s challenging to get local SMEs to talk the same language.

In Estonia, we have enjoyed modern business culture for only 20 years since gaining re-independence in 1991. I would consider our current situation in terms of business ethics rather positive. Businesses understand their role in society as responsible employers – workplace sustainability and responsibility practices show the best results also in Estonian CR Index, compared to environmental and community issues that score a bit lower.

Business sectors also expect the state to express more support and act as a positive example itself. The first National CSR Strategy was created for 2012-2014, which was a positive step forward, yet still many improvements can be made. For example, more efforts should be made in sustainability reporting in state owned companies, sustainability criteria in public procurement and business development grants, and national CSR awards.

Has CSR and the public perception of CSR changed since Estonia became part of the EU in 2004?

Yes, it has changed. As mentioned before – together with the growing maturity of whole society, also business culture and CSR have gained more substantial meaning. Moreover, joining the EU has brought more international perspectives to Estonia.

Today, if I compare how often CSR gets media coverage or another kind of public attention to what it was 5-6 years ago, then recent years show a clear positive trend. But we have a long way to go as we are far from being there. Why so? It seems that when it comes to CSR key stakeholders mostly try to keep efforts to a minimum and think rather short-term. 

RBF Estonia was born out of the Multi-stakeholder Forum Initiative of Open Estonia Foundation (2004-2006). Can you tell us more about it?

CSR as a concept was not talked about in Estonia before the beginning of the 21st century. The aim of the Multi-stakeholder Forum Initiative was to introduce CSR to different stakeholders (businesses, public sectors, NGOs, universities) and to build a basis for further CSR promotion in Estonia through discussions – what do we consider as CSR, what are current situation and challenges, who are key players, which roles different stakeholders should take on etc.

Two larger events, roundtables, inviting several international speakers to Estonia – all these activities got the ball rolling and led us to the current situation.

What are your main initiatives and/or projects for 2014? And why these initiatives/projects?

We started as a business network a year ago. So the focus of 2013 was to build capacity and grow in membership numbers. This is also a focus for this year.

In 2014, we have two focus topics – procurements and sustainable workplace. For both topics we want to make concrete proposals for policy development, raise awareness of companies, and run communication campaigns.

The topic of sustainable workplace is directly relevant for businesses. Ageing population, intensive emigration, low birth rate, and many other demographic trends have taken us to the situation where (a) companies have to adapt to the new reality and (b) together with other stakeholders we have to find better solutions to offer vulnerable groups better employment opportunities.

In autumn 2014, we will run the 7th annual National CR Index.

As a new member, what do you expect the main benefit will be of having joined CSR Europe’s network?

First, we want to get simple and pragmatic support – learning from other NPOs, participating in common projects, being well-informed about developments at the EU level. I hope that having better access to European practices and discussions gives our member companies a valuable chance to grow quicker in their CSR practices.

After participating at the NPO meeting in Brussels on 19 March, I see that although realities between EU countries are often different, NPOs often struggle with similar challenges. So we are also here to share our own experiences.


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