Date posted: 18/10/2019 5 min read

Good CSR can be a profit centre for business

Peter Baines OAM told the 2019 CA ANZ Leadership in Government Awards that making money really can be central to doing good.

In Brief

  • Philanthropist and CSR consultant Peter Baines OAM gave the keynote address at the 2019 CA ANZ Leadership in Government Awards in Canberra on 17 October 2019.
  • He says donating money to charities is the least engaging form of corporate philanthropy.
  • For long-lasting impact, organisations should fund CSR programs that can be growth rather than cost centres within the business.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs stand the best chance of being effective and creating lasting impact if they operate at a profit, rather than a cost, to the business implementing them, insists philanthropist and CSR consultant Peter Baines OAM.

Donating money to charities is the least engaging form of corporate philanthropy, he says, because once the act of giving is done there is no residual energy or commitment to any further action.

This belief underpins how Baines runs the Thailand based charity he founded, Hands Across the Water, and his work as a CSR consultant to leading corporates and organisations around the world.

A former NSW police officer with 22 years’ service, Baines embarked on a dramatic career change after the experience of working to identify victims of the 2002 Bali bombings and 2004 Asian tsunami in Thailand.

His work in Thailand, which was recognised with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM), drove Baines to set up Hands Across the Water, an organisation that provides children orphaned by the tsunami with life choices.

The organisation has seven projects in Thailand and, so far, has helped support 47 young people to go to university.

“When I formed ‘Hands’ I understood that the ‘charity’ industry is highly competitive, and you need to do things a bit differently to attract and retain support,” Baines says.

“So we have never spent a cent of donors’ funds on administration or fundraising, and we are able to do that because we have created a social enterprise which sits alongside the charity and underwrites the fundraising.”

Doing good sustainably

Peter BainesPicture: Peter Baines OAM.

In his consulting work, Baines tries to persuade large businesses and organisations that the CSR programs they fund need to be growth (rather than cost) centres within the business.

“The mindset changes when people are asked to do more than donate money,” he says.

“The mindset changes when people are asked to do more than donate money.”
Peter Baines OAM

Baines recently told an air-conditioning manufacturer the company should focus its CSR efforts on recycling and the better use of natural resources.

In an industry where this approach is not common, it would enable the company to differentiate its brand and deepen engagement with its supply chain and distribution network.

When working with a major accountancy firm, Baines advocated that a good CSR program should help attract and retain the best talent in a market where young professionals want to work for organisations that share their values.

Recently Baines advised Starwood Hotels and Resorts on implementing a CSR program that successfully improved occupancy levels at one of its hotels in Thailand.

The program engaged the expertise of the hotel’s frequent guests in a mentoring program among charities in the local community.

“Occupancy had been at 40%, but the frequent guests were staying an extra night to get involved with the program, so occupancy went up,” Baines explains.

“That created brand differentiation and loyalty and brought new business from people who wanted to be a part of the program.

“The hotel didn’t put one cent into a donation, but every business measure was exceeded because we were looking at business growth through relationships with the charity sector in the community, rather than just giving money.”

In driving change, Baines’ message to leaders, and aspiring leaders, is that they don’t need to be in senior positions to make a difference.

Australians, he believes, already understand this and, although that principle applies in any context, it’s one reason why Australians have had prominent roles in disaster recovery around the world.

“If you want to lead teams you need to be present in the moment, and have clarity of purpose and the courage to make difficult decisions,” he says. “It’s a focus on results, and understanding where and how you have the ability to make some kind of difference.”

Leadership in Government Awards

Baines gave the keynote address at the 2019 CA ANZ Leadership in Government Awards, which were announced at a gala dinner in Canberra on Thursday 17 October 2019. These awards showcase the Australian Public Service leaders who are making the greatest contributions to the prosperity and stability of the country.

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2019 CA ANZ Leadership in Government Awards.

Outstanding Graduate of the Year Award 2019: Caitlin Petersen, Australian Taxation Office

Emerging Leader of the Year Award 2019: Brendon Buckley, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development

Outstanding Contribution in Public Administration Award 2019: Rachael Spalding, Department of Finance.

Find out more about the awards

To find out more about Hands Across the Water go to

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