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Introduction

The Reputation Institute recently published its 2018 Global RepTrak rankings, as the largest study on corporate social responsibility it provides a global reputational index by rating the top 100 hundred companies for CSR. Despite an overall decline in the rankings this year, Rolex retains its position as a leader for corporate social responsibility.

Founded in 1905, the company has been a pioneer in watchmaking, setting a precedent in the industry with innovative pieces such as the ‘Oyster’ waterproof wristwatch and the Rolex ‘Date Just’ self-winding chronometer watch. The company’s philanthropic work is largely centred around two key programmes: The Rolex Awards for Enterprise and The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative founded in 1976 and 2002 respectively.

Understanding Rolex’s stratagem for social enterprise is useful for organisations seeking to improve and expand their CSR.

Rolex’s success is attributed to the authenticity and longevity of its charity work. By investing in and committing to long-term social enterprise projects, Rolex has an impressive record of over forty years of philanthropic work.

 

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise were established to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Oyster Chronometer. The awards celebrate individuals who demonstrate leadership and entrepreneurialism in the following areas; The Environment, Applied Science and Technology and Exploration.  

Previous laureates include Junto Ohki and Bruktawit Tigabu. 

Junto Ohki was the 2016 Young Laureate for Applied Technology and founder of the first crowdsourced dictionary: SLinto. SLinto provides an online platform for deaf people and fosters global communication by making sign language translation available in over 126 languages.

Bruktawit Tigabu the 2010 Young Laureate for Science and Health is the founder and director of Tsehai Loves Learning. Tsehai Loves Learning is a social enterprise programme that specialises in educational content targeted at children and families and provides rural communities in Ethiopia with accessible information on health-related topics.

 

The Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative supports emerging artists across a variety of artistic disciplines including film, literature, music, dance, theatre, architecture, and the visual arts. The programme is held every two years and supports proteges with an impressive mentorship programme; the protégé is granted a minimum of 6-week access to their mentor and an award in form of a financial grant.

Gloria Cabral the 2014-2015 protégé for architecture was paired with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and collaborated with him as a manager for a project on a tea chapel in Korea. Cabral also worked with Zumthor in his studio in Switzerland and in her hometown in Paraguay.  

Thao-Nguyen Phan, the 2016-2017 visual arts protégé was mentored by American artist Joan Jonas, Phan shadowed Jonas in her New York studio and in Spain, Italy, and India. The mentorship programme is designed with flexibility in mind, allowing the mentor and protégé to determine a mutually agreeable set of arrangements.

This ensures that each relationship is shaped by the mentor’s own experience and meets the needs of the individual protégé. For example, Thao-Nguyen Phan sought to shadow her mentor while at work rather than seek out specific technical advice or instruction from Joan Jonas.

On the other hand, Chaitanya Tamhane, the 2016-2017 protégé for Film was mentored by Alfonso Cuarón who adopted a ‘horizontal’ approach to the mentor-protégé relationship rather than a vertical teacher-student dynamic. Tamhane worked alongside Cuarón on a film a project and assisted with the script, while Cuarón also sought the opportunity to learn from Tamhane.

 

The Key Takeaways

Companies can adopt similar approaches to philanthropic work by engaging with socially responsible projects that align with their own corporate identity and on a long-term basis.

For instance, Rolex sponsors projects that focus on innovation in distinct areas: Science and Technology, Arts and Culture. This makes sense for a company with a reputation as an innovator in watchmaking therefore the mission of the two key programmes appear to be aligned with its own company mission. Furthermore, Rolex maintains its relationship with its participants after the initial programme period.

The social initiatives developed by Rolex can serve as useful examples for companies seeking to enhance their CSR. Most notably, companies can emulate Rolex’s CSR business model, authentic programmes are created when they reflect the organisations own values. Authentic programmes are also easier to maintain over a long period of time.

 

By investing in long-term and initiatives that are aligned with the firms own organisational culture companies have a greater chance of success with CSR. Longevity and authenticity are also more likely to bring reputational benefits while maximising the pro-social impact of a firm’s charity engagement.

 


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