In Part 1, we looked at how Cirque du Soleil balances global and local marketing. In particular, Cirque du Soleil has an outreach program called Cirque du Monde that serves several purposes in its efforts to be seen as a responsible global corporate citizen. Here is a video about Cirque du Monde:

This leads to questions about what lessons can be applied from Cirque du Soleil to entrepreneurs doing international business. In Part 1 of this series, I raised several questions that you as an entrepreneur can ask yourself:

Are there corporate socially responsible (CSR) practices or programs that would easily fit with the mission of our company and the products or services we already sell?

For some companies, this is relatively easy. If your company is involved in healthcare, there are opportunities to donate medical supplies or services to underserved populations in most countries. There are also healthcare organizations who seek donations, such as children’s clinics, who readily take donations.

So where’s the opportunity for a company that develops and manufactures glass-making ovens? This is an international product, but not one that can be installed for the benefit of the poor or other underserved group. Glass is a highly recyclable product. There may be opportunities around developing recycling programs or paying locals to recycle. In any case, look for parallels between your company’s focus and needs in the community.

Corporate social responsibility also includes ethical employment practices, resources usage and transparency. Keep in mind that your company may already be practicing good CSR but not using it yet in your marketing communications.

What do our customers expect from a company like ours in terms of corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility varies greatly by country. In some European countries, CSR particularly in areas of employment, accounting practices and resource usage, is written into law. In some Central American countries, there is less legislated CSR, but companies are expected to be benevolent to their employees and community. Before entering a new market, find out the local expectations of their corporate citizens. As a new company from abroad, you want to at least meet both legal and implied expectations and preferably be above average in this area.

Are there negative country-of-origin effects that could be softened by publicly showing goodwill in a specific country?

“Yankee go home”, is a phrase my countrymen hear when locals are angry at either an American’s actions in-country or else American foreign policies. When there is bias against your company because of the perceptions customers have of your country, that’s a negative country-of-origin effect. Think of CSR as being an appreciative guest in that foreign market. As long as the negative impressions of a country are mild and not severe, CSR activities can go a long way to smoothing over misconceptions about the intentions of your company.

What would be the effect of such programs on employee productivity and retention, if employees appreciate the good works of your company?

In all countries, employees prefer to work for companies that treat them fairly and who help the community. A good CSR reputation increases staff productivity. Employees stay longer with the company and save the company money in the long run.

One last note: CSR activities should normally be budgeted for no more than 5% of the company’s earnings. Once in a while a company can get so wrapped up in their goodwill projects that they neglect their real reasons for existence. But generally, corporate social responsibility programs can have a myriad of positive outcomes in international markets, just like Cirque du Soleil!