Alumni Chris and Ra Tardif are on a corporate social responsibility mission to help refugee families
Done right, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a win for business, employees, consumers and the greater good.
But authenticity is everything — especially now. The coronavirus pandemic is “putting CSR to the test,” according to the Harvard Business Review. “The way large companies respond to this crisis is a defining moment that will be remembered for decades.” Here, Jill Brown of Bentley’s Management Department joins Falcon spouses and business partners Ra and Chris Tardif to discuss the power of CSR built into a company’s mission.
Your company, Rambu, has been socially responsible from day one, donating a portion of sales to the nonprofit Asylum Access. Why was that important?
Ra (Un) Tardif ’05: For me, the mission to support refugee families around the world comes full circle. My parents fled Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge and walked miles to a refugee camp in Thailand, where I was born. They emigrated to the U.S. over 30 years ago, and I was fortunate to be able to get a college education and then have a successful career. I’m grateful that my parents never stopped seeking a safer life.
Chris Tardif ’05: Rambu’s mission came first. Since we’ve had career success, we wanted to do something to make a difference in people’s lives — and decided to help families like Ra’s. We formed the business around that concept.
Jill Brown: It’s obvious that your cause is very closely linked with your product and Ra’s history. That’s the true definition of a social entrepreneur and a win-win for consumers and society as a whole. It is also what will differentiate Rambu in this product group.
Has COVID-19 affected CSR in general and Rambu in particular?
JB: We see many companies stepping up, even in the midst of an economic downturn. The CSR goals are changing, though, like a renewed focus on supply chains that align with CSR goals. Rambu has been committed to the mission from the start and it’s going to help sustain the business through challenges like a global pandemic.
CT: We’ve become more creative with our CSR. A portion of each bottle sold is donated to Asylum Access, and with fewer sales, we asked ourselves what we else we could do. We’ve recently been focusing on product donations to local food pantries, for example, and using our social media platform to help raise awareness of human rights issues. There are ways for companies to go about CSR beyond that financial piece of it.
RT: Many refugees spend years in a camp, and we are committed to making sure they have access to rights like education and health care, so they can thrive and contribute to society once they leave. Chris and I have never wavered from that idea. Now more than ever, this is a time when we all need to help each other.
Jill, what are trends you’ve seen with company initiatives during the pandemic?
On the industry level, it’s fascinating that companies are making different goods and services to help address the crisis. Automobile manufacturers, for example, are shifting to making ventilators. It’s encouraging to future of discussions of CSR, when you see so many businesses stepping up to help beyond philanthropy. They’re tapping into innovation they have always had. It provides a reminder that social responsibility is not just giving time or money; it is innovating for a better society.
How has Rambu navigated the economic shutdown?
CT: At this point, Rambu is mostly self-funded with help from family and friends, so we didn’t overextend. Once we get through the pandemic, we’re hoping there will be opportunities with larger retailers to make some noise and fill any empty space on their shelves.
Jill, are companies with strong CSR in place more profitable?
There has been a debate for decades over which comes first: Make money before you can do good? Or do good and get rewarded with good performance by stakeholders? What we do know is that these two forces work together. A corporation that provides value will never fail because it did too many good things.
The inspiration for Rambu is rooted in the Cambodian culture. Ra, how did your family react to the company?
A love of the rambutan fruit is one of the many things my family brought to the United States after we emigrated. They are excited to see something from our culture become more mainstream in the U.S. What really hits home is our company mission to donate a portion of sales to help refugee families, similar to mine, gain basic human rights. It’s a tribute our culture.