Shopping centres are usually seen as icons of modern conspicuous consumption, seemingly merely celebrating indulgence, aspiration and a ‘more is better’ approach to lifestyles. Dive deeper, however, and you could discover how shopping centres are designed to be much more than retail addresses, how the truly outstanding ones around the world are intrinsic components of surrounding catchments, and how they are impacting lives in the most profound ways every day.
While corporate social responsibility is integrated into almost every business model in the modern world, retail real estate decision makers across the globe are holding fast to a commitment to give back to the communities that surround them. In addition to supporting causes concerning society at large, the shopping centre industry worldwide is continuing to seek creative ways to positively impact the lives of people in the communities it serves.
Take for example, the second largest mall in the United States — Mall of America (MOA). Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, with a gross area of 48,70,000 sq ft, MOA is a city in itself. Maybe it’s that sense of community within MOA that makes them feel so strongly about giving to the larger communities that surround them. With an annual donation value of a whopping $9.4 million, MOA truly believes in giving back to the society.
For 20 years, an average of $26,000 is contributed by the mall daily — in cash, products, and in-kind — to support various charities and non-profits. The mall partners with organisations that bring not just passion, but a strong track record of improving people’s lives. Some of the organisations include Caring Bridge, Walk to End Hunger, Girls Scout, among others. The mall additionally hosts total 400 free events annually to support these charities.
Shopping centres in India are also increasingly focused on shaping community well-being — via supporting critical social causes, facilitating education and employment, and in special cases, even rescuing victims of natural disasters in times of crises.
Acknowledging these efforts, the IMAGES Shopping Centre Awards 2016, held in Mumbai on May 12th, honoured four such outstanding malls across India with the title of IMAGES Most Admired Socially Responsible Shopping Centre of the Year.
For those of us who may sometimes regard malls as larger-than-life symbols of in-your-face commercialisation, here are four reassuring stories of social responsibility worth narrating…
Viviana Mall in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region believes that the mall is a community — more than a shopping — centre. With this thought, the mall has constantly made efforts to build a more inclusive milieu for the visually challenged. VIVIANA is considered to be the first visually-impaired friendly mall in the country.
“All stores in the mall have Braille stickers at storefronts, containing information on the store. All our restaurants have implemented special audio-plus-Braille menu cards helping visually impaired customers to place orders easily. A special resource training centre with highly equipped systems provides free computer training to visually impaired people,” says Vice President – Marketing Viviana Mall, Rima Pradhan.
“We want each and every customer to experience the mall to the fullest, go out with a smile and a promise to visit us again. Our efforts have already been recognised at various platforms, including some at the international level,” she adds.
Viviana also helps the underprivileged by way of educational support. The mall has also been regularly inviting children from backward areas of Maharashtra to visit the mall and experience its many attractions. “We donated 100-plus T-shirts and stationery to kids from the Sparsh NGO during the mall anniversary last year. We also donated Rs 54,000 each for three girl children’s education during Women’s Week in 2015. We also invited 5000-plus children from various NGOs to experience the attractions at Funcity,” Pradhan says.
On October 7, 2015, Viviana celebrated ‘Cerebral Palsy Day’, during which 400 children afflicted with Cerebral Palsy were given an opportunity to showcase their talents on a public platform. The mall not only boosted their morale by creating such a platform, but also felicitated them for their achievements.
In another first, Viviana announced an internship programme for college students last year. Students across Mumbai, Thane, and Navi Mumbai were invited to apply for Marketing, Operations, Loss Prevention, among other, departments of the mall to understand the subject of retail. “I think it was the first instance of a mall in India publicising such an internship programme,’ Pradhan states. “We Invited entries from students to give them a practical overview of mall management. We were pleasantly surprised to get 600-plus resumes! Out of these, we shortlisted 20 students for various departments.”
In 2015, Orion Mall, Bengaluru created a unique concept –The ORION FESTIVAL OF GIVING — facilitating both retailers and customers to connect with under-privileged communities.
In association with the Smile Foundation, the 15-day charity event (held between 15th May and 31st May), invited people to donate re-usable belongings: clothes, books, toys, accessories, footwear at donation counters in the mall. In return, they were rewarded with discount vouchers that could be redeemed at participating outlets in the centre.
“This is our way of doing our bit to reach out to the less privileged. We are happy to create a platform where our customers can also share the experience of giving and enjoy not just shopping benefits, but also that wonderful feeling of being able to make a difference in society. They can also be assured that their generous donations will reach the right place and make a positive impact,” CEO- Retail & Commercial, Brigade Group, Vishal Mirchandani, says.
Orion also engaged with other NGOs, including Pragathi Welfare Association for operating its Organic Waste Convertor and solid waste management, and with Samarthanam for organising a Blind Cricket League.
Select CITYWALK, arguably India’s most felicitated shopping centre, has for several years also been recognised for its highly engaging and topical social initiatives. During the last fiscal, the centre associated with several foundations to voice their support for multiple causes impacting modern urban societies in India.
In association with Core Cancer Foundation, Select CITYWALK organized an ‘Anti-Tobacco campaign’ on April 18 last year. The campaign saw two schools presenting street plays, complemented by a band focusing on songs and music related to tobacco awareness. This was preceded by an oral cavity examination camp to detect early signs of oral cancer. Also, during the event, the mall organised multiple innovative games and entertainment activities for children related to tobacco to boost their awareness of the damaging effects of tobacco consumption.
Among other initiatives, the centre also organised an awareness campaign by IEEE (NGO) in association with the United Nations on World Earth Day. The event involved a flash mob by school children based on the theme. There was a children’s environment painting and knowledge quiz contest with prizes. And, in an innovative activity, the mall staff distributed plants to visitors to encourage greater ‘greening’ of Delhi.
Taking cognizance of rising incidence of crimes against women, a special initiative called “SAY NO TO FEAR” was undertaken in association with Delhi Police. The objective was to equip schoolgirls with the necessary skills to stand up and fight for themselves in harassment situations till help arrived. The programme also trained girls to administer first-aid to selves in the event of minor injuries and accidents.
The apocalyptic Chennai floods of 2015 literally brought life to a standstill for its lakhs of inhabitants and caused damages estimated at over Rs 4,800 crores. One mall, however, was a front-runner in the mammoth relief operations. Thanks to the extraordinary participation of its staff and tenants, Forum Vijaya Mall raised the bar on humanitarian support, and received several accolades from the citizens, NGOs, police and media from across the country.
As the unprecedented floods paralysed the city, the entire mall remained open as a safe haven for citizens; hundreds spent three whole days within the property. The cinema theatres were used for accommodating people to rest overnight, while the food court and restaurants prepared food for thousands of people during the four-day period.
Over 3000 food packets were distributed not just to flood victims sheltering in the mall, but also in neighbouring areas where the Forum Vijaya team went door to door to distribute meal packets. All grocery stores in the city were shut due to the floods but the mall’s hypermarket operated on all days. Executives from mall management bought groceries from the hypermarket in preparing meals for the flood victims.
The mall also organised a tribute concert for Chennai Rain Relief, featuring a performance by playback singer Javed Ali. All the proceedings were offered to the NGO BHUMI.