It’s very much a case of chips with everything at ARM, the British semiconductor IP company. It patents and licenses chip technology to manufacturing giants that end up powering everything from our smartphones and household appliances to, more recently, our cars.
Having been around for 25 years, ARM is very much a British tech success story, with more than 75 billion ARM-based chips shipped featuring its technology. Though the company technically doesn’t ‘make’ anything, its technology forms the ‘brain’ of many of our familiar, branded electrical goods. It’s a hidden industrial giant if you like—its processors are present in 95% of all mobile phones worldwide.
ARM makes its money through licensing and royalties and still makes revenue from chips developed 25 years ago (it receives a small royalty on every chip sold) and there are not many tech businesses where you can say that.
Given its core business is built on helping to develop technology that improves the way we live, it’s not surprising that its CR strategy is modeled on the same aim. Indeed, with technology permeating into all aspects of our lives, part of ARM’s CR strategy is embarking on long-term, high-impact health and education partnerships. Dominic Vergine has been with ARM for six years and is its head of sustainability and corporate responsibility. He explains that its emphasis is on long-term projects because ‘long-term’ is core to the company’s business model: the R&D it does is long-term and resulting developments are always viewed long-term. “Impact is better seen in long-term initiatives too, particularly in education and healthcare which are two of our main focus areas.”
Vergine is aware of the dangers of ‘surface’ CR programmes. “Training teachers can be fantastic but it can also be fruitless. You need to evaluate what gets into the classroom and the impact that training has had on students. There has to be a 5 years+ time frame to see results.”
Healthcare is a very new, and very big, development area for technology. “We need to further understand the needs of the healthcare market, both for ourselves and for our customers,” highlights Vergine. There has come a blurring of expertise in business, he believes, as the tech companies, the pharma companies and the NGOs all have to understand the needs of such markets: “There is greater traction in working together to better understand and meet those needs.”
A good example of ARM working in partnership is its ‘Wearables For Good’ competition which was its first big project with children’s charity UNICEF. “We were looking at the trends for wearables and were thinking about how else they could be used. Could they be life saving? Could they be used in refugee camps? Could they help during a disease outbreak?” says Vergine.
Launched in May 2015, the competition quickly became one of the world's most inclusive technology and design challenges, attracting more than 2,000 registrants from 65 countries that resulted in 250 design submissions. It focused on moving the perception of wearables from nice-to-have devices to life-saving products that could work in any environment. A necklace that stores electronic health data to track child immunization and a wearable soap that helps limit the spread of infectious viruses by encouraging hand washing, both won the challenge. The winning designs, both led by joint Indian-US teams, each received a prize of $15,000 and incubation and mentoring from the partners.
The relationship with UNICEF developed through ARM’s work with a small charity, Literacy Bridge, which created the Talking Book, a low cost device to inform illiterate African farmers of ways to increase crop yields and contain information on maternal health. “The Talking Book devices are portable, easy to use and offer comprehensive advice and guidance across a number of areas including health and well-being, education and even new agricultural techniques,” says Vergine. “It was introduced in Ghana and that was when we were introduced to UNICEF.”
The target with Talking Book was to reach 100,000 but it has in fact now reached 178,000. “The next step is to scale it up and then report its impact,” explains Vergine. “We need to know how many lives have been saved.”
The Talking Book initiative combines ARM’s focus in both healthcare and education. Another key education area for the company is promoting the STEM subjects as well as encouraging more women in computer science. “The company needs to establish a pipeline of new talent to ensure its own sustainability,” says Vergine. ARM’s embedded approach to CR is also a talent draw, he believes.
Both education and health are significant growth sectors for technology, and Vergine believes that it helps the business to view these markets with a different lens. “We’re a fast growth company – markets are changing and through partnerships and our CR strategy we understand where we fit. Understanding a changing world will help us grow.”
When reporting on its CR strategy, Vergine does not believe in numbers for numbers’ sake. “We don’t want to churn out meaningless numbers,” he says. “It’s not simple to have global impact. You have to gather the data and then be honest with the analysis. You also have to be open to areas to improve.”
He’s proud of the support ARM has given Simprints and he’s hoping to soon reveal statistics which will show its significant impact. Simprints is a social enterprise that has developed a rugged, mobile biometric scanner that can sync wirelessly with mobile phones. It allows health workers to access patient medical records anytime, anywhere, improving the delivery of healthcare and saving lives in some of the toughest environments.
Vergine maintains that a strong partnership needs to be open to change. “You need to work in close partnership with communities too. Simprints is a good example because as they worked in situ, collecting fingerprint data, they found that the tech used in one market would have to be refined for others markets. You can design with theoretical knowledge but hands-on experience is crucial to success and you have to be open to the idea of different permutations too.”
Vergine worries that his key to successful partnerships may sound trite: “It is crucial to have shared common goals and clear communications between all partners as the language, say of a children’s charity and that of a semiconductor are not necessarily the same across all channels.”
A partnership is more than just a financial contribution too, he emphasizes. “The impact we can achieve is far greater than any financial donation ever could as we are enabling life-changing technologies that deliver a positive social impact all-around the world,” he says.
He does suggest that CR professionals have to be prepared to take some risks: “Sometimes the bigger the organisation, the less risk averse they are. But it pays to be innovative. If you see an idea or entrepreneur with drive to make a difference, give them a little help. Take a few risks, get things started and you may well be amazed at the results.”