Corporate community investment (CCI) activities continue to defy companies' attempts to get a handle on their precise value because the social good achieved through them resists being quantified.

When CSR Asia surveyed 80 companies here and from Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia, it found no evidence to suggest that they measured the impact or understood the value of their voluntarily engaging charitable agencies in activities extending beyond the companies' core businesses.

In fact, only half the companies surveyed - from the banking and finance, property and real estate, pharmaceuticals and technology industries - had information on their CCI, or were prepared to disclose that which the survey sought.

Mabel Wong, a senior project manager at CSR Asia, said that while environmental indicators can be measured through carbon emissions, social indicators such as the state of the community, health and education sectors are not easily measured. "It's a bit more blurry than carbon emissions," she said.

CSR Asia, a provider of information, training, research and consultancy services on sustainable business practices in Asia, unveiled the results of its study at the Corporate Community Investment Forum held at the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) yesterday.

Ms Wong noted that change is afoot as companies that have invested in a CCI are starting to view it like how they would a marketing initiative. "Because millions of dollars are being ploughed into an investment in the community, there is an expectation from internal as well as external stakeholders what that value has become," she said.

The research, titled Dollar and Sense, revealed that children are the largest beneficiaries - three-quarters of the 40 companies with CCI information had CCI activities focused on children. These initiatives ranged from working with primary schools and after- school clubs to providing health care.

Adolescents came in second at 50 per cent; the elderly were the least popular cause, with only 10 per cent of companies running activities for seniors.

Ms Wong, noting that the target customers of businesses tend to be adults, raised the question of whether child-centred CCIs were a good fit for all businesses.

Co-ordinating director for Banyan Tree Global Foundation Michael Kwee said children are one of the focus of its projects simply because a child's education is crucial. "We focus on job creation. So we work on education for young children because it provides a way to break the poverty cycle," he said.

NVPC chief executive Laurence Lien expressed hope that even more companies here will engage in CCI. Interest in this has gone up significantly among large local companies and will do so also among small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up the bulk of companies here and which hire the majority of the workforce, he said.