In some of my speaking engagements, I talk about Personal Social Responsibility as well as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and how we can channel this into doing great things – but that CSR should also show a financial as well as social ROI.
The term “corporate social responsibility” became popular in the 1960s and has been used to cover a variety of actions / commitments but it is, basically, a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model.
Broadly, CSR embraces corporate responsibility for its actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, and other stakeholders.
Simplistically, CSR makes you look good.
Different countries / regions have different perceptions of CSR which may be representative of their recent political climate: China (a growing consumerist economy) considers a socially responsible company to be one that makes high-quality products; Germany (moving away from the fallout of the 2007 recession) sees CSR as the provision of secure employment; whilst South Africa (facing so many social issues) sees it as making a positive community contribution such as health care and education.
Now, whilst some organizations take their CSR beyond lip-service and marketing, many organizations talk a good game… but that’s about it. I know of specific examples of major corporations that have stated that they set aside funds for CSR yet have never actually spent the money and a 2014 Indian report cites that 47 profit-making central Public Sector Enterprises (PSE) failed to comply with the CSR norms prescribed by the government in 2011-12.
So there are two things here: one is that we need a business case for organizations to want to spend their CSR budget and we also need to consider a way to spend disparate CSR better.
Advocates of CSR argue that organizations make more long-term profits whereas detractors feel that that CSR distracts from the economic role of businesses. Personally, I feel that there is a way to invest in CSR in a way that drives revenue and profit whilst creating powerful and productive communities.
CSR doesn’t just have to be handing the money out – by inwardly investing the CSR into open-intrapreneurship, your organization is creating new business ideas and models in partnership with the community: you are developing your business whilst empowering individuals out in the wider world.
Look at the dead space in your offices – a spare room, an underused boardroom, an empty floor / building. Now is the time to start driving CSR and revenue. Deploy intrapreneurs from your own organization into the space and then provide subsidized enterprise space to startups from your CSR. Encourage collaboration, encourage startup enterprise – and maybe identify new revenue streams for your own organization in the process. It may be that the startups in your co-working space are actually able to offer competition to your more-established departments (a new, more efficient, ambitious and motivated HR department, for example).
Bring young businesses into your co-working space and not only give them subsidized space but also subsidized training. I worked with on Plc where, at the end of the year, they had surplus training budget and were frantically looking for people to go on courses. Invest these into the community instead. As you have people in your co-working space, your intrapreneurs are not only collaborating with them, but assessing them. Your next cohort of employees, with their fresh perspective and enthusiasm, will already know some of your business as they sit IN your business already.
Sponsor bootcamps for entrepreneurs and then provide the seed fund for the winning idea – or how about the provision of mentors to the startups? Or, commercially, why not invest in the startups to create new revenue / IP streams? As organizations desperately strive to recreate startup cultures in their structure, why not get ahead of the curve and actually run your own weekends with employment and enterprise branding on it?
Co-ordinated community projects
I can’t deny the nobility to have your employees go work in a third world country. Would it be better to also have specially-selected members of the community to attend? Run a competition for it – raise your brand – create deeper engagement. And why leave it with just international projects? There are community project opportunities on the doorstep.
Value creation and skills development are integral to CSR – and this is in the creation of value and skills for all parties.
On the international scale, where an organization separates it’s activities for local and 3rd world communities, the problem is simple: we dilute the contribution. The solution to this plays havoc with egos and ‘brand’… pool your CSR.
During a seminar at the end of 2013, I suggested to an American bank that they consider ways to bringing the CSR of different organizations into one place to ensure efficient use of the funds whilst freeing companies from any additional responsibility.
- Create a vehicle to float a company to manage the CSR funds;
- This can be a trust with nominees from the members;
- Member companies submit 1-2% of their profits (dependent upon turnover);
- Build a CSR committee from the CSR representatives of the members;
- Agree social projects (environment, skill development, water, employability, etc.);
- Allocate funds AND member involvement
Importantly, with such a co-ordinated fund, when looking into international projects, engage with Foundations, Charities, etc. and you a) have a stronger budget to sit at the table with and b) you can then develop a new central pool to give even greater strength to the work you do.
Instead of looking up CSR as just a marketing tool, look at what can be done with instead – drive new revenue, create new community networks, add enormous value on a wider scale.