September 30, 2014

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Shifting CSR from Good to Great: The 2014 World CSR Congress

A global meeting sees robust dialog break out between NGOs and corporations.

Ron_schultz_2014

By Ron Schultz

When I was invited to speak at the World CSR Congress gathering in February in Mumbai, India, as well as receive the Social Innovation Leadership award, I was eager to join the conversation. With over 70 countries represented, the notion of being able to access both the global pulse of CSR and further my agenda around social innovation was very attractive.

I was not disappointed on either front. The conversation was rich and textured and the cultural context within which it was taking place added a flavor in line with the cardamom, turmeric and chili that spiced our meals.

A Corporate Tithe to CSR

The theme was “CSR Good to Great” and while it was not necessarily the most current of concepts, it was a valid projection, especially in India.

Why?

The Indian government has managed to enact what is known as Section 135, a rule within the corporate governance bill that puts forward the challenge to corporations to contribute 2 percent of their gross revenue to World CSR Congress-logoCSR efforts. [CSRwire published two opposing views on the efficacy of the bill last year – 5 Reasons Why the New Indian Companies Bill Negates the Power of CSR and How Corporate India Can Leverage a Mandatory CSR Bill to Shift Gears for the Long Term – while Editorial Director Aman Singh noted its inadequacy when the idea was first floated in the Indian Parliament.]

Within this environment, however, it was crucial to our hosts that they understand what would elevate their CSR programs, because they were about to witness significant impact. The overriding focus became one of understanding the combined corporate/NGO shared value with this imminent proposition.

Confusion Over the Six Principles for Responsible Investment

There were discussions around both the UN Millennium Development Goals as well as the UN Principles for Responsible Investment in an attempt to provide guidelines for its signatories.

The issue, which has limited signatories to 1,200 corporations, is due, in large part, to a corporation’s inability to really understand how to implement its six principles. As laid out, the principles address the Environment, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) as criteria for investment.

  • Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.
  • Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.
  • Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.
  • Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.
  • Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.
  • Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

Because becoming a signatory mandates strict compliance and reporting, many investing organizations throughout the world have simply not signed on. According to Wolfgang Engshuber, one of the architects of the provisions, these principles are far from perfect, and that is echoed in part by the number of actual signatories and the overall confusion as to how to implement them.

Challenge: Realizing the Millennium Development Goals

As for the eight Millennium Development Goals, they are certainly an inspiration, and a guideline for the world of CSR, but because they are goals they lack real bite or specificity to attain them.

They include:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. Achieve universal primary education;
  3. Promote gender equality and promote women;
  4. Reduce child mortality;
  5. Improve maternal health;
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
  7. Ensure environmental stability; and
  8. Global partnership for development.

Guidelines and goals are important, but the real challenge, as we discussed in our most recent blog, is that any formplant-growing-out-of-coins of mandated or even suggested behavior may generate initial compliance, but the real effectiveness of any CSR program will only come as corporations realize the business case and value for doing well by doing good and step beyond making only token efforts.

The Business Case for the Millennium Development Goals

And make no mistake, there is certainly a business case to be made. In a marketplace that is driven by trust, all that separates one brand from the next is reputation. And an increasingly savvy consumer market will not tolerate a brand that is untrustworthy, saying one thing but delivering something else, or unconcerned about anything other than its own needs.

What was reiterated again and again from the lecterns in Mumbai was that a corporation had to operate beyond its product or service.

The Shared Value Partnership

But if a corporation is to take on greater willingness to reach beyond its customer base, we also heard that there needed to be a greater reciprocity within the relationship between corporations and NGOs. Enter the Shared Value Partnership.

Just as corporations need to make CSR an integral part of its DNA, NGOs need to be willing to meet the corporation by better understanding the context in which the corporation is doing business. NGOs that do the work necessary to not only demonstrate their positive community impact — their social return on investment — but that also recognize the choices of the corporation and its social focus, will be able to create mutually beneficial relationships in which the needs of both entities are furthered.

A Public Conversation Between NGOs and Companies

Amid this swirl of exchange, when it was my turn to present, I was asked to extend my talk when the speaker scheduled to follow me was unable to make the event. Rather than merely fill the space with more talking, I decided to open the conversation up to the room.

What was unleashed was a dynamic interaction that engaged voices throughout the rather jam packed meeting room.

In the end, as I brought things to a close, I had everyone in the room stand. I asked them to look around the room at everyone standing together. This was not an exercise in us versus them; it was a calling for all of us standing together to help all of us.

The Path of Good to Great

Good to great is not a destination. It is a path. It is a willingness to step beyond what is comfortable, beyond self-interest, enlightened or otherwise, and recognize that our interdependence is all we really have.

So when I accepted my award for social innovation leadership, what struck me was that this work was not about doing more of the same differently. It was about breaking the mold. It was about creating real transformation that didn't just apply a salve to the social wounds we suffer, but rather commits to solving the handshake-graphicissues we face together.

There was a slide thrown up at one point during a session extolling NGOs that had been in business for 100 years. But if we are to truly create social transformation, we have to see those 100 years of addressing a social problem as failure.

Unlike the corporations we turn to for support, we need to work together to put our NGOs out of business by providing solutions that shift the intransigence of suffering. If we fail to do so, then we have not moved CSR from good to great, but have simply extended mediocrity and indifference, and that is a crime we cannot afford to commit.

The intention of the organizers of the World CSR Congress was to further the conversation toward greatness. When we demonstrate the courage to move beyond the talk and intention and create real transformational action standing together, we elevate our businesses, NGOS and those being served. In doing so, we have a far greater social impact, allowing the shared value partnerships we create to deliver on the promise of our mutual social identities.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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