October 31, 2014

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What Can International Corporate Volunteerism Learn from the SRI and Ethical Sourcing Movements?

It won't take long before we proudly announce that ICV increases stakeholder value, thereby increasing shareholder value.

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By Joe Sibilia

International Corporate Volunteerism (ICV) breaks cultural and business unit barriers, develops leaders, inspires innovation and when connected to the business models of their employer, connects CSR and sustainability to investor relations.

The linkages built between returning volunteers and businesses navigating compliance, human resources, legal, cultural, security, product development and recruitment, imposes a natural interaction among business disciplines to communicate with one another. Different departments within the organization will be forced to talk to one another and will naturally see the benefits of continued collaboration.

Ambition Grows Into Maturity

It's inevitable.

Returning volunteers will sow seeds for a more holistic approach to business. They have a greater understanding of their business' role in society. And ambition grows into maturity.

Selecting participants for these volunteering programs requires skill. The most prudent approach forces the Volunteerism puzzle piecesdelegation of the employees' day-to-day obligations to others, thereby requiring management participation. Delegating day-to-day activities allows volunteers freedom to be fully present and concentrate on the assignment. New hires are especially attracted to the notion of international volunteering assignments. They are inspired to develop skills and experiences to advance their careers while doing something good.

Even though there are few companies approaching International Corporate Volunteerism [Read: Is Pro Bono the Right Accelerator to International Development?] from this perspective today, I see a lot of similarities between this nascent field and how the fields of socially responsible investing and ethical sourcing have evolved.

ICV: Disjointed Efforts?

Many new firms have giving built into the business model like TOMS shoes. Others believe simple philanthropic contributions make the most sense. Then there are others who believe that for multinational companies, supplementing corporate philanthropy with skills based volunteerism will affect more positive change. Still there are others that believe a combination of all three will be the primary movers of real substantive change.

This disjointedness of efforts and impact showcases the need to coordinate these ideas into a discipline – and a need for a repository of news, information and best practices.

Lessons from the Evolution of SRI…

Socially responsible investing dug its roots in negative screening of companies doing business in areas supporting apartheid, tobacco, firearms and gambling [Read: Can a Career in Impact Investing Actually Make an Impact?].

These negative screens spawned an entire industry of consultants, researchers, measurement protocols, marketing and branding, academic systems, activists and ultimately into investor relations and positive Impact Investing – turning values into valuation. Take a look at the evolution of the socially responsible mutual fund industry to see what has happened.

…and Ethical Sourcing

Ethical sourcing dug similar roots by avoiding bad actors in corporate supply chains. Looking for SRI golden eggscompetitive advantage, firms took these steps as a strategic business initiative and as a basis to increase stakeholder (ultimately shareholder value) value and avoid risk. Unilever is a perfect example.

Both socially responsible investing and ethical sourcing grew out of a negative need. Each developed a robust discipline with principals, standards and measures. See how far the entire field has emerged through the establishment of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), most recently embraced by the likes of Bloomberg, former SEC Chairwoman Shapiro and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Fortunately, international corporate volunteerism has managed to avoid the entire negative approach and leapt forward to develop competitive advantages in innovation and leadership development, while increasing brand value.

But only when positioned correctly and communicated authentically can this be successful and widely adopted.

Creating Connections

For socially responsible investing and ethical sourcing, there has been enough time and studies to go out on a limb and make the connection between good corporate citizenship and increased shareholder value. For International Corporate Volunteerism, given the proper approach and discipline, it won't take long before we proudly announce that ICV increases stakeholder value, thereby increasing shareholder value.

And, it won't be long before SASB includes ICV as a data point in its platform and motivates investors to reward participating enterprises.

That will be when ICV truly arrives.

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

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