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Doing good is good business

A case for corporate social responsibility
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Technology Matters

Technology can turn a cause into a movement, faster than ever before. Yet, in an Internet-enabled world of social networks, mobile payments, virtual learning and crowdsourcing, most firms’ approach to social giving remains stuck in the corporate dark-ages. So how do companies go about unlocking the true potential of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives? Changing leadership thinking, not technology, holds the key.



Rethinking CSR



Companies around the world are waking up to the fact that throwing dollars at social causes is not sufficient to bolster a brand. It is also not the most effective way to drive social change. That’s why progressive companies are fundamentally rethinking their approach to charitable efforts: moving from handouts and grants to more strategic social investments. 


“Doing well by doing good” is one of today’s fashionable business mantras. Businesses have eagerly adopted the jargon of “embedding” CSR in the core of their operations, “activating the social conscious” and making it “part of the corporate DNA” to impact all company decisions. However, in too many cases, the CSR rhetoric falls well short of the reality.


According to Michael Porter, a global authority on competitive strategy and economic development, despite a surge of interest in CSR, in most cases it remains “too unfocused, too shotgun, too many supporting someone's pet project with no real connection to the business.” Dutch Leonard, Professor of Public Management at the Kennedy School describes the value-building type of CSR as “an act of faith, almost a fantasy.”


Too often, executives see charitable efforts as disconnected from their real business efforts rather than inextricably linked to business success. However, when this thinking changes, and the connection is made, social dollars can be used differently. The result: a potentially transformative effect for the businesses, and for society as well. Some companies are already heading in this direction, guiding their staff to use their unique skill sets to drive social change. 


For example, Deloitte, the largest professional services network in the world by revenue and by the number of professionals, pledged US$110 million of staff time to pro bono work, and hundreds of companies have joined A Billion + Change, pledging to use their skill sets to drive social good.


Other major companies are beginning to follow this path, including Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the US, and Walmart, the largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the world with over two million employees. Both firms have done significant work to develop responsible supply chains, and to invest in development of the communities they impact.




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