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Shifting Paradigms: Transaction, Transformation and Corporate Social Responsibility

June 28, 2012

We all understand the basics of marketing and sponsorship. We acknowledge and buy into these conceits. As we have become more sophisticated in our understanding of these mechanisms and the dark arts that are the foundations of those strategies, we become complicit in their success or failure – whilst aware of how we are being manipulated, sometimes we like to be manipulated…

In a time of austerity and bankers bonuses, business has to have stronger foundation principles – it has to have a purpose that informs and provides the lodestar for broader action; actions that reflect the ethos of the business and outline a commitment to making better our word and community. These may seem like fluffy liberal ideals, but if you doubt them as persuasive arguments, look what happens when your actions are misread and the perception of a business or organisation is permanently coloured – just think Nestle and powdered milk.

This may be an extreme example and most of us do not exist in the realm of such mega corporations, but the example is not redundant. Nestle operate on a global scale and their audience is global but the effects are translatable; a local business can have a major impact on their community for better or worse. Sometimes those impacts are unintentional and can often lead to negative perceptions. However, the reverse is also true and more and more prospective employees are taking a keen interest in the social and general positive impact that companies have in the world when to choosing who to work for, or stay working for. Perhaps, now even more so when the competition for the brightest and the best is becoming greater than it has ever been. In a time of austerity each decision needs to be carefully measured and considered.

On the face of it this article falls into the earlier observation of a cheap marketing tool – getting an article into an industry wide publication in order to extend my businesses reach (which just so happens to be in the area of CSR programme design) –  and this is fine. I know that my reader is sophisticated enough to understand this. But in the same way that CSR needs to be more than just an extension of the firm’s marketing account, this article works on more than one level.  It is an advertising exercise but it also serves as an education device. It extols the virtues of greater depth – it tells you why we do this – what benefits it has in the longer term and how that will not only benefit you as the target audience but how the work will positively affect the wider world.

Most medium and large organisations today have some kind of CSR profile. Most organisations will readily tackle two of the three pillars of CSR as defined by government. Business will often actively engage in reducing their environmental impact and have a positive effect on their local economy. Activity in these two areas is relatively simple for a business to address. I use the word “relatively” advisedly as whenever you introduce new systems or processes that attempt to change habit it is never easy or straightforward. However, an organisation’s positive impact on the environment and economy are easily defined, measured and assessed. For example, a policy to implement strategies to reduce an organisation’s carbon footprint needs buy in from employees and it needs to be monitored. But these policies often have an immediate and measurable impact on the bottom line – introducing a companywide policy that all printed material for use during internal meetings must use both sides of a sheet of paper reduces consumption of resources. A overly simple example but it is both easy to understand and the effects are immediate.

The third pillar of CSR is the area in which nearly all companies struggle, namely having a positive impact on their local community and the extent to which they meaningfully engage with wider society.

Addressing Environmental and Economic impact requires that a business essentially talks to itself.  Whilst this is not always easy, it is self-contained. Working with and having a positive impact on the community in which you operate necessitates that you broaden the conversation and start to have meaningful dialogue with the outside world. This is a much more complex proposition and has the effect that many of the CSR programmes in operation have fallen back to a philanthropic model. I believe that we need to change this model; shift the relationship from one of philanthropy to a paradigm which has transformation at its core.

It is no one’s fault that this has become the standard model between community engagement and CSR. It is the result of limited resources (particularly human), time (as the ultimate non-renewable resource) and an inability to approach potentially complex problems which lay outside the businesses primary objectives. It is easy for a law firm to engage in pro bono work, to allow their employee’s time to work with local charities, to sponsor an event or even hand out a cheque to a deserving group. And all of this is good and gratefully received. It is not the end of the story though and whilst this relationship remains the same then community engagement and integration between business and the society in which they exist will always remain at a surface perception level.

These transactional models are also limited in their benefit. A charity that receives a £5,000 cheque from a local law firm is very grateful – it may literally keep the doors open, but it has no longer lasting impact. The charity is stuck on a treadmill. The £5,000 goes into the fundraising pot and sucked into the black hole of operating costs. The charity will not often be in a position to use that cash to broaden their audience and the impact of their work, or the effectiveness of what it is that they do; it doesn’t help them to grow or to develop their model so that they can become less dependent on fundraising or through additional capacity and coverage enable them to apply for additional funding streams that would otherwise have been unavailable.

Performance Incorporated is implementing new models of CSR community engagement; models that move from the transactional toward the transformational – for both the community and corporation. These new models builds purposeful bridges between communities and organisations creating a two way exchange of skills, ideas and expertise to the benefit and enrichment of both. Programmes often use Active Citizenship as a core element upon which to design a system of collaboration. The precise nature of this exchange is as unique as the corporation and community involved; there is no one size fits all, nor should there be. It is this process of tailoring to best serve all parties that has prevented the evolution of community engagement as part of a CSR programme. Performance Incorporated works closely with organisations and communities to design frameworks and the tools needed to create long term, meaningful, partnerships.

We believe that it is only through a longer term investment in these principles that business will be able to build meaningful relationships that will enable them to grow.  By strengthening the bond between business and the community and by helping society to grow in times of austerity you are laying the foundations for stronger, more resilient communities that will be the foundation of your businesses success in the future.

If you would like to find out how your organisation could benefit from a bespoke CSR programme design please feel free to contact me at Chris@Performance-Incorporated.com and check out the website www.Performance-Incorporated.com 

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From → CSR

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