WE Care

Corporate Social Responsibility

By Line Hadsbjerg

What is the company you work for doing for your life and the society you are living in?
Any ideas?

This is a question that many corporations are facing by their staff. It is no longer the green activists and lobbyists who demand that corporations tow the line in terms of fulfilling their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but companies are facing increasing internal pressure from employees who no longer feel satisfied with a monthly bonus. They want to know what the company is doing for society at large, and whether their work contributes to fulfilling their personal and moral expectations.

In the past, CSR was about handing over a huge check to a recognized charity at the yearly Christmas party, where clients and shareholders applauded the generosity, the Board of Directors was given a clean slate from which irresponsible actions of the past year were erased, and the marketing department used the occasion as a leverage for the next years PR campaign.

But it did not take long for the press and green activists to pick up on the trend and start criticizing companies for ”greenwashing“ their CSR activities by using isolated initiatives to trumpet their ”greening up“ efforts, while disregarding gas house emissions, environmental impact and labour standards.

We live in an age of instantaneous digital media communications, where perceptions of reality (whether justified or misguided) reach the general public instantaneously. It is important that ”greenwashing“ does not provoke general public cynicism towards industry’s very important role in alleviating poverty and environmental degradation.

Our growing, global interconnectedness via the internet is a great opportunity, both for corporations, their employees and the public. ”WE“ can make a difference. ”WE“ can change the world to the better.
Understandably, corporate giving is deeply linked to communication. The cynics will say that CSR initiatives are nothing more than misleading presentations, like the pretty green flower logo outside BP petrol stations. Milton Friedman, grandfather of monetarism, and his famous 1970’s article in The New York Times Magazine, ”The Social Responsibility of Business is to increase Profits“, wrote that ‘the one and only social responsibility of business, is to increase profits for shareholders’.

The question is: Is that such a bad thing?

A good example is food companies, who start introducing recognizable brands such as organically grown vegetables, ”fair trade“ coffee, dolphin friendly tuna. Many of these corporations are responding to consumer demand of environmentally friendly products, there is profit to be made and thus it seems strategically reasonable to adapt the communication of their brand accordingly.

Companies are learning they can increase profits as a result of their CSR efforts, not despite of them. The growing number of CSR consultancies, job listings for CSR experts, and websites listing green and ethically run corporations is testimony to the growing trend towards incorporating environmentally and socially sustainable practices into business models.

You need only to visit the website of almost any recognized corporation, and there is reference to the company’s CSR initiatives and commitment to the environment and society. One could argue that corporations are not experts in the field, and at times their initiatives do more harm than good. However, industry has an important and powerful role to play, and through optimizing modern day technology, great strides can be taken to ensure environmental and social sustainability.
Using the internet and digital media to communicate CSR efforts is becoming an increasingly powerful tool. Access to information is not only expected, it is regarded as a public right to know what companies are doing and how they earn and spend their money. Transparency is vital – customers and employees ask questions, demand answers, and public opinion can make or break the reputation of corporations. The power of ”WE“ is ever growing and puts pressure on companies and communication strategist to cut to the chase and be more open than they are used to in traditional PR. Corporations are obliged to be increasingly transparent, and company decisions need to be effectively communicated.

A good example of how corporations can make an active contribution to their social and environmental surroundings, while simultaneously encouraging their employees, customers and stakeholders to be actively involved, is betterplace. A new webbased donation platform.
betterplace.org along with other internet platforms such as Facebook and Kiva are using the internet to improve the plight of the poor. It connects those who want to give with those in need of receiving. Now the lives of school children in a village by Lake Naivasha in Kenya, can be followed and supported by individuals sitting on their couch at home anywhere in the world. Projects and their progress can be followed online, users can connect with other donors who support the same projects, and most importantly, supporters can receive direct feedback and dialogue from the project managers.

In the case of betterplace, this technical function has been optimized for corporations. It is no longer about handing over a big cheque, but rather actively engaging employees, clients and consumers on all levels in deciding on where and how money should be spent, thereby enabling each individual to fulfill their social responsibility.
Engaging employees in their company’s CSR initiatives is being taken a step further. Instead of rewarding top salesman with luxury travel destinations, sustainable tourism encourages corporation to pull up their sleeves and get their hands dirty by visiting the projects where development work is being done on the ground as an extension to their CSR practices.

Once again, the internet, modern technology and the social power of ”WE“ make it possible for these trips to be followed by the rest of the team in the office through daily updates, video footage and feedback, bringing home the reality of the CSR initiatives. Taking CSR from the digital to the real world is the next step in dissolving boundaries and supporting grassroots initiatives.

Optimising CSR for the future

CSR it is on the up trend. But where to from here? And how do we best optimize the role of corporations in alleviating world poverty?

Its place in corporate budgets is growing, and employees have an increasing interest in how the company they work for contributes to society at large. But what role will CSR play in corporate life in the future? Employees want to be involved in the decision making process, but are they also willing to be active givers?

Present CSR efforts only fulfill a margin of the full potential that corporations have to make a real and significant impact on society. It is not only about distributing tax deductible profits to good causes, real change lies in the hands of the masses – the general public – and corporations could act as the lever to realize their giving potential.

For example, millions could be raised through standardizing payroll giving so that, like taxes, a certain percentage of each salary is redirected towards a worthy cause. This would undoubtedly trigger greater enthusiasm and interest from employees, as it is their money, and they want to be in a position to decide where it is spent. This will also help make corporations more accountable as to who they support and why.
It is often the case that people need easy access to giving. A good example that helps to lower the hurdles is ”round-ups“ – where the cents are rounded up to the next Euro, Dollar or whatever currency. A vast majority of the public are happy to see their remaining cents being rounded-up to a good cause, instead of having copper coins weighing down their wallets. Multiply these cents across thousands, even millions of people, and there is great opportunity to raise real funds from average people. That also is the power of ”WE“. This strategy can easily be incorporated by large supermarket chains and department stores, thereby actively engaging their customers to help make a big difference with small change.

Challenges & Solutions

The challenge, as always, is who manages these funds. There is no need to delve into the past failures of development aid and mis-guided NGO’s to know that mismanagement often does more harm than good. However, once again the Internet, and the transparency it offers can play a big role in ensuring communication lines and money flow are transparent and made public.

Here the collective social network of ”WE“ can help to monitor, discuss and add to the public discourse and help corporations to make a change that their costumers and the public in general will value. ”WE“ can help create a win-win-situation when it comes to CSR that really makes a difference.
Amongst the lessons that have been learned from past failures, is that solutions to poverty need to come from within, rather than a pile of aid given to the poor together with a string of conditions attached. Development needs to be both a top-down and bottom-up initiative. In line with more traditional development strategy, NGO’s need to fall in line with the national top-down development strategy, so that all parties work for common causes, and thereby have a greater impact. However, the greatest opportunity lies with bottom-up, grassroots initiatives – and this is where the role of the internet and our growing global network of WE can offer innovative solutions to development.
Good examples of supporting grassroots initiatives have been on highly successful microfinance internet platforms such as Kiva, inspired by Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, which offered microfinance loans to the poor. Kiva is a good example of the ”average Joe“ uses the internet to lend a helping hand to another individual in another continent.
Once again, it is about engaging people. Opening the channels of communication so as to access the lives of people and communities that in the past were either too geographically remote or only existed on the TV screens.

Giving needs to be made easy, not only for corporations but also for their employees and customers. Most people want to give and make a difference, but time is money, and so goodwill needs to be optimized in the most
efficient possible way. Digital media and the internet
are the key to lowering that hurdle, making information fast and accessible, and enabling corporations to communicate and facilitate their CSR initiatives.

Growing the global village and the global social network
It all boils down to identity. Identity of corporations, organisations and most importantly of individuals. And in addition to that an collective identity of WE that helps the invidiual as well as corporations to understand that the web connects us, our actions and even emo-tions. Communicating who we are in todays global society is becoming increasingly more important.

The strength of a company is its people, and if each individual feels that they can identify with the corporation that they work for, and feel that their contribution has a lasting impact on society as a whole, it not only encourages loyalty but has a far greater social and environmental as well as societal impact.

WE can change the world!

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