In my previous post, I’ve proposed to look at CSR programs through a more humanistic approach. Now that I (hope to) have convinced you of its importance and you’ve bust your brain designing your own unique CSR program, it’d be interesting to go through a brief-checklist to turn it into a best-in-class model.
1) Be authentic and leverage it with your assets
There are 2 major differences between corporate philanthropy and an effective CSR program. The first one is that corporate philanthropy is unfortunately rooted in a patronizing circle of win-lose: the business gives a bit to a cause, recovers a bit from the government and a cause gets to make up a bit for government’s social shortcomings, while CSR is about creating win-win growth opportunities. It’s businesses taking in their own hands the responsibility for creating shared added-value in the society. The second major difference is that CSR engages and transforms the business from within in ways that philanthropy can’t: after all, signing a check is just another task on a to-do list.
In order for CSR to be really transformative for the business, it has to be authentic and rely on its assets. By this I mean that whichever impact the company wants to create over the community, the best one certainly is the one that motivated its founder in the first place, daily engages employees and over which the business has built experience over decades. It sounds obvious, but how many CSR initiatives are designed upon opportunistic randomness rather than reflected strategy? In other words, unless you’re Betty Crocker, you have no place in a bake sale fundraiser!
A great example of an authentic and leveraged social program is Home Depot’s “Habitat for Humanity”. The business donates materials and its expertise in their core activity (building materials) while its employees actually build homes for those without one. The end result is not only a positive impact in the community and a stronger customer link, but employee expertise building beyond any training program and a renewed engagement and sense of purpose: win-win!
2) Live it through social media and apps
Every year, 40.000 CSR reports are issued from over 9.000 corporations worldwide.
Most of them are a 40-page pdf file covered with colorful pictures of exotic places and people wearing funny hats, a few testimonies and vague business jargon to please the few shareholders that bother reading them. There’s nothing really distinctive about the way they’re presented: they’re the void politician speech, full of “what I’ve done” and of “what I promise I’ll do”; the latter being more often than not an overly optimistic estimation.
The problem with these reports is that they’re miles away from the reality of the work really done: who were the people on the field, what motivated them, what were the challenges they hadn’t planned for, and how were they overcome, how did they impact the community: then, 1 month after, 2 years after…?
If you really want to create powerful brand connections with all stakeholders and attract Gen Y talent and consumers, your CSR program has to live and breathe, continuously! Or else, despite all your efforts, everyone will just see it at best as a one-off tax advantage, at worst as Hollywood-made green washing campaign.
To achieve a strong CSR recognition, create a dedicated social media space and make a reality-show out of it (Gen Y has grown up with MTV’s shows and they’re unabashed to confess their attraction to these journey-sharing shows). It doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) be a full-blown production (as the camera significantly reduces authenticity), just a simple journey diary fed by the participants (amateur on-the-field photos and description of daily minor event should suffice).
The most important is to have it under a format where stakeholders can really live the human dimension on a daily basis, wonder at the evolutions in individual spirituality crossing barriers and cultures, and anticipate on the next steps in making real impact.
If you’re really innovative and wants to connect with Generation Z as well, you’ll take it a step further and create an app just for it (especially if your CSR is in community education on your area of expertise). App culture is still a forming wave, but it will certainly have a huge impact on life for the next 20 years, so you better get on the wave before it gets crowded and you can’t freely surf anymore.
3) Crowd-source improvements to your employees
Effective CSR programs not only impact the community but also increase participants’ commitment.
By all means, have your CSR program designed by those in your company with a unique transversal, strategic view and powerful socio-economic insight. It’s naïve to think that anyone could launch a program that has a real impact in our complex world.
But once the launch phase is over and the champagne bottle has been opened, crowd-source ideas for tweaks and improvements to those who will live it. Don’t allow the excitement of the launch to fade nor limit yourself to the lucky few who will actually participate in the first installments of the program.
Every employee in your organization lives in a community and has therefore inspiring ideas on how the expertise he gains at work can make an impact in the world outside, and which of his unique talent or passion can be mobilized. If you guess for him and focus solely on job contents or the company’s formal IP, it’s very likely you’ll miss the tiny detail that will make him cross from an indifferent state towards a your most energetic ambassador.
Moreover, by allowing employees to bring in their ideas and responding to them, you’ll create a culture of ownership to the profound meaning we each give to our work. This action will most certainly liberate them from the current state of victimization we witness so often in organizations these days.
4) Develop a global talent pool
Social development programs are by far the best training program a 21st century leader could have.
University, regular L&D programs and business schools are outstanding developers of the left-brain. They teach future leaders to analyze, measure and deal with all sorts of “rational”, predictable and detailed information, but they let us hanging when it comes to treating right-brain information: contextualized, implicit, evolving and paradoxical. As markets become more complex and interconnected, as attention becomes scattered in an informational flood and as Generation Y requests for a higher part of social and emotional elements in governance, we will increasingly need right-brain educational programs that enhance comfort with ambiguity and human irrationality, lateral thinking and improved emotional management. In a very comprehensive video, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains the differences between both sides of the brain.
By immersing employees in an environment of cultural ambiguity and perspective-taking that encourages both creative solution-finding and relationship-building (unencumbered by power struggles), social development programs develop precisely this part of the brain. Not using this platform to invest, test and follow-up on talent would be a seriously missed opportunity to engage your next generation of leaders.
5) Create social joint-ventures
Perhaps the most innovative (and obvious) CSR initiative is the concept of social joint-ventures.
In his HBR article “Why go it alone in community development”, Rio Tinto’s Andrew MacLeod makes the case for a renewed approach to what he calls the “billboard” model of CSR, in which each company supports one individual program. He proposes instead a “grand prix car” approach, in which a cause is supported by different sponsors, each contributing in his own expert way to the success of a venture.
Whereas a “billboard” model might work in communities with a certain amount of infra-structure, when companies decide to expand to developing countries, they’re quite rapidly confronted with complex and strongly intertwined community problems. In such regions, CSR programs that focus only on one aspect of the problem end up broken as soon as the mission is finished. This is the case of educational programs that fail to ignore transport issues or infra-structure/medical programs that underestimate maintenance limitations.
The good news is that in developing countries, the market landscape has a very peculiar structure: for each product or service available, one would often find either a multitude of small competitors or a monopoly. If non-competing market leaders in the same community joined forces instead of trying to go it alone, communities would be better served. If CSR leaders met frequently and combined their expertise in a structured program they would not only increase local productivity and consumption, but they would benefit from greater political influence, provide richer experiences to those participating in the programs and ensure that communities will remain stable even when a player leaves the scene.
What other Corporate Social Responsibility innovative ideas do you have?