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Forbes — “Is CSR as we know it Obsolete?”

November 7, 2012

First and foremost, I am pleasantly surprised to see Forbes including a discussion on CSR in it’s online forum.  Secondly, I was equally surprised to read this headline and wanted to shout “Finally!”.

The author of the article notes that “I no longer believe that CSR is the best way to capture the relationship between business and society or an effective approach for addressing complex social issues”.  The author then goes on to determine that “it occurred to me that social changes isn’t the responsablity of business, it is the result of business.”  Again, “Finally”.

The author goes on to provide a four-part framework for business and society.  I’ll share the hightlighs here:

  1. In order to have social results, we need to acknowledge that every business, in every sector, of every size has a social purpose.  Businesses need to have the courage to declare their commitment to social change, the conviction to participate in building systemic solutions to social issues, and governance policies that support those priorities.   A corporations’s social purpose should be crystal clear and included in internal and external communications wherever possible.

  2. Social results have to be built into the metrics of every operational aspect of business.  They must be accountable for ensuring that their suppliers have fair hiring policies and safe working conditions and that environmental impacts are reduced where-ever possible.

  3. Business depends on people making or doing things that other people believe are valuable enough to be worth paying for.  Corporations should be capturing these outcomes in their annual review of business and social performance related to their employees and customers.

  4. Corporate philanthrophy is still important, and partnerships are more important than ever.  Partnerships that involve an equal exchange of ideas and allocation of resources towards shared business and social objectives are seen by participants as being essential ingreditions of social change. Corporations need to recognize how important these partnerships are, allocate more resources to building better relationships with civil society and measure the results of these key joint efforts.

Finally, the author concludes with:

we need to recognize that CSR is neither an adequate way to describe the relationship between business and society….I don’t have a new name for CSR, but I am convinced that our understanding of what business represents is far too narrow.  Business isn’t just about making money and it isn’t inherently irresponsible.  The business of business has the potential to make long-term, systemic social change a reality.

All in all, I can understand the conclusion that the author has come to.  Business is here to stay and business can and does have major impacts on society.  The question is whether society is ready and willing to work with business to seek change.  There are numerous examples of global corporations getting involved in partnerships as outlined above.  Are they easy?  Absolutely not.  Does anyone organization have the right recipe?  Time will tell.  What we do see, however, is a new business model coming to fruition and what it’s producing is a more competitive landscape.  It’s time for business to sit up and notice.


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