ABC's of Corporate Social Responsibility - Guest Speaker - Alex Mavro
Publish Date: 04-Apr-2016
- My own background – American, raised and business career in Southeast Asia. The region and cultures are not theoretical studies for me: they are my life.
- Became interested in corporate responsibility through observing the last company I owned. Having set up DHL in Thailand, my partners and I later split with DHL and became a competitor that at one time owned half the Thai express delivery market. 1997 ended all that.
- Personal interest in CSR grew from 1995 after joining Rotary experiencing organized, constructive community service.
- No training for CSR at the time, but precedents:
- In 1953 = the book most recognize as kick-starting the modern era of CSR, Social Responsibilities of the Businessman.
- Next decade, Business and its Environment pointed to the need to consider business’s impact on the world around it.
- Early 1970’s = Schumacher’s fine book, Small is Beautiful, drew attention to the subtler, systemic implications of this business impact.
- 1982 = Brundtland commission report, Our Common Future, which coined the phrase “sustainable development” to describe the ideal route to progress through a healthy business/society relationship.
- Notably, the early impetus for CSR came largely from the business sector. But somehow along the line, business and society began to be seen at odds with one another: it’s only business absolved whatever “it” was from moral considerations.
- Exactly how this happened is a mystery for me. Adam Smith, father of capitalism, described Theory of Moral Sentiments a foundation of innate morality he saw underlying man and society … including the economy as a subset. Later, he built upon this with The Wealth of Nations, which needed to be understood in the context of his earlier work on morality: People are inherently good, not bad. Given the opportunity, their sympathy and goodwill toward one another runneth over.
- Today, in the popular mind is the belief that people are inherently bad. Lacking duress, they will think only of themselves – appropriate for the business world but inappropriate for society. We have come to believe there are separate moral gauges for business and ‘the rest.’ CSR has arisen to bridge what was originally a non-existent gap between the two sectors, business and society.
- But can business and society truly be parsed, on from the other? Does that make sense? Isn’t business, like agriculture, the arts, the professions, and so on simply one of the components of society?
- Society exists to help people get along; business exists to help people feel better about themselves, to help them feel more comfortable, generally… are these objectives so different?
- We call these people, those in business and those outside, “stakeholders.” And we track their reactions to our business – our impact on them and theirs on us – by understanding their values and their interrelationships. These relationships are the products of the systems within which the stakeholders are operating.
- Everything, without exception, is related to something else: everything is ultimately related to everything.
- Ignoring this reality leads to unintended consequences such as oversimplified in the video, “All connected.”
- So, what is CSR/Sustainability NOT?
- Traditional “CSR,” which is mostly a combination of
- Charity, and
- Feel-good community work
- A cost
- Most especially, it is not “Giving Back”(unless you stole something!)
- What IS CSR?
- Investment in the society’s future (and that of the company!)
- values based
- Best termed, “Caring for Shared Resources”
- Catalyst for innovation, especially among financial, high- and low-tech business models.
- Cradle-to-cradle fabric colors
- Interface carpeting
- Wonderworld wooden toys
- Patagonia: “Don’t buy this jacket!”
- Unilever: corporate, or NGO?
In sum, the take-aways
- CSR is not a formula, an activity, or a group of activities. It is a mindset; a way of conducting business.
- The mindset is channeled by a company’s stakeholders – not simply its shareholders.
- The mindset is livable and practical, as the closing examples demonstrate.
NOTE: I explained early on that “CSR” to many people means “I want a check,” and that as a consequence many of us working in the field prefer one of the dozens of near-synonyms, “sustainability.”