It’s Time Responsible Business Became Business as Usual

The Case for Proactive Corporate Social Commitment
Apr 13, 2016 10:00 AM ET

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of graduate students about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and my own career in social impact. The discussion was stimulating and the students asked probing questions. After the session, a young woman approached me and said that she would love to have a job like mine and change the world, to give away a company’s money to support worthy causes. My heart sank. In my experience, CSR can be a powerful force to transform corporate culture and align business activities with social benefit. While pure philanthropy remains an important component of CSR, the field has evolved beyond giving. The class had already spent a session or two on Shared Value and Collective Impact. I had spent most of my time in the class discussing the fundamentals of stakeholder engagement and why it makes for good business. What had she missed in my talk? What had I failed to communicate?

With so many interpretations of what CSR is, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A simple Google search of the phrase generates a head-spinning number of hits. So what is CSR and why the confusion? Is it about giving back? Environmental stewardship? Employee engagement? The elusive Triple Bottom Line? Simply defined, CSR is a tool for companies to understand and manage their social and environmental impacts. Well executed, CSR goes beyond risk management and leverages the core value creation of the enterprise to benefit shareholders, employees, and society alike. To quote PepsiCo Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi, CSR is “not how we spend the money we make, it’s how we make the money.”

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