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Friday, January 8, 2010

My Themes for 2010

Below are some themes that appeal to me and that I plan to explore further during the coming year. Hopefully you can see a link between these and some of the items on my wish list for the coming decade in my previous post.

Regaining trust – A major discussion within the business world. Businesses are at the bottom of the barrel on public trust, equal only with politicians. Will increased corporate citizenship be enough to change this or do we need to do something more fundamental?

Stakeholder engagement – I spent a lot of time on employee engagement in the last month or two of 2009. I am interested in other stakeholder groups too and in particular the contrasting expectations individuals have of a company depending on which stakeholder hat they are wearing.

Terminology - CR, sustainability, philanthropy... we sprinkle these and many other terms into our discussions. While I am aware of the differences in their meanings I have had difficulty envisaging a framework that accommodates them all. I have recently started to see how they could fit together and I hope to collect my thoughts enough to write a short paper on this, or failing that, at least a chart!

The role of the CR practitioner – What are the components of a profession as opposed to a job? Certification, ethics codes, job descriptions, specialist recruiters, insurance indemnity. As a governing board member of the Corporate Responsibility Officers (CRO) Association and chair of the professional development committee of the association I am passionate about creating a foundation for the CR practitioner that puts it on a par with other professions. I hope to work on making some of these a reality in 2010.

Public versus private companies – I am interested in the change in value judgments in privately owned companies compared with public companies. Whether the paternalistic approach of small family owned business, the reasons for the feeling of betrayal when companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Stoneyfield’s Yogurt are acquired, the strong ethics values felt by employees of Mars (a family owned business) compared with the superior transparency of publicly owned companies.

Measurement –I want to make CR more accountable through increased quantification of CR initiatives. At the same time I want business to be less beholden to narrow objectives and quantification of results and instead be able to take a more holistic view of success. Are these two objectives complementary or irreconcilable?

I’d also be interested in hearing your thoughts on what CR themes and issues are going to impact 2010. Have I left something out?


  1. To your first point and theme. In South Africa, you can imagine that the distrust of business runs especially deep given our history. As a communicator who specialises in corporate responsibility and therefore who prizes messages that resonate, I decided to spend a few moinths exploring the depths of this distrust. What I discovered has utterly persuaded me that more CR is simply not going to do anything. I would suggest in fact, that more will turn out to be destructive in the long run. Businesses need a far more fundamental shift and that shift, I suspect, will come when our business leaders en masse really get their entities involved - not in initiatives, but when CR becoems part of the business DNA. No one can argue that we are anywhere near at this point.

  2. Corporate Responsibility and Philantrhopy are different, though you wouldn't necessarily see that when looking at many corporation's annual CR reports. For example, in trying to fight poverty, there is a difference between donating money to a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of low-income families versus using those funds to pay your employees living wages and provide them with sufficient health care. Of course, doing both would be wonderful, but the point is that there is a difference. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that a business that has not yet met all of its corporate responsibilities yet engages in corporate philantrhopy, is actually acting irresponsibly.

  3. Mark, thanks for your insights. I especially enjoy hearing from pracitioners in other countries as different cultures and political and commercial frameworks afford unique perspectives.

    Google's decsions to stay or leave China are very topical right now. Would you share a view from a South African's perspective on the impact of investment from foreign companies in South Africa on the disbanding of apartheid ? Were there particular behaviours that accelerated disbanding apartheid and particular behaviours that delayed it ?

  4. Thanks Maria, I broadly agree,but with a couple of differences.

    I wrote in a post on January 20th that I do consider philanthropy to have a place in Corporate Responsbility. I position it as a tool in the practitioners tool kit which can be used consttuctively and responsbly as part of a strategic approach to CR.

    In the example you quote; a company that gives charitable funds to a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of low-income families versus using those funds to pay your employees living wages and provide them with sufficient health care. I certainly see that as an inconsistent approach, possibly a hypocritical one. But I also like to leave room for the possibility of a dedicated CR practitioner looking for an approach to increase the awareness and sensitivity of their wider management colleagues to the issues of poverty !