The CSR movement, or at least the hard-core activists who are its loudest voice, seem to have been on a mission to save the world one step at a time. Problem is, they seem to have decided to do this without travelling too from home.
No doubt, the global interconnected world we inhabit has some issues that demand some joined-up thinking to resolve, but that is assuming that everyone agrees on the solution, the costs incurred, and that the problem exists in the first place.
CSR’s king of the jungle issues – climate change, child and indentured labour, bribery and corruption, employee rights and good governance- are not always visible to all, especially if you don’t really know what you’re looking for and didn’t pay the extra for a good local guide.
Climate change campaigners have been forced to accept that their desire for draconian tax increases and radical caps and limits have to be balanced with a nation’s need – and right – to grow their economies and consume the energy that demands.
While the supermarket aisles are heaving under the range of organic, fair trade-endorsed beans and pulses, those who work in some agricultural communities see no greater increase in their living standards because the only way to farm and raise crops in many communities is exactly the way they have been doing it for hundreds of years – and that involves all the extended family – kids and all.
And bribes, ‘facilitation payments’ and ‘market access costs’ are all wrong, everywhere and every time. But when domestic authorities don’t punish the practice – or worse, actually encourage and demand it – it’s unrealistic to imagine some external agency will be able to detect, report and correct it.
Now this isn’t a plea to go back to the bad old days when only Neanderthal Adam Smith-ites roamed the planet – far from it; it’s a call for today’s thoroughly-modern CSR homo-sapiens to follow the example of their forefathers and move around, traverse the plains, and head over the Steppes.
What our CSR movement needs and deserves is an orchestrated approach to identifying what makes a difference on the ground, what can be done and who is needed to partner with to deliver results.
Working with “Alien” Communities
Too much CSR is developed and measured in Western and developed economies for an audience in and around the corporate boardroom. Decisions are being made aligned against the values system of a consumer market economy but are often intended to be implemented in a society and economy developing around a blend of traditional and modern manners.
Trying to devise and deliver CSR from an alien culture and geography also runs the risk of missing many opportunities to do great work and make a telling difference. Some of the simplest, most cost-efficient and effective programs are simple applications of modern business management and production techniques.
The other big sin of ‘CSR from afar’ is the company you choose to keep. The likelihood is that the third-sector partners you are being influenced by and responding to are the big lobbying campaigns, single-issue advocates and the mega-corporate charities. As part of your stakeholder engagement and subsequent reporting obligations, you have probably decided to partner with one or more of these organizations, at some extortionate cost and time commitment. Instead, your time and money may be better invested in-market. Your local management are more likely to make meaningful progress working in local language, observing traditional cultures and having a partner for whom $100,000 USD will buy tireless loyalty, capacity and expertise, rather than a lobbying document or a board level presentation.
Working with the third-sector in-market may also build capacity and expertise that can be applied more widely than just your issue or circumstances. It may be an investment that builds a level of conversation with a host of civic players that you could only previously have dreamed of.
But best of all, perhaps, local knowledge and attitudes to issues may produce much more achievable and attainable solutions. They may not be as lofty, as worldly or earn you a nomination for a Nobel Prize, but if they make a marked and measurable positive impact in someone else’s life, address one of the material issues your business is dealing with, what better stories could you include in an annual report or CSR sustainability guide?
It is a bold call and maybe too risky for some to sever those deep, politically comfortable partnerships. But there are a number of third-sector groups and organizations in-markets who are willing and valuable partners. The UN and inter-governmental groups like the ILO and UNICEF already have extensive networks of in-market experts, academics and agencies.
If the next generation of CSR leaders want to pick up the baton of change, I would urge them to break free of the shackles of centralized and predominately Western perspective to problem solving – reach out to the widest and most indigenous groups around their issues and join us in building a new consensus.
This article was written by Martin Liptrot, CEO of Ogilvy PR in Europe, Middle East, Africa.It was excerpted from the PR News Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility, Volume 2. To order a copy, visit the http://www.prnewsonline.com/store/.