Corporate social responsibility is not just a good idea or simply a nice thing to do, it can result in a strong bottom line and a more sustainable company in the long term. Regardless of how you view it, with the changes that we continue to see on multiple fronts including: consumer activism and mobility, social media-driven 24-hour accountability, and concerns about global resources. More companies, large or small, will need to make CSR a high priority.
As we have seen recently, there is a mix of poverty, crime and hopelessness pervading some of our nation’s oldest urban areas. With many industries long abandoning these cities in favor of cheaper labor, less regulation and decreased taxes, these communities have been plunged into economic hardship and an ever-declining standard of living. It is for these reasons that our influential multinational corporations should find innovative ways to be responsible in their practices.
In our work as a minority-owned firm advising corporations on long-term strategies for growth, we have seen the broader effects of their operations on the communities in which they do business. Companies that are able to demonstrate a culture of giving back and a commitment to social responsibility are the organizations that ultimately endure. It is because they seem to have an understanding their actions improve the health of their business, as well as the health of the global community.
However, these companies didn’t come to this place easily. What the global economic crisis has taught them, rather brutally, is the heart of the relationship between business and society doesn't lie with the charitable deeds that companies do in their off-hours, but whether they are doing their day jobs in ways that help everyone else.
To be frank, the job of business is to make money. While some object to CSR because they believe it distracts businesses from making money, it is unwise to object to the idea of companies working to fund good causes. Indeed it is a cause that few can complain about and is as unobjectionable as apple pie is in America.
However, people still continue to object to CSR because of what they see as a fetish that philanthropies feed off of, or worse they believe corporate executives have found a more palatable way to feed their bottom lines. These outdated and unrealistic mindsets need to change. The idea that profits will benefit society as a whole is old world logic. Our present economic situation has shown this is not reality. Companies are now accountable in a way they were not previously. CSR is a current world view and one that needs to be embraced.
Simply put, if you are in business today you are dead in the water if you’re not engaging with the community at large. Corporations should ensure the impacts of their activities are positive for both society and the environment. They must do so through ethical and transparent conduct contributing to everyone's well-being.
Some companies believe they are contributing to improvements in their communities by reducing the negative impact of their operations on the environment. While this is very admirable, it isn’t enough. Companies that want to truly make a difference need to do more. At a time when many are struggling to find jobs, the world economy is still in recovery mode and people continue to question the values of global corporations, everyone needs to do better.
We are encouraged to recently learn of the Obama Administration’s plans to create eight new Promise Zones in some of the more economically hard-hit urban areas of our nation. In this initiative, local business leaders will partner with government to build stronger ladders of opportunity and revitalize these communities. This effort will lead to more jobs, improved educational opportunities and increased economic activity – the very things that CSR seeks to promote.
To that end, corporations should consider providing assistance to the most vulnerable groups: children, women, the elderly, the disabled, and families living in situations of poverty and social isolation. Corporations should not only hold themselves accountable, but ensure the people they conduct business with have values similar to theirs and are conducting good business practices.
How and where people work has changed. As the working world continues to evolve, so do the needs and aspirations of the global workforce. All companies should seek new ways to cultivate inclusiveness, develop leadership abilities, nurture career growth and engage their employees in their strategies and objectives.
Coleman is managing director of the 316 Group, a minority and woman-owned consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va., advising clients in the health, tech energy and education verticals.