There are any number of way to define Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). For the purpose of this article we are referring to efforts made by companies aimed at making some sort of social or environmental impact. It is a way for companies to attract consumers and employees while also giving back to society.
CSR picked up at the turn of the 20th century, when companies realized that it was a necessary part of improving work conditions and building their reputation. In the late 1890’s George Cadbury (of the Cadbury chocolate brand) purchased 120 acres of land and built high quality, low-cost homes for his workers, an alternative to poorly sanitized city life. The company also improved working conditions, taking into account gender equality in the workplace and prioritizing worker health. In return, business thrived, and the owners continued to invest in their employees’ health and well-being.
CSR has since evolved into a dynamic platform where innovation and initiatives co-mingle for companies to improve sustainability and impact communities.
While CSR has been a well-noted concept for quite some time, a newer and perhaps overlapping approach, shared value, has spurred conversation. Shared value differs from CSR in that the main motive is not philanthropy but aligning business interest with some social and environmental return. It allows companies to find business opportunities in social problems through restructuring business models, developing new dedicated product line and services, and building partnerships. For example, integrating local suppliers into supply chain can cut costs and reduce delays, which is good for business and creates jobs in the local community.
While shared value embodies a more integrated approach, it does not necessarily replace the role of CSR. Many companies are limited by funding or by the problem they are trying to tackle. Today, companies implement a variety of CSR programs for different reasons including cost-savings, brand marketing, consumer engagement, or because it is the best tool to generate impact. For example, companies looking to support disaster relief or malaria eradication may not be able to make a difference through their business mode, but can commit valuable resources and expertise to communities in times of need.
In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) first delineated a role for the private sector in contributing to sustainable development. Within this framework, leading companies are working to understand how their programs can maximize social impact on a global scale. In global health, CSR is gradually becoming better coordinated with companies willing to proactively partner with other stakeholders, and even other companies, on issues ranging from HIV to cancer.
In this high-level interview series, we speak to a handful of corporate leaders to probe how they plan and execute CSR programs and how they are utilizing their core business skills and resources to impact individuals and communities.
The interviews will be rolled out over the coming weeks and will be linked below. You can also follow this conversation on Twitter using #GBCtalksCSR.