What happens when two women, who are colleagues and leading practitioners of CSR perceive a need to follow up the 20+ blog responses and 250 individual comments posted to Dr. Aneel Karnani’s #WSJ Blog post, “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility?”
Voila... Here is What Happened!
a Senior Vice President with Fenton.com and Christine Arena,
blogger, author and founder of sparkUP, produced and moderated a panel of today's top thought leaders in CSR practice representing companies, think tanks and media outlets of reputation.
The panel, entitled CSR and the Role of Business, A Spirited Discussion, provided an accurate benchmark of CSR today and how it has matured and now operates beyond the "movement" that formed in the late 1970's from which it has taken form.
The event sponsors included Fenton.com, the Paley Center for Media and CSRwire; the leaders in reporting on the impact of CSR in society, business and culture. Fenton.com, true to its mission, produced this event as a campaign to create change.The Paley Center for Media has staked itself to be the hub of the intersection between media and society; CSRWire has created the leading wire service format for anyone working in or reporting on CSR.
Seven of the nine panelists were drawn from companies, networks and media that represent the "best practice" CSR today. Each of these panelists has exercised competence in the arena of CSR as a leader and contributing to this field of practice.
The CSR panelists joining Arena and McPherson were
- Matthew Bishop – U.S. Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief, The Economist
- Bob Corcoran – Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, President & Chairman, GE Foundation
- Aron Cramer – President and CEO, BSR
- Georg Kell – Executive Director, UN Global Compact
- Dave Stangis – Vice President, CSR and Sustainability, Campbell Soup Company
Each individual made their case for CSR based on their own first hand experience and the results.
As result the reports offered benchmarked CSR as it operates in today's global marketplace within 15 minutes of when the broadcast began.
An Event Benchmarking CSR as a Business Practice Impacting Societal Change.
There is no question from the majority of people represented on this panel that CSR is fulfilling a need to address some of the most controversial complexity that effects business, the workforce and society today as reflected by the escalating frequency of catastrophes e.g. the BP Oil Spill, PG&E explosion and a summer of record hot temperatures.
The two panelists contributed to an opposing view of the value of CSR, Dr. Aneel Karnani, Associate Professor of Strategy, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and Chrystia Freeland – Global Editor-at-Large, ThomsonReuters. The academic view of Dr. Kurnani and mainstream press perspective of Freeland were based on generalizations to simplify a very complex subject matter expertise for which they both lack hands on experience and simply draw conclusions from what they observe based on their "expert" education and discipline.
I wondered if Karnani or Freeland had the education and experience to grasp the complexity of CSR agenda. I questions whether or not Karnani or Freeland have made note or participated in the learning available through the educational incubators. These non-profit incubators draw membership from business, government and non-govermental organziations that are advancing the CSR agenda and synthesizing the science and expertise that has become "mission critical" to building a CSR strategy in any company.
The incubators include
- The Environmental Defense Fund
- World Resource Institute
- Radiation Research Trust
Each of these organizations have attracted participations that form into learning communities distilling the best science from which companies can base change on subject matter, e.g. climate warming, substitution of hazardous chemical, eco-system degradation and the effects of non-ionizing radiation.
Kurnani’s post stoked the fire that led to the production of this event. The reaction to this post ignited a new passion and recognition of CSR. While Kurnani views CSR as harmful and dangerous, he seemed to lack any experience or participation in the social networks that have formed and shaped communities of practice that are setting the standards and measuring the impact of CSR strategy in action.
The umbrella organization synthesizing this scale of activity is the UN Global Compact. George Kell, Executive Director, who contributed to this discussion/debate leads an organization that now sustains a membership of 7700 global companies. Membership into the UN Global Compact requires a demonstration of acting on the principles and values that have been authored by the community and fulfilling reporting requirements that show how a company is concretely acting on these principles and values with a framework authored for its membership by Deloitte Touche and a metric system and knowledge gained from Ceres and the Global Reporting Initiative.
The goal of this community is to learn to "exercise precaution" and work to prevent the oversights of harm that had historically been responded to by NGO campaigns against corporations that in turn invested profit to lobby and oppose the prospect of government regulations to mandate compliance.
The New Concrete CSR Agenda
Panelists provided reports of their experience with CSR as a vital business strategy, to create new markets, mitigate risk and lead to building as sustainable economy. CSR practice in its current formation has:
1. Demonstrated that the business motivation for CSR and Sustainability compliments rather than replaces what governments do and never as a substitute.
2. Built an accelerate response and trajectory of learning by global business that in the 20th century grew based on reaction to the tradition of NGO campaigns and the political processes to form and pass regulation to solve major problems that companies had not historically addressed proactively.
3. Become part of being a company's capacity to be competitive by staying ahead of the game and responding to new emerging markets in.
4. Taken on non-financial issues that fall between the cracks that can be very costly and decrease future profits.
5. Shifted the historical view of CSR as philanthropic/volunteer practice to a practice that integrates with core to the business strategy that takes responsibility to solve world problems.
7. Addressed the issues of complexity that business faces today. For example, Campbell Soup’s CSR strategy is one of the 7 core business strategies because it makes the company better, builds engagement, attracts talent and makes us better as a company, make us more nimble to drive a change in culture that drives the mission of the company.
8. Out of the challenge of the terminology of "corporate social responsibility," CSR has provoked a struggle that is shaping in a world of accelerated change where geographical boundaries and rules by which companies have operated in the past have simply become obsolete; hence creating new emerging markets (and economies of scale).
9. Challenged the Milton Friedman view that business's sole purpose is to make money; and therefore challenged the focus on short -term profits and the ways in which the stock market has not been prudent in influencing a long term business approach.
10. Recognizes that corporate citizenship is as important as compliance and for business to aspire to do ethical business.
11. Resulted in China adopting the model of corporate social responsibility and applying it to China's state owned businesses with the goal to keep these state owned companies competitive and build China's capacity to enter new markets and achieve outcomes that permit them to compete in the global world.
12. Opened a new understanding of how business issues spill over into regulatory issues; and where there is a conflict assure that business and regulators work it out by naming the problem and working it out.
13. Begun to reconcile the difference in perspectives, culture and diversity that exist around the world by recognizing in the global market place that the same rules cannot be applied everywhere.
CSR expert panelists summarized some meaningful points in the end that influenced the panel and debate.
Dave Stangis suggested that focusing a debate on articles, pushes people to get too simple.
Matt Bishop suggested that it would be valuable to shape a future debate around what companies are doing for CSR and Sustainability or Corporate Citizenship and how invite more transparency and quality of journalism to the debate.
George Kell pointed out that the American tendency to shape conversations that are generalized does not work for construction of complicated issues that involve CSR.
Araon Cramer provided an example of how Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook have united to examine Freedom of Speech that goes beyond the grasp of government to deal with and for business to take this on collaboratively and not just sweep these difficult challenges under the rug, accelerates the an examination that would not be addressed at a pace that makes sense by government alone.
Any person working in industry, government or for a non-governmental organization should review this broadcast and consider joining this type of debate, which I believe will accelerate the value of CSR to society, culture and education.
George Kell pointed out that unlike most American press, generalizations cannot empower what is needed to have a constructive CSR conversation. One of Kell's final remarks offered related to reporting on the membership of the UN Global Compact response of 20% interest to climate change that he anticipated would grow to 30% next year represented an indicator of importance.
During the last 25 years, the global audience of companies interested in CSR has formed a learning infrastructure that has accelerated learning and adoption of this approach to core business practice. CSR has gained the traction of a living system of thought that millions of people in business and outside business now grapple with.
Join me in giving a standing ovation to Susan McPherson and Christina Arena for putting a stake in the ground with this event to redefine CSR and its value today. Susan and Christina produced an event of meaning that provided a shared understanding of CSR beyond its initial formation of a philanthropic and publicity strategy and tactics.
CSR has formed into a mature complex practice that I would not have predicted when I attended my first Stanford University BSR presentation by Anita Roddick in 1992. Anita was Founder and President The Body Shop. She conceived her idea for a CSR business in 1976, launched her company from her home and when she went to shape it into a professional global company, she wrote a business plan that was worthy of bank financing. Upon applying for financing by herself, she was turned down by the bank. When she returned to the bank with her husband, who offered co-signature she was funded.
Anita,one of the founding leader, who help to create this movement of change passed away September 10, 2007 at Age 64 of cancer. I am regret she could not live to see this acceleration of CSR principles and values in practice globally.
Christine and Susan, you have provided through your outstanding leadership and production of this event a form of celebration for this movement of change that has become a global business practice reflectin the hard work of men and women over the past 40 years working hard to build what you brought to light on September 17th, 2010.
The CSR panelists, for the #csrdebate, are role models of CSR professionals today who shaped the CSR agenda as an agenda that demands board and director attention and performance.