From the Desk of the Chair: Abandoning CSR Silos

It is easy to preach to believers.

 

Within the comfort of your silo, you share similar values, similar principles and practices:   you evaluate situations through similar lenses.  It is empowering to increase the size of the silo.

 

However, the real challenge, and the real satisfaction, comes from reaching out and open a dialog with “nonbelievers”; that is, those who do not see what you see or who      reject your perspective.  Real results come from challenging the status quo, and merging different perspectives, that can create the best business outcomes.

 

In the last few years, I have engaged in totally non-scientific trend-tracking research.  As a CSR “believer”, I have approached a number of “non-believers” and asked them their views on CSR.  My interviewees participated in various conferences, symposia, workshops, that were not focused on social responsibility, ethical sourcing, or sustainability.  My respondents came from varied fields including BPO,  IT,  supply chain management, innovation and  system integration.  I have posed my questions to company/division heads, CIOs, CTOs, general managers and engineers.   Over the past few years,  I have routinely asked participants and speakers these question: Does social responsibility register on your radars?  If so – how?

 

It was not long ago that the standard response was:  “Social responsibility? – it does not count in my business.”

 

Social responsibility and sustainability have been  considered by “hard-core” business professionals as “warm and fuzzy concepts”,  not worthy valuable time at serious subject matter gatherings.  And a triple-bottom-line has been viewed as a “cooking the books” approach.

 

In the recent months however, a conference-hopper could notice subtle changes that quietly have been taking place in IT/CT/BP professional gatherings.

The general observation from dozen or so events this year is that social aspects of business are being noticed by subject matter experts, as reflected in the conference programs and speakers’ presentations.  And a variety of topics related to the social role of business is being added to agendas of technical conferences:

 

–        New panels that address the social aspects of the IT business have been added to the “hard-core” IT programs;

–        Innovation experts underscore the role of social innovations;

–        Company leaders, in their discussions about the battle to find and retain talent,  talk about the importance of community work in developing and attracting new talent as well as maintaining existing talent;

–        Key-note speakers have been bring up topics related not only to the next big thing in their respective fields,  they also challenge the audience with bigger business ethics questions: Why  do we do what we do? What impact does a particular product offering or a strategy have on a community and why do we care?

–        Social and environmental risk of business strategies have been discussed alongside technology risks;

 

Just a few weeks ago, when I asked a panelist on the IT vendor selection panel at an innovation conference in New York, “Does CSR parameters register on your radars during decision-making process re. vendor selection?”,  all the panelist, all of them technical experts, responded: yes!

 

This is a dramatic change from only a few years ago.  Although some did not know exactly how CSR is being translated into RFP or SLA, they openly acknowledged that “social” consideration counts.  Other panelists quoted numbers for “Social dimension” from 4% to 11% of the total score for a vendor selection score card in their respective organizations.

 

At the “Outsource 2LAC” conference in Buenos Aires this November, panelists discussed such topics as the cloud and private clouds, mobile platforms, global trends in outsourcing and local economic trends.  Social role of business was not on the agenda as a separate topic.  However, the concept of social responsibility was interwoven in just about all the discussions.  Community and employee enrichment programs have been presented as business practices that leverage companies’ value propositions.

 

It was very stimulating to hear how business economics questions were posed and argued with business ethics arguments.  “Our community work with high-school kids pays off in talent acquisition”, argued Ramiro Hernandez of Grupo Assa from Argentina.  “Money does not change a person.  It makes him more of who he really is” – shared Marciano Verdi, the CEO of PeopleOne from Brazil, when he described HR policies in his Mexican operations.

 

As we are closing 2013, it is evident that sustainability and social responsibility professionals are not the only ones passionate about CSR principles.  Managers and general business practitioners from India to South Africa, from Canada to Argentina, from US to China, start using the language and the lenses of social responsibility and sustainability more broadly and more frequently when addressing vital business questions.  Steadily, CSR is expanding beyond its own silo of believers.    Sustainability is becoming one of the universal perspectives to evaluate and manage all organizational functions, including IT.

 

As we are planning for 2014, I submit that the success parameters for truly sustainable and socially responsible enterprises should not include increasing the size of the CSR silo, but rather by the efficacy of a “viral approach to spreading sustainability viruses from CSR silos into other functional silos”.  As it is easy to preach to believers, the success comes from embracing diversity and converting non-believers.

 

I submit that for 2014 we plan strategies regarding how to abandon our comfortable silos and spread the sustainability viruses across entire organizations.

 

That way, most company projects and initiatives will be viewed through the lenses of sustainability and social responsibility.   And it will pay off – because sustainability pays off.

 

For 2014, I wish CSR passionate believers great success in spreading sustainability germs.

 

I wish non-believers and agnostics, to open your minds and evaluate business cases for CSR viral infection, as this is one infection that you want to contract, because again – it pays off to build sustainable and socially responsible enterprise.

 

To all of us – best of success in 2014 in perusing our goals and dreams!

 

Wanda R. Lopuch.

 

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