I've spent a fair amount of time lately interacting with key executives involved in CSR. Last issue, I interviewed Kate James, CCO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for our Newsmaker. For this issue, PRWeek assembled a roundtable of CSR elite, including Bob Langert from McDonald's, The Campbell Soup Company's Dave Stangis, and Dan Bross of Microsoft. My knowledge on the subject is just developing compared to these thought leaders, but it amazes me how CSR has grown so rapidly from the goal of doing good to a core strategy as vital to the growth and success of any business as product development or marketing.
During my interview with her, James mentioned a Gates Foundation program that supplied farmers in Kenya with lime to use on the soil. Increasing yields, more food, great idea. The ripple effect of programs like this on business is the real story. Farmers can actually sell product for the first time and make money. They then need to put that money somewhere. Now there is a bank in town and people were employed to build that bank and work there. Now those people have more money, too.
The farmers had more money and were able to provide their children with higher levels of education. Children will be more employable in the business world and will provide a workforce for a company looking to expand in developing international markets. Having a talent pool that combines business skills with knowledge of local customs is critical.
Generally speaking, a corporate enterprise will provide financial stimulus - the value of a steady paycheck can't be taken for granted, but providing a local community better roads or sanitation instills loyalty that goes beyond money and results in tenure and commitment.
As massive governmental shifts happen around the world and less trade restrictions make it easier to expand globally, corporations with a solid record in fair trade, sustainability, workers' rights, and philanthropy will have the advantage over organizations with the best intentions, but no real initiatives or results to lay out from day one.
For emerging countries struggling with how social responsibility relates to society, having a corporate mentor to provide jobs, one with a proven CSR record to provide the guidance and foundation for establishing CSR on a business front, is a compelling prospect.
CSR's importance can't be overstated. In the last decade, it has clearly moved from charity to business strategy so much so that the phrase "the intersection of CSR and business" no longer applies, it's more of a two-lane highway going in the same direction.
Bernadette Casey is the senior editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.