Who's in charge of CSR?

Socially responsible business requires every part of the business to be engaged -- but most often nobody is in charge.

Socially responsible business requires every part of the business to be engaged -- but most often nobody is in charge. A client showed me a chart of her company's Corporate Social Responsibility function with fifteen little dots – (government affairs, policy, corporate communications, franchise communications, investor relations, market access, manufacturing, marketing and corporate contributions, and more!) --each with little arrows shooting towards federal, state, and emerging governments, the UN, social investor groups, reporters, bloggers, consumer advocates, foundations, and NGOs. 

On first blush the challenge of the multiple dots chasing stakeholders seems simple, put someone in charge. Yet, the real challenge turns out to be not “WHO is in charge” but “WHAT is in charge? “ Companies can't make headway on CSR until they define from their own vantage point what the key elements are to being responsible for their culture, their attributes, and their industries.

When a company doesn't have its CSR strategy carefully laid out, outside CSR monitors and stakeholders set the agenda, issues, and criteria for measurement. These monitors tend to be good people with great ideas, but they often lack technical knowledge of what companies face, and what true socially responsible practices companies could bring to the table.

In the pharmaceutical industry many outside CSR monitors look at the cost of medicines in Africa (an important measure) but often put less weight on how much a company invests in discovering medicines that can be used by people without food or water  (arguably of greater social benefit in Africa than many medicines at any price).

The best CSR efforts start with a company carefully choosing where it can have the greatest impact and then allowing all of its little dots to deliver on that view. For effective CSR, put strong ideas in charge.

Steve Rabin is CEO at Rabin Martin

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