Follow the CSR Leaders

During the Economist’s Corporate Citizenship Conference earlier this week, I heard nearly three dozen global leaders discuss the challenges, successes and failures of corporate citizenship.  From their comments, I gleaned a collection of best practices for developing corporate citizenship programs that generate tangible results.  Here’s what these leaders recommend.

Collaborate with competitors. It’s not easy going eyeball-to-eyeball with gargantuan competitors such as Nike or Adidas, but Timberland sat down with other brands, tanners and suppliers in the Leather Working Group to develop an environmental audit protocol for leather tanners and suppliers.  With this industry standard in place, shoe manufacturers can now require that their vendors adhere to certain environmental standards, according to Jeffrey Swartz, President and Chief Executive Officer of Timberland. That’s a powerful tool Timberland and other shoe manufacturers can use to drive environmental responsibility down the supply chain.

Align CSR with your core competencies. Goldman Sachs has a well-designed long-term philanthropic strategy that aligns with its core competencies, stated Dina Habib-Powell, Global Head of Corporate Engagement for Goldman Sachs.  In 2008, the global investment bank launched 10,000 Women, an initiative to provide business and management education and mentoring to women entrepreneurs. Based on research which showed that educating women has a multiplier effect on the economic development of a country, the program leverages Goldman Sachs’ competencies in mentoring and networking, opening markets and pragmatic business education.

Forge partnerships. Alex Cummings, Chief Administrative Officer and Executive Vice President of Coca-Cola, shared that his company seeks “tri-partite” partnerships with governments and communities.  Coca-Cola looks to work in mutually beneficial areas with governments and has found that the best way to positively influence governments overseas is to set an example by operating its business in an ethical manner, Cummings told participants.

Trust your partners.  Find partners with expertise that complements your own organization’s skill sets, advises Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media, a partner in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative.

Choose your partners wisely, added Dr. Angel Cabrera, President, Thunderbird School of Global Management, one of the business schools participating in 10,000 Women.  “It’s important to have partners that are willing to learn together,” he said.  “You can’t always anticipate every circumstance when you embark on an initiative.  You need to trust each other to ride out unforeseen circumstances.”

Pursue enlightened self-interest. Given the growing stress on global water supplies, it’s both altruistic and good business for beverage companies such as Coca-Cola to pursue water sustainability.  Through its water initiative, Coca-Cola has established a goal of safely returning to communities and nature an amount of water equivalent to what it uses in all of its beverages and production.

Choose a focus. “You can’t do everything, but you must do something,” counseled President Bill Clinton, in advice that’s applicable to both corporations and individuals.  “Decide where you can make the biggest difference.”

“Do what makes you happy, and you’ll do well,” continued Clinton, who now heads the Clinton Global Initiative which brings together governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other global leaders to confront the world’s most pressing problems. Clinton advised a packed room that corporate social responsibility professionals should “consider what must be done by government and what can be done by the private sector.”

Determine what you are for? In times of crisis, it’s easy to default to shrill cries of opposition and criticism, notes John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, the first non-profit social investment banking organization in the United States.  But Bryant urged conference participants to “figure out what you’re for.”  For example, instead of opposing sub-prime lending, Bryant’s bank developed a way to responsibly issue loans to “unqualified” borrowers who had been rejected by other lenders.  Through a creative, rigorous lending program coupled with borrower education, Operation HOPE has achieved a remarkable 0% mortgage loan default rate.

Bryant expands on this concept in his book “Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World,” which advocates that the best way to get ahead is to figure out what you have to give, in a world seemingly obsessed with the question: “What do I get?”

Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.

3 responses

  1. Great post! More business should – not just read about it – but actually implement the CSR principles well. Bill Clinton gets it right. Decide what we want to do to make a difference. We can't be all over the place…

  2. Great post! More business should – not just read about it – but actually implement the CSR principles well. Bill Clinton gets it right. Decide what we want to do to make a difference. We can't be all over the place…

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