Does CSR really mean Corporates Seeking Repentance?

We have people who yearn to be citizens of a truly inclusive and equal society.  We have people living in environments that are being eroded through a lack of cohesion, concern and care. We have children who live day by day, with no real hope or dreams, because their life experiences have conditioned them to not believe in them.

This is happening in our communities, not mine, not yours, but in OUR communities and we can do something about it.

Historically, CSR has been seen and often treated as a brand and marketing exercise for businesses. How many times have you seen a picture placed in the newspaper of a corporate presenting a cheque to a charitable course, on behalf of staff who have completed a 5km walk or painted a school fence  or some other noble activity?

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing businesses who do partake in such CSR activities and what they do does help in some way. But, I do wonder how many of those same staff members have actually spent a day in the lives of those people in the community? How many truly understand the emotional, mental, economical, physical and spiritual strain of living with no hope, from a place of disadvantage? How many leave staff CSR in the office and go back to ‘normality’ when the office clock chimes the end of the day?

Money and support is one thing, passion and a genuine empathy because you KNOW is another…there are many membership organisations such as BITC or individual businesses who have delivered measurable impactful CSR activities for many years and i do commend them.

But overall,  it seems like all of a sudden, CSR in the C-Suite is at risk of being revered as the badge of honour and key factor for driving business in a recovering economy, an economy that was put in this position by big businesses themselves – does CSR really mean Companies Seeking Repentance, rather than what it should stand for?

Personally, if businesses use the connection between effective CSR strategies, measurable activity and the positive reflection of the company bottom line in an ethical and transparent way, then I think it’s a good thing. If not, then have we have not learnt anything from the past?

I founded the Annual Birmingham CSR Summit in 2011, because I wanted to bring together the Top 100 CSR and Community engagement professionals in one room and look at what we are doing as a business community to positively impact lives, now and in the future in my region. In 2012, the Inaugural Birmingham CSR Summit had 75 people in that room, and our CSR Summit in June 2013 we had 85 in the room.

I was commissioned to write a report about what the summit revealed ( feel free to check it out! ) – what I deduced, is that whilst many people are doing wonderful things for communities, +many still operate from an ideological and moral perspective and still don’t know how to engage with the very people they are setting out to support, particularly young people.

There is a significant advantage in providing opportunities where young people can use their entrepreneurial skills and abilities, to help existing businesses to flourish and this must be encouraged. This is something that lies at the heart of  The Hot500, connecting cross sector CSR strategies within the most ambitious and talented young people and showcasing real practical impact. True collaboration is the only way in which we can truly achieve the level of social mobility that causes a cultural shift, in how we do things and gives our communities the capacity and resources to develop themselves.

However, we also need to strategically embed community needs into public policy and practice. Old procurement processes don’t work. We now need to be more tailored to the needs of smaller organisations, so that the creation of bureaucratic legislation would begin to reflect the real issues that are going on. Furthermore, we would see a rise in more collaborative and sustainable models of work that can set a strong foundation for the future – this would inspire those who feel that they can only ‘reach so far’ and change the way in which local communities operate and develop.

CSR in the modern world, is about how we plan for our collective future – the future of all our citizens, the future of all our public services, the future of our businesses and the impact that they can make to the local, regional, national and global economy. Society is more savvy and will not stand for CSR being used as the corporate pimp in communities.

What we really need is a business culture where decision-makers in business, stop outside their own comfort zones, put their own prejudices (genuinely ignorant or not) and conditioning to one side and take the time to go out there on the ground, have interactive two-way dialogue with others and build innovative CSR activities that involve them in the planning process.

Only then, will CSR strategies and practices create a real win/win for all.