In 2011, I felt frustrated with what was being accepted as appropriate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practice.
My frustration was based on what I was seeing within the private sector in particular – in previous posts, I have alluded to the societal acceptance of corporate staff doing what i can ‘one-hit wonders’ of CSR Activity.
Charity walks, painting school fences, picking up rubbish in a park etc which are all noble activities, but ones where I always find myself questioning their true relevance, if they are not created as part of the board level strategic plan for growth, and therefore given more importance than just a community engagement initiative!
Also, it was becoming more and more acceptable for companies to benefit from positive publicity from a brand awareness and PR perspective, but internally, not being able to demonstrate the return on investment to the company, in order to have an internal benchmark that will encourage them to increase their contribution to society.
In my experience, I feel that the majority of social impact measurement tools, are not designed to measure the impact in key financial metrics that C-Suite executives are looking for i.e What is the benefit of our social investment, on the bottom-line of our business? What much value does CSR create for our business per £ spent? What is the benchmark that we need to achieve, in order to increase our social contributions and to help more people in society?
So I decided to do something about it..
At Cultiv8 Solutions, we license bespoke Social Impact technology software to our clients that:
- measures their social impact as a % of their companies overall net worth.
- measures their ROI on CSR Spend.
- benchmarks their social impact against their competitors.
In regards to the wider context, I asked myself two key questions:
- What would happen if I was to put the leading Corporate Social Responsibility professionals from the Midlands, across the public, private and third sectors in a room, to share best practices, knowledge, skills and experience?
- How can I identify and access all these CSR professionals, all at once?
After a little research, I contacted the Chairman of Thrive, a voluntary collective of like-minded business and community professionals in the city.
Over a chat at the wonderful Urban Coffee, I spelled out my vision to him – he understood that my focus was on driving sustainable change in our region for the benefit of all our citizens, but to also helping companies embrace the wider strategic benefits of social investment.
I also stated that I’m not here to beg for his support and I will achieve this with or without his help!
Over that coffee, I became the founder of the Annual Birmingham CSR Summit – my simple idea that has now become the regions leading think-tank conference on Corporate Social Responsibility!
After a year of collaborative working between Cultiv8 Solutions and other business leaders within the Thrive Network and Aston Business School, we launched the first Annual Birmingham CSR Summit with 75 of the Top 100 CSR Professionals in attendance.
In 2013, we ran the second Annual Birmingham CSR Summit with 85 in attendance.
On Friday 6th June 2014, we will have run our third Annual Birmingham CSR Summit.
Here are the 4 key personal learning points that I wish to share from this journey, so far:
1) Create the frame, but empower others to paint the picture – Giving others a sense of ownership, often leads to more innovation of the original idea.
2) Stand up for what you believe in – the passion for what you do and why, will see you through the negativity, hurdles and challenges that you will encounter on the way.
3) Nip things in the bud quickly and move on – leaving things to fester will only undermine what you all are trying to achieve.
4) Share the success – Be proud of what you started, but give equal praise to those who helped you on the way. They deserve it and it is only fair.
Whilst I am so proud of what has been achieved, It has not been easy – there have been times when the summit was seen as the property of other organisations, times when I have had to defend partner organisations when people wanted to rubbish their name, and even times when I have felt that my involvement was being phased out, even though I am the Founder of the Annual Birmingham CSR Summit!
But I have accepted that if the idea is achieving its goal, then it is ok to let go!
To achieve success, there must be a balance between recognition and evolution and that sometimes means allowing others to take the original idea and evolve it further than you could by yourself – that does not mean that the core reason must be lost and that is something that I will always and you should always fight for!
Till the next time, J