Tips on Corporate Sustainability Responsibility for Entrepreneurs

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By Jacob Chandy Varghese I was shocked to receive recently an email from a friend of mine, who is the CSR head of a very large multinational, seeking applications from NGOs for a social activity they wanted to fund and get involved. The ‘charitiness’ of the whole focus of their social activity shocked me! They wanted to directly get involved in this social activity, of which they have no expertise, yet they had detailed out the baby steps of the activity. Just because they are good in software and product development, they felt they could do this also! How silly!

I wrote to him, “Companies like yours should be more imaginative in creating better patterns for social impact, using the employee volunteers for developing good technology based solutions for the masses. The business expertise within your firm should create sustainable models as overlays on top of this. The impact should be measurable, and should be reflective of the DNA of the company. It should be reusable even across geographies, and should be scalable”.

I was hence very glad to read a survey done by McKinsey very recently on how sustainability should be a key factor of business planning, and how what we consider as ‘social’ or ‘fringes’ should actually become part of the core business. Sustainability needs an ecosystem, and the ecosystem has to be broader than the normal business ecosystem of quick buck that the companies see. The ecosystem of business has to spread into the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) markets and communities, and to issues which are largely branded "social".

CSR should really stand for Corporate Sustainability Responsibility, which then brings itself into the core of the business discussions. A change of parlance is primarily needed in bringing about this mindset, which is the reason I propose that the word “Social” in CSR be replaced by “Sustainability”. The vocabulary we use indeed makes a difference in our thinking.

This also makes the job description of a CSR leader very different. He or she now lands into the core group of business leaders of the company, rather than being the soft and nice guy on the fringes. The CSR leader should be part of the core business leadership team that is accountable for business revenues, profits and product roadmaps and strategies, and the CSR leader should have this very large responsibility of bringing in BOP and social sector views into the business, thinking creatively on using those to make the business grow. She has to be connected with the ecosystem and should always be looking at possibilities for growth of business as well as social impact, working through the core expertise and products of the company.

I see very large technology multinationals with excellent solutions for the BOP market still shying away from the markets around them, thereby missing large opportunities for revenue as well as for impact on the society. Of course it takes effort, but which market was developed without effort? This becomes the main responsibility now of the CSR leader, who intimately understands the product value and business imperatives and then looks at ways of connecting these to the social and BOP ecosystem under focus. Then CSR will become a MUST in business, without which the company cannot grow.

Ready for a Job Description Change in your company for CSR? Think. React. Act.