Power & Purpose Blog

CSR 2.0: Enabling Social Innovations through Corporate Social Responsibility

Happy New Year! In our first blog of the year, we want to highlight a paradigm shift that is taking place within corporations, which has potential to grow opportunities for social impact and innovation in 2016. This change is the evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR) within organizations.

When Michael Porter coined the term “shared value” in 2011 and talked about doing well and doing good, US corporations jumped on the bandwagon to create corporate social responsibility programs that published glossy sustainability reports with infographics on carbon footprints and volunteer programs. In its new form, corporate social responsibility has emerged as a boardroom mandate with committed stakeholders throughout the organization with synergies across human resource departments, philanthropy and even marketing divisions (let us call it CSR 2.0). In its new avatar, we expect CSR 2.0 to catalyze social innovation widely in 2016 and beyond.

Millennials are demanding genuine and effective social responsibility of the organizations in which they are investing their efforts. GE’s “Get Yourself a World Changing Job” videos capture the idea succinctly. As a result, recruiters in HR are becoming strong stakeholders in the internal functioning of corporations, as it helps them to recruit and retain talent. This long-term talent retention perspective of CSR 2.0 not only underlies a strong business case for CSR programs, it also begins to direct the quality and focus of the programs themselves. Going forward, we expect to see a burgeoning virtuous cycle in corporations fueling powerful social innovations and sustainable impact.

Philanthropy, the good ol’ doing good platform, is also responding positively to this emerging situation. As CSR 2.0 is evolving, the way foundations are allocating their resources is changing. From traditional responsive philanthropy such as grants and matching dollars, foundations are beginning to engage in strategic interventions, geared to achieve results that also align with the company’s business interests. For example, the Amgen Foundation has committed more than $60 million to advance science education by funding innovative, evidence-based programs in high schools Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.47.08 PMand universities. The program aims to spur students’ interest in science, deepen scientific literacy and grow the company’s future talent pool. As foundations become more influential in the CSR 2.0 mandate, companies are starting to view their philanthropic dollars, resources and expertise as contributors to potential social breakthroughs. In future, we can expect to see transformative innovation underwritten by corporate foundations.

The veil between marketing and corporate responsibility is being lifted, revealing emerging corporate signature programs capable of gaining momentum. These programs are significant, long-term investments around social issues that also impact business’ interests. Unilever’s Lifebuoy (soap) brand for example, has adopted Help a Child Reach Five initiative to combat country’s chronic high infant mortality rates. It emphasizes the need to adopt hand-washing hygiene in India. India has the highest number of child deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia globally, with 609,000 children dying each year before their 5th birthday. By emphasizing hand washing at five key occasions in a day, the program helps prevent child mortality and the spread of disease, while gaining customers and increasing the demand for its Lifebuoy soap—a longstanding product from the earliest era of Unilever. The popularity of such signature programs, and the competitive need to differentiate, promises social innovations with impact.

Large corporations are not typically associated with social innovations. The promise of CSR 2.0 however, with its new internal champions and widespread organizational benefits, will catalyze social innovation in 2016 and onwards. We look forward to connecting with you in 2016!

Maggie & Hector

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