Nicola Keith: Is this the end of CSR or the next chapter?

The debate around the end of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the rise of creating shared value (CSV) has been kicking around for a while now. Nicola Keith, Head of Partnership Management at Macmillan Cancer Support thinks it’s time to move the debate on from terminology to the crux of the issue — business behaviour.

There has been a definite shift of viewing CSR as more than a bolt on or feel good activity. Companies are integrating CSR into their business model, and making it a fundamental part of their corporate culture. Leaders in this field have recognised the business value of leveraging their own strengths and resources for good, and others are following suit.

Google is a global leader in the CSR field, it is extremely active, committed and genuine. With a complex group of stakeholders, the powerhouse has created a programme which shows an understanding of issues its audiences care about. Since its conception it has been committed to actively addressing climate change, education and poverty alleviation. It not only commits 1% of its profits to its CSR programme initiatives, but recognises the value of sharing expertise. Its staff spend around 100,000 hours per year of their time volunteering with non-profits connected to the charitable aims. It appears to have put the same ambition and passion into its CSR programme as it did into revolutionising the tech industry.

Organisations don’t need to have the budget or power Google has, to make a difference, but they do need to have integrity. CSR promises which do not reflect business practice risk significant damage to reputation and trust. John West sustainable tuna fishing and the VW emissions scandal are prime examples.

“Organisations don’t need to have the budget or power Google has, to make a difference, but they do need to have integrity.”

Change can’t happen without business support

What I hope we are seeing is evolution, the recognition that business can and must play a role alongside government, third sector and communities, to drive positive social change. With their power, influence and reach they can play a monumentally powerful role.

The partnership between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children (STC) is an excellent example of this. At first glance, a controversial relationship given that the charity had previously campaigned against GSK for its pricing strategies. However, STC could see a pivot point in attitude from GSK, backed up by funds and action. For example, committing to release a reformulated umbilical cord antiseptic at a not-for-profit price and sharing its manufacturing knowledge with other interested companies to enable them to make the gel. As well as taking insight and guidance from STC to inform key decisions in the development programme of this product. GSK could see how STC could add to their business in terms of experience of operating in different markets, driving change and help with areas such as complex logistics, as well as the charity appeal to staff and other stakeholders.

Since the partnership began in 2013 they have demonstrated how sharing expertise, influence and resources can have a significant impact on the lives of children around the world. Not just in markets GSK wants to invest in, but those which Save the Children believe to be the most vulnerable.

Magic formula

The Third sector is not naïve; it appreciates that businesses need to make a profit. But it also believes that good business can also be good for society. We recognise the magic for business comes from a model which delivers social change whilst unlocking opportunities for companies to make a profit.

“We recognise the magic for business comes from a model which delivers social change whilst unlocking opportunities for companies to make a profit.”

Google’s approach has demonstrated this magic. Its commitment to the environment has also been good for the bottom line. It has implemented numerous environmentally friendly initiatives, including ones as basic as using resources efficiently which has seen a significant drop in power requirements.

This magic can also be about partnering with the causes your audiences care about. Marks & Spencer has been the headline sponsor for Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning (WBCM) for six years. YouGov Profiles’ data shows that M&S customers are more likely than the UK population as a whole to not just like Macmillan, but also to have donated to it in the last 12 months. The success of this brand alignment has led M&S to not only continue and expand its sponsorship of the flagship fundraiser, but also to support us throughout the year.

The end?

Successful businesses in the CSR field are placing an importance on giving back to the communities the organisation is based and to the people who have helped shape them.

So, is this the death of CSR? No quite the opposite. It’s a shift in the way businesses see and play their role in society, that good business is good for business.