Friday, February 26, 2010

Video Blog: Alan Finkel on the Future of Electric Cars

Dr Alan Finkel is Chief Technology Officer at Better Place. In this interview with Wayne Visser, CEO of CSR International, he shares his views on the future of electric cars and some of the challenges they face. The interview was conducted at the ACCSR Conference in Melbourne on 19 February 2010.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Video: Vanessa Zimmerman on Business & Human Rights

Vanessa Zimmerman is Legal Advisor to the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights (John Ruggie) and a fellow at Harvard University. In this interview with Dr Wayne Visser, CEO of CSR International, she talks about progress to date on integrating human rights in business agenda. The interview took place at the ACCSR Conference on 20 February 2010. Vanessa speaks in her personal capacity.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Video Blog: Jonathon Hanks on ISO 26000

Jonathon Hanks is Convenor of the ISO 26000 Integrated Drafting Task Force and MD of Incite, a South African sustainability consultancy. In this interview with Dr Wayne Visser, CEO of CSR International, Jonothon talks about his hopes for ISO 26000, as well as some concerns. The interview took place at the ACCSR conference in Melbourne on 19 February 2010, where Jonathon was a keynote speaker.

Video Blog: Bruce Harvey, Rio Tinto on Community Engagement

Bruce Harvey is Global Practice Leader: Communities for the international mining company, Rio Tinto. In this interview with Dr Wayne Visser, CEO of CSR International, Bruce talks about Rio's approach CSR and stakeholder engagement and partnerships. The interview took place at the ACCSR conference in Melbourne on 19 February 2010, where Bruce was a speaker.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The State of CSR in Australia: Too much sun!

By Wayne Visser

Yesterday, at the invitation of Leeora Black, Director of the Australian Centre for CSR (ACCSR), and sponsored by La Trobe Graduate School of Management, I gave a keynote address on "Leadership for social responsibility" at the ACCSR conference in Melbourne. The conference theme was around ISO 26000 in a post financial crisis world. I will blog separately on ISO 26000 and also share some video interviews that I conducted with, among others, Jonathon Hanks, Convenor of the ISO 26000 Integrated Drafting Task Force.

In this blog, however, I want to share some hot-off-the-press research findings, as well as my own impressions of CSR in Australia. Let's start with the data. In the ACCSR 2009 State of CSR in Australia Annual Review, here are some key findings:

  • The global financial crisis (GFC) on CSR has had mixed effects: only 19% saw budget cuts and 14% reported reduced staff. On the other hand, 29% say the GFC has made them more interested in CSR, 49% say it has provided the opportunity to debate CSR and 40% say their CSR strategy is now more strongly linked to their business strategy.
  • The biggest CSR priorities for 2010 are: reducing environmental impact (13%), building understanding of our CSR approach (12%), understanding climate change (10%), improving our sustainability reporting (10%), managing regulatory impacts (10%) and developing services with social or environmental attributes (10%).
  • The lowest priority was given to combating corruption (5%) and addressing labour relations issues (5%). The latter is somewhat surprising, given that Australia lags the rest of the world on labour issues, including contravening some ILO conventions.

accsr logoACCSR also disclosed the Top Scoring Organisations on CSR for 2009, including:

  • Top Australian listed companies: AXA Australia, Coca Cola Amatil, Lihir Gold Ltd, National Australia Bank, Rio Tinto, Sensis and Westpac Banking Corp
  • Top foreign listed companies: Aon, Baxter Healthcare, BP Australia, Fuji Xerox Australia, Nestle Australia, Optus and Toshiba Australia
  • Top government business enterprises: Australia Post, Horizon Power, Hydro Tasmania, Landcom, South Australian Water Corp and WorkSafe
  • Top NGOs: Arts Project Australia, Credit Union Foundation Australia, Lifeline Australia, Marie Stopes International Australia and St Mary's House of Welcome
  • Top industry associations: Australian Institute of Company Directors and Institute of Chartered Accountants.

So much for the data and plaudits. What are my impressions so far? I sense a huge frustration among people working in CSR in Australia. The biggest reasons cited are an unsupportive (some even say backward) government policy environment, and the negative lobby power of Australia's two biggest industries - extractives (mainly mining) and agriculture.

After about 10 years of severe drought (and even fatalities from runaway bush-fires in Victoria last year), it is hard to understand why climate change is not right at the top of government and business agendas. But perhaps that is testimony to the power of vested interests in the status quo.

sydney 013Also, the opposition party is scoring cheap political points by calling everything to do with climate change a tax, to be avoided at all costs. They fail to mention that (according to the Stern Review) it may cost 1% of GDP now, but it will cost 20% of GDP later if nothing is done. So they are happy to tax the future 20 times as heavily, in order to get quick votes today.

I did hear one other explanation for why the take-up of CSR in general, and climate action in particular, is so lacklustre in Australia. "There's too much sun", said my friend and sustainability consultant, Samantha Graham. By which she meant, Australians are too laid back about life. They are eternal optimists who believe that things will get better sooner or later.

To be fair, there is some really progressive work going on in stakeholder engagement and social impact management among the mining companies (more about that another time). Meanwhile, why worry about disaster scenarios for 2050 when the sun is shining, the skies are blue, there's a cracking footie (or rugby or cricket) game on.

CSR-what? Surf's up!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

CSR quest: Crane & Matten interview Wayne Visser

Reposted from the Crane & Matten blog:

In January, our sometime collaborator and co-editor of the A-Z of CSR, Wayne Visser set off on a 12 month, 22 country ‘CSR quest’ to talk and learn about how companies can help tackle the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Crane & Matten talked to him about what he hopes to achieve and what’s in his luggage.

C&M: So, what is the CSR quest and why are you doing it?

WV: In my mind it’s a bit like the Holy Grail. Is CSR (corporate social responsibility) something that we should be chasing after, and what actually is a company’s social responsibility? My experience so far is that it means completely different things in different countries. So I want to explore this variety and then capture and share some of the innovative CSR practices that are going on out there.

But why pack up all your stuff and go on the road for a year? Couldn’t you have just sent some emails?

You can only do so much with email and internet forums. Unless you meet and engage face-to-face, you don’t really capture the learning. Also, companies are just not achieving the transformative change that we need to solve the world’s problems. This is my attempt to help turn the tide.

But is flying all over the world the most responsible way of promoting social responsibility?

There’s merit to that criticism. I’m trying to make the trip neutral through carbon offsets. But I wouldn’t be doing the trip if I didn’t think the benefits outweighed the costs – and that includes the environmental costs. I’m hoping it has a multiplying effect. If you look at the impact Al Gore had on climate change awareness, it wouldn’t have happened if he’d just stayed home.

How much difference do you expect to see in terms of how companies practice CSR in different countries?

I’m learning about the various cultures and how cultural context affects CSR – in terms of religion, history, etc. And I’m particularly targeting developing countries, where the need for CSR is greatest. Often it’s where the need is greatest that the real innovation happens. So I’m looking out for some of those kinds of differences too.

Do you think you’ll be anywhere long enough to see any real differences?

I’m under no illusions that it’s anything other than a snapshot. It’s my personal wandering adventure, so it will inevitably be ad hoc. But just by interacting on the ground and meeting people face to face you do get a good sense of what’s going on.

You’ve just been to Turkey and Kenya – was there anything that struck you in those countries?

In Kenya, what was really exciting was M-Pesa, which is an initiative that has now empowered a whole country (where 80% of people don’t even have a bank account) to access financial services through mobile phones. That’s an example of where need can drive innovation. Turkeywas still surprisingly immature with respect to CSR. But it has got hold of the corporate governance agenda and is promoting itself as a bit of a hub for corporate governance in the region, especially in the Middle East.

How are you going to go about sharing all the things that you pick up along the way?

I’m conducting workshops for various host institutions (universities, CSR associations and the like) and sharing what I’ve found. I’m also posting blogs and short videos of interviews that I conduct in each country. And I’m keeping a diary, so a CSR Quest book is a possibility some time in the future.

What if no one tunes in?

It will probably grow in momentum as it goes on. I have existing networks and outlets through Facebook, Twitter, Ning, so you never know what the impact of these things will be. Besides, I would do it even if only 1 person was listening; it’s a personal journey as much as anything.

You’re putting everything on the internet for free and you’re giving free talks – so how exactly are you financing the trip?

With difficulty! It’s all self-funded. I’m organizing more substantial workshops for some of the host institutions, and those are paid-for. But it’s very uncertain. I’ve got the tickets booked but its not all set-up – I’m relying on the power of the web and the networks to keep it going. So all offers to help are welcome!

You’re one month in now – how are you liking being on the road?

I gave up my flat, so I’m essentially homeless now, living out of a suitcase. It’s a mixture of tiring and unsettling, and invigorating and stimulating. As soon as I’m interacting with people on the ground it’s extremely rewarding. It’s already been worthwhile, so even if the rest of the tour would falter, I’d still feel it had been a success.

How big is that suitcase?

Just one quite large suitcase and the bag for the computer and the camera. So two bags. It’s not quite hand luggage but it’s not much.

Is there anything that you’re sorry that you had to leave behind?

Not yet. But I may regret going light on the clothes. I’ve just got one suit and 3 shirts. And I’m having to do a lot of underwear washing in the shower!

Crane and Matten are currently based in Amsterdam andToronto respectively. Any plans on dropping in on us?

I hope so. I plan to finish the tour with a North American leg, but I’m not planning on coming to Amsterdam at the moment. If after 10 or 12 months I get an invitation and I’m up for more, who knows? By then, though, I may well need to put my feet in concrete for a while.

More information

You can follow Wayne’s CSR Quest on the CSR International blog at or or contact him directly on

Friday, February 5, 2010

UN Habitat in Kenya: Antoine King, Programme Support Division

UN-Habitat is headquartered in Nairobi. In this interview with CSR International CEO Wayne Visser, the Director of the Programme Support Division of UN-Habitat Antoine King talks about the importance of understanding CSR in his work with cities.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Video Blog - Healthcare in East Africa: Maryjka Beckmann, AAR Holdings

Maryjka Beckmann is Executive Director of AAR Holdings Ltd, which has pioneered healthcare services in East Africa. In this interview with CSR International CEO Wayne Visser, she talks about the role of generic drugs and how the company uses CSR can tackle health issues.

Video Blog - Business ethics in Kenya: Ken Njiru, Uungwana Resource Institute

Ken Njiru is Executive Director of Uungwana Resource Institute and one of the leading proponents of business ethics in Kenya. In this interview with CSR International CEO Wayne Visser, Njiru explains how they are working on rebranding unethical behaviour as "primitive" or "backward" in the public and business consciousness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reflections on CSR in Kenya and China in Africa

Kenya 002By Wayne Visser

Last week, I was hosted by Ufadhili Trust to deliver a 2 day workshop on CSR in Nairobi, Kenya. As I was last in Kenya 20 years ago when I attended an AIESEC African Leadership Development Seminar, it was wonderful to return and compare my impressions.

The biggest changes have been political. In 1990, Daniel Arap Moi was still president (from 1978 to 2002) and ruled a one-party state with an iron hand. My impression back then was of relative stability, but no great sense of prosperity or advancement. I recall that the hotel we stayed at on the coast in Mombasa had a water-cut and the security guard carried a bow and arrow. Also, it took 9 hours to drive the 440 km of pot-hole ridden road between Nairobi and Mombasa.

Today, Kenya has a multi-party democracy under President Mwai Kibaki, although the disputed 2007 general election (and post-election violence) has led to a coalition government in which Raila Odinga shares power as Prime Minister. Apart from changes in politics, the economy is stronger (despite unemployment estimated at 40%) and the roads are noticeably improved.

In fact, the roads sparked one of the first lively debates in the workshop. Why? Because they are built by Chinese contractors. The "Chinese in Africa" topic is a real hot potato, and fascinating from a CSR perspective. The Chinese are bringing massive business investment to Africa (especially in infrastructure), but at what cost? They are accused of low labour, ethical and environmental standards, as well as taking away local employment.

I don't fully buy the "evil China" story (and I fear a new xenophobia is taking hold around the world), for a number of reasons. First, I would far rather see investment in infrastructure than development aid going to Africa. Second, the Chinese government is starting to show concern about its tarnished reputation abroad, so I expect pressure and standards to rise in the coming decade. And third, the Chinese are not all about low costs and poor standards. They have an incredible work ethic and high productivity level, which I believe introduces healthy competition and challenges attitudes of entitlement in countries like Kenya.

The other theme that emerged strongly in the workshop was corruption, although there was less "fight" in this debate. I almost sensed a feeling of resignation among most of the participants. How do you fight a disease that - like cancer - is so endemic in government, business and society at all levels?MPESA

One refreshing voice in this debate was Ken Njiru, Executive Director of Uungwana Resource Institute and one of the leading proponents of business ethics in Kenya. He believes that corruption needs to be branded in the public and business consciousness as "ushenzi", which means "barbaric", “primitive” or “backward”. This is contrasted with "uungwana", which means "civilised" or "advanced" or "righteous". (See my video interview with Ken)

As far as general CSR goes, Kenya is still mostly stuck in the PR/philanthropy mode. However, there are inspiring examples of CSR 2.0 practice, such as Vodafone/Safaricom's M-PESA scheme, which allows the unbanked to transfer money by mobile phone text. Similarly, Equity Bank, which has successfully targeted the poorest sectors of society and now, with 4.1 million accounts, makes up over 52% of all bank accounts in Kenya.

I look forward to watching how Kenya can continue to develop and inspire, both within Africa and the world, as it takes its CSR agenda forward. Thank you to Director Mumo Kivuitu and everyone at Ufadhili. (See my video interview with Mumo), Keep up the great work!