Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An Agenda for the Future of CSR (Part 2)

An idealistic-realistic approach calls us to engage in making CSR a catalyst for systemic change. Consequently a new agenda for CSR can emerge, with four essential tracks where coalitions need to be built.

Changing the baseline

The first track involves changing the baseline of markets, the driving force behind most business. This will involve coalitions of businesses, financiers, NGOs, governments, and others, aimed at changing the rules that govern the basics of capitalism, such as company law, currency flows, property rights, competition, tax management and executive accountability. Such work will be time-consuming and technical, and may seem too abstract and negative for some. But there are other crucial things to do.

Playing the Solos

The second track involves playing the solos within markets, by pioneering sustainable and just models of enterprise. Social entrepreneurs will help prefigure a new economy through creating businesses and projects that are inherently just and sustainable, including environmental technologies, co-operatives, and even sustainability stock markets. Their own success and their ability to takeover the mainstream economy will, however, depend partly on how well the first track is changing the baseline. Page 4 of 5 © Wayne Visser

To some people these first two tracks may seem too much like pontificating about macro economics, on the one hand, or following a fashion for eco-ethical enterprise on the other. They will focus instead on how people continue to be abused, poisoned, evicted, sacked and even killed, because of corporate interests and activities.

Singing the Chorus

Therefore the third track involves standing alongside and singing the chorus with those negatively affected by current market dynamics. Thus some will continue to work either with or against large companies to help specific groups of people improve their lot or seek redress – an area where much of the current effort on CSR and corporate accountability is located.

Maintaining the Beat

The fourth track involves maintaining the beat within the CSR profession, to keep its focus on a transformative agenda. This will require preventing it from becoming either solely client-directed and only interested in the goals of its paymasters, or protectionist and primarily interested in regulating access to services in this area. Instead, coalitions will form to help evolve a values-oriented profession, to maintain the heartbeat that is essential to a transformative movement.

Choosing Our Future?

The activities one chooses to engage in will depend on one’s particular skills, inclinations and circumstances. But for CSR to be part of the Rise and Shine scenario, a four-track agenda is essential, with the tracks harmonising to create a powerful music greater than the sum of its parts.

This means that people working in each of the four tracks will need to recognise the value of each and ensure their own work synergises with, rather than undermines, the other tracks. Unfortunately this is not always the case at the moment, as some people suggest their path is the only right one. We hope that developing and sharing a vision of how different activities could actually synergise towards creating systemic change will help that vision to become a reality.

Co-authored with Jem Bendell. Extracted from “The Corporate Responsibility Movement” (2009) by Bendell, Visser, et al.