Only “Selfish CSR” is Sustainable

csr

If the “C”in CSR stands for Corporate, then why should we not follow all corporate practices in the process of executing on social responsibility. Should CSR be unrelated to corporate activity? Why can it not be with selfish interest and with a motive of maximizing gain (albeit not always monetary gain) like all good capitalist logic dictates.

This TED Talk by Dan Pallotta clearly illustrates that whenever we have taken the high and mighty road to social good, we have failed. At the very least, it should be a signal to try a different approach. The definition detestably attributed to Einstein (or even Rita Mae Brown’s mention of it in her book, Sudden Death,1983) says

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

So why do we believe that we will get better results if we continue to follow the same approach to CSR or implementation of any form of social upliftment program!!!!

Dan Pallotta has an unconventional view of nonprofits: To innovate and really make an impact, he thinks they should function with business-minded acumen. In fact, he shares an essential reading list that explains the mechanics of effective philanthropy. He makes a very telling point when he says…..

“You want to make $50 million selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But if you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, you’re considered a parasite yourself.”

Sadly, sustainable social enterprise (one that makes money out of social good) is something that is still not viewed as true selfless social service – which is also the reason why so many efforts fail. Furthermore, in my opinion, it is also one of the key reasons why corporates and NGOs view each other suspiciously; the former views the latter as “tree-huggers” with no fiscal discipline while the NGOs see companies as profiteering bandits with no scruples. Unfortunately, this mutual distrust has lead to a lack of any framework for harnessing the millions / billions that companies spend in the name of philanthropy to the right causes that NGOs champion.

The Kennedy School of Government has compiled an exhaustive list of social reporting requirements by country which are being enforced by governments or stock exchanges. This would be another great pool of funds that can be leveraged effectively only if we deploy it using the same business principles that helped generate it in the first place. Else it will find its way into some tax saving statutory investments with no access for public use.

There is really no reason for social enterprise to rediscover a recipe for successful  running or their organisations; it already exists. They just need to be open to accepting these business principles without losing sighe of the objectives they have chosen to serve.

P.S. – In my next “Selfish CSR” post, I will try and explore how the implementation of  CSR must be entwined with the business strategy of the organisation. Else it will just be a donation without continuity.

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