Sunday, August 2, 2015

CSR Lessons from Shanghai

I was speaking at a B4B event in Shanghai, and the whole line up of speakers was very impressive, with a good mix of experienced social innovators and CSR practitioners.

There are a lot of good initiatives and ideas too. Not really looking at the impact some of these initiatives have created, but they do sound innovative and solve some problems.

1) Buick - Human Traffic Signs (CSR) on road safety

2) Voice of China

The Voice of China, a popular TV program crowdsourced viewers and used their voices to read popular Chinese novels, so that the blind and the illiterate can listen to the novels.


There are various other cases where big organizations do CSR without "donating" but leveraging on their expertise to create sustainable change.

Of course, being China, there are many people who leverage on accidents and fear to create sale.

A swim coach used this message after a boating disaster in China. "Learn to swim to survive." It did get him more sales and created more visibility to the problem of people not able to swim, however, many people strongly agree that the message was not in good taste, and purely for profits. But taking a step back, I do feel that it is a communications issue and if the message was "Learn to swim, to save lives" It could also promote the importance of swimming, and people should learn it to save the lives of others.


CSR boosts a company’s brand, manages risk, and just plain saves money. But perhaps most importantly the general public is clamoring for companies to enact good, fair business practices — and most of that public pressure comes through social media.

There are many examples of businesses moved into more sustainable practices by a social media backlash, so is CSR done dues to public feedback or social media? Or does a company need to do CSR because of public feedback?

Feedback through social media is immediate, permanent, and extremely public. When individuals feel strongly about a company’s performance on social or environmental issues, one small voice can quickly become a swarm, difficult for even the most shielded executive to ignore. For this reason, social has become a driving force in many companies’ CSR agendas.

And CSR today is not as primitive as many Asian countries think. Donating a % of profits to charity is not really CSR, but rather, a poor attempt at CSR. CSR today is integration into key business operation. One of the easiest ways to be on the right side of the social media tide is to be proactive — and personal — by listening to feedback and responding in an authentic way.

CSR should not be just donations for sustainability. CSR leadership development creates a cool company to work, and improves employee retention. In many forward thinking organizations, CSR is so in line with business that the word social does not even need to be uttered and business practices will consider many social end environmental aspects before implementing.

Many companies with unsustainable practices are interested in CSR, but CSR cannot "white wash" the pollution they create. CSR should be looking to change the business model or change the product!

When the CSR budget is from Marketing budget and is percentage of profits, sometimes there can be a budget issue with CSR as it is seen as "unimportant" and a cost center, and when profits drop, the budget for CSR tends to follow. This creates a detrimental effect as some programs cannot be terminated halfway and trust will be lost.

CSR can also be co-created by NGO and Corporation and this collaborative engagement is key. Much empathy is needed and it can create a Win-Win situation for both parties. However, the corporate skills and NGO needs must match. It should not be done at the convenience of the corporation, but rather, done together as equals.

CSR should be in the DNA of everyone instead of just a department in the company.

-- Robin Low