Increasing CSR investment and forging social sector partnerships in a post-COVID-19, recessionary world isn’t just the right thing to do, but the smart thing.
Undoubtedly you’re working overtime to help your organisation survive during isolation, or perhaps you’re one of the rare few capitalising on the opportunities it’s created. CSR & Social Good may not be a priority or top of mind. However, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to rewrite the social contract between business and society, to reshape your company to emerge better attuned to the needs of society.
Conversations about CSR are the catalyst for discussing how Business and Society will collaborate, moving forward. And collaboration is surely the key to getting Australia back on its feet after the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the bushfires. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, with budgets tightening as we face quite possibly the worst recession this century, this is the time to INCREASE investment in CSR & Social Good. If anything, this crisis has demonstrated that we’re not invincible; our economy and society are fragile, and we’re all intrinsically connected.
Are you working around the clock, negotiating with suppliers and partners, with compassion and decency, to ensure everyone makes it through? Do you continue to support customer needs even though it means pivoting the business? Are you supporting your employees to work remotely, keep their family safe and looking out for their mental wellbeing?
If yes, then you’re already practising CSR.
The evolution of CSR
As we enter a challenging time of economic contraction, the pressure on the For-Purpose sector – those charities and non-profits serving our most vulnerable Australians – is going to be immense. Issues like domestic violence, mental illness, unemployment, and homelessness will skyrocket. This is not the time for companies and brands to just look inward, focusing purely upon how to survive and adapt. It’s the right time to support the non-profit sector with resources – financial, expertise and reach – because they are the sector that will nurture Australians back to work and back to health, back to being consumers that are engaging fully in society again – and purchasing products & services from those companies that demonstrated they stand for more than just profit.
Consumers worldwide, including Australia, have been calling for Companies and brands to play a central role in solving social problems. Now is the time to step up and answer that call, and be a force for good, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing for your business.
Sometimes, in order to understand the future, we need to take a look back. Let’s see where CSR came from and how it has evolved.
The ‘Greed is Good’ Eighties
In the eighties – the era of Gordon Gekko (from the movie Wall Street), the ‘yuppie’ and punk rock – I was a PR consultant in London helping my clients gain ‘column inches’. Scandals were rare, and when they occurred, it was possible to control the narrative. Communication was one-way – from TV, radio and newspapers to consumers. Companies and brands with big budgets controlled the message.
Consumers had a high level of trust in institutions – they were respected, and expectation of wrong-doing was low. Technological advancements were about to become a revolution as the first Apple mac said ‘hello’ to the world, and the World Wide Web was soon to change the way we communicate – forever.
The term CSR didn’t exist. The focus was PROFIT – delivering shareholder value. Some companies donated to charities; this was called ‘philanthropy’, mostly passive, hands-off. But things were about to change. A woman – selling body lotions from a little shop near my home, offering refills, and campaigning against animal testing – intrigued me. Anita Roddick rewrote the rulebook for the beauty industry and showed her peers in all industry sectors that a company could be both profitable and purposeful. Reading her books, my intrigue turned to admiration and I realised she was on to something. I wasn’t the only one – she transformed her ‘little shop’ into a billion-dollar global business, The Body Shop, tapping into the conscious consumer that wanted great products, free from harm.
The Nineties – the ‘Triple Bottom Line’
For me personally, the nineties began back-packing through Africa, India and Nepal, after becoming disillusioned with my superficial life. I met mountain gorillas in Zaire, discovered the sound of silence in my trek to Everest base camp, and battled malaria and robbers in Nairobi. After a year of adventures, I landed in India to discover the most extreme poverty but also, incredible joy. An epiphany at Mother Theresa’s mission saw me return to London with a strong desire to contribute to society, although I had no idea what that might look like.
The concept of a social contract between business and society was beginning to take hold – that companies exist because of public consent, and therefore have an obligation to contribute to society’s needs. The Triple Bottom Line, (TBL) acknowledges that, in addition to Profit, there are People and Planet bottom lines that are equally important.
This is the era when companies were DEFENSIVE – it was about meeting legal requirements to avoid fines and penalties rather than it being a strategic move. Back then, aside from The Body Shop, I couldn’t find many companies that were embracing this beyond scattergun philanthropy, so I moved into the non-profit sector. I worked for a charity called the NSPCC, transforming transactional relationships based on ‘fundraising’ or ‘staff volunteering’ with companies like Tesco, Unigate and Pizzaland into mutually beneficial partnerships that enhanced the brand. My future career as a corporate matchmaker began to emerge.
I moved to Australia in 1994 and started my company Cavill + Co a year later. Being new in town, I was unable to penetrate CEO gatekeepers, so I focused on what I knew best – marketing. I introduced the term ‘Cause Related Marketing’ and the media called me a ‘new age marketer’! My first clients were AMP and Kellogg’s, where I brokered 2 x 6-year partnerships – hard to believe that was 25 years ago!
The Light-bulb Noughties
In the early noughties corporate affairs began looking at community affairs, recognising that business could benefit from investing in community issues. CSR was beginning to gain some traction, and community engagement became part of strategy. In 2004 a documentary called ‘The Corporation’ was released. Not only did this highlight questionable business practices that were harmful to People and Planet, it brought to my attention a new kind of leader in Ray Anderson, Founder and CEO of Interface, a carpet manufacturer. Ray spoke honestly of the negative impact Interface was having on the environment. In a most striking interview, he said,
“The way I’ve been running Interface is the way of the plunderer – plundering something that’s not mine, something that belongs to every creature on earth”
Ray convened a formidable taskforce to shape an environmental vision and strategy – to become carbon neutral by 2020 – he called it Mission Zero®. All goals were achieved this year – alas Ray passed away before he could see them. What an extraordinary legacy he has left – the Interface story is one of the most admired and shared case studies on CSR.
Whilst environmental laws have certainly evolved to protect the environment, we’re not adapting fast enough, given the compelling evidence for climate change.
Part 2 details: the Tipping point for CSR – the 2020’s; the difference between CSR & Sustainability; busting the CSR jargon; the 5 key reasons to increase CSR & Social Good right now with stats to back it up; and a free Infographic detailing the Business Case for CSR & Social Good.
Coming to an inbox near you next week!
Thanks for reading.
 Young Urban Professionals