January 29, 2009

2009 Leadership Conference on Global Corporate Citizenship

I spent today at the Conference Board's 2009 Leadership Conference on Global Corporate Citizenship. After a year and a half as a student, it was great to get back into the professional world and hear what CSR practitioners are talking about these days. Some of the day's major themes included the following:
  • Making the business case for CSR
  • Definitions - are sustainability, CSR, etc. all the same thing? What's included in and what's excluded from the definitions? Does it matter?
  • Environmental concerns - especially water and energy
  • Government regulations and their relationship to corporate engagement
  • Collaboration among competitors (i.e., industry initiatives)
  • Public/private partnerships

Perhaps most of all, though, the current economic environment came up again and again. Will we see "CSR attrition" in the coming months? Does the bad economy mean that companies, facing low profits, should back off from CSR for awhile? Or does increased need suggest that this is the time to step up such commitments?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I did recently read
an article that addresses this debate through the metaphor of soccer. While I never played soccer, I found the framework both insightful and accessible. The article was written by Shankar Venkateswaran last June, before we really knew how bad it would get, and he's talking specifically about Indian companies, but it's just as relevant here (wherever that may be) and now.

Over the next few days, I'll be writing about the conference and the issues raised above. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading about responsibility and recessions through the lens of strikers and full-backs!


  1. It's an interesting question raised around whether or not companies will cut back their CSR-related activities in light of the financial crisis. I have to believe the answer is "no" given that such activities can serve as a relatively low cost PR campaign to attract new customers, employees, and other stakeholders to the business. The advertising of such initiatives may be reduced, but my guess is the activities themselves will continue.

  2. Mike:

    You raise a good point about CSR'ers being a low cost opportunity, however, the problem as I see it, is that identifying and retaining low cost/high value initiatives requires corporations to be analystical, intelligent and strategic in their layoffs.

    It seems that these recent reductions in staffing, at least at the larger corporations, have been of a "slash now and pick up the pieces later" character.

    When we see Caterpillar cutting 20,000 jobs in a single day, I wonder how a layoff so large could be precise enough to have considered each person's or each department's value.

    I fear that in this time of perceived crisis, our CEOs and Boards of Directors, at some of these large corproations, are acting more on chaos and less on analysis.

    Of course, if a corporation has a strong CSR program to being with, then as a whole, it is probably a more analytical/strategic corporation and maybe everything I wrote above is a moot point.

    I guess only time will tell.

  3. Hi Jessica - thanks for bringing attention to these important questions. I am particularily interested in the questions related to: leadership development and sustainable CSR and the characteristics of organizations who chose to maintain their commitment to CSR. I suspect that organizations that see CSR as more than a social marketing approach (i.e., understand the relationship to their bottom line metrics) will retain their commitment. Also organizations that link their leadership development to core competencies required for effective social responsibility will move beyond seeing is as a line item for the budget to just `the way of doing business'.

  4. Jessica - the link to the article you reference doesn' seem to be working. Would you be able to repost the link?


  5. Penny - here's another link to the article: http://business.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?101226

    The articles is from June 2008, so I'm not sure if it will stay up permanently, but this link works for me as of today.

    Thanks for your comments!