If your corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is ancillary to your corporate strategy, it’s on the chopping block–or already in the waste bin. This is especially true in today’s economy. On the flip side, you have a chance to gain a competitive advantage by creating a unique approach to making the world a better place.
Say the CEO or the board asks why the company is spending money on a particular CSR program. You need to have an answer ready, but you should also see it as an opportunity to make the case for a sustainable, strategically integrated CSR program.
Twenty years ago and earlier, with rare exceptions, the only corporate charity was a bit of gifting by the CEO, perhaps to the arts. Ten years ago, corporate philanthropy and volunteerism became popular as an a la carte add on. In these posts from the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), I’m turning the spotlight on the avant garde of CSR: companies that make community and global problem-solving part of their business platform, thus making “doing good” sustainable.
Genzyme, one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies, is a good example. Through its Humanitarian Assistance for Neglected Diseases (HAND) initiative, Genzyme supports efforts to discover and advance novel treatments for neglected diseases such as malaria, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness. According to Genzyme, “The company does not seek to profit from the commercialization of any products it helps to develop under this program.”
Sounds fantastic, but I wanted to know: “Why would a for-profit company do this?” I posed that question to James A. Geraghty, Sr. Vice President, Corporate Development, Product Acquisition, and Partnering Transactions, Genzyme. “If we don’t do it, who will?” he replied. That response mimics what I heard from speakers at CGI–Genzyme saw a global problem, and used their company’s expertise to solve it.
But I pressed him on this: “What’s the case to shareholders, and how does your board of directors support this?” Geraghty explained that historically, pharmaceutical companies have not had great relationships with governments in developing and emerging countries. Yet those are, of course, important markets for companies like Genzyme. “Governments are the decision makers. We want to develop their respect as partners, so that we can bring forward our commercial portfolio in the future.” Genzyme’s portfolio includes drugs for rare inherited disorders, renal disease, cancer, orthopedics, and diagnostic testing.
The Broad Institute, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and the Harvard School of Public Health are among Genzyme’s multiple partners in this initiative. Genzyme’s “changemaking” commitment (as they refer to it at CGI) has the essential elements of successful and sustainable business CSR strategies: alignment with company goals and objectives, research and metrics to demonstrate need and progress, partnerships and alliances, employee engagement, and leadership from the CEO.