Now entering its third decade, CSR is at last stepping into the spotlight. CSR has moved from the corporate cubicle to the board room, onto the curricula of the world's most prestigious MBA programs, and the agendas of the most prominent global CEO gatherings. Not having embarrassed myself with my 2010 forecast, here are my thoughts about CSR in 2011.
In 2011, it will become clearer that the most effective way to enlist companies in CSR is to demonstrate the benefits of CSR to companies as well as communities—the win-win. Telling companies that they should do something, especially on moral grounds, is not a highly effective way to motivate deeply committed action, especially when the moral case to spend shareholder money is debatable. Confession: I have always balked at the term "responsibility" in CSR, since many have seen the term responsibility as a should rather than the win-win. I have used and favor the term Leveraging Good Will.
I believe that in 2011 we will see more companies incorporating CSR business strategies because the win-win to business as well as the community will become more evident; there will be a continued move away from the should reason for involvement. This trend is part of larger social forces. These include, among others:
- People have a greater appreciation of the power of markets. The Boomer generation that originally eschewed markets later participated in the largest economic boom and then the greatest economic debacle since the Great Depression. Market-oriented people are not should people; they have to be convinced by rational arguments.
- The power of command and control ideologies has decreased over recent years, so people no longer give or volunteer because they are told to, but rather because they want to. Gone are the days of obligatory federated giving through the workplace. In are GlobalGiving, DonorsChoose, VolunteerMatch, and TapRoot, where people are directly involved in decisions about philanthropy, service, and conversations about making the world better. People like to be at companies where philanthropy and service are part of the conversation and the culture, and people can engage in a variety of ways.
- With globalization and the media, the problems of the world are beamed into our homes, personal computers, and cell phones. We hold images of the victims of the Haiti earthquake right in our hands along with the means to help alleviate their starvation. We see the environmental and economic devastation caused by BP Deepwater Horizon. Everything is out in the open, and people care and vote with their consumer dollars.
- The Millennials demand to participate in decision-making and improving their communities and the world. They expect to work in jobs that are meaningful and where their lifestyles are fulfilling. The best and the brightest are attracted to employers who are aligned with a similar world view.
- People have greater respect for different cultures, their values, and their national autonomy. This is equalizing the give and take of trading relationships. Successful companies are those that recognize that they can be respectful partners with countries and individuals with whom they do business.
- People have a growing awareness that every life matters, the future matters, and we all share the same Planet Earth. Shareholders are interested in dividend returns but also the world that their companies will leave for their children and grandchildren.
The bottom line is that the world of empire, entitlement, and should is over. Going forward, more and more companies will engage in CSR—not because they should, but when it's in the best interests of the company and its shareholders to invest in the environment so that the company has renewable resources to manufacture its goods in the future; foster economic development to ensure that workers and customers will thrive in robust communities; provide workplace safety, education, and health care to ensure that it has a capable and productive workforce; improve communities where the company has a presence in order to foster government and public relations; deal fairly with indigenous people in order to access natural and renewable resources that the company needs for its products; and build its reputation among customers and stakeholders by respecting society's expectations with regard to the environment, human rights, and corporate ethics.
As I have stressed in my CSR publications and consulting in the past two decades, the fundamental beauty of CSR is that it is based on a win-win for the company and the community. As we move forward in 2011 and the coming decade, I predict that a) the case for CSR will become more and more focused on the benefits to companies as well as the community—the win-win; and b) companies will become more and more adept at leveraging good will as a core business strategy.