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Katrina, the Media, and Corporate Social Responsibility

On this third anniversary of Katrina, and in Gustav’s wake, we see the power of the media to engage us in bearing witness. Reporters bring the stories into our homes. Anderson Cooper stirred our minds and hearts with his candor and humanity in reporting on Katrina. As a result, people and companies came from far and wide to volunteer and contribute goods, services, and funds to help the victims.

On this third anniversary of Katrina, and in Gustav’s wake, we see the power of the media to engage us in bearing witness. Reporters bring the stories into our homes. Anderson Cooper stirred our minds and hearts with his candor and humanity in reporting on Katrina. As a result, people and companies came from far and wide to volunteer and contribute goods, services, and funds to help the victims.

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Bear witness. Tell the story. Take action. Ann Curry took a stand in reporting about the genocide in Darfur. Not only has Curry brought this story into our consciousness, but she herself has taken action. In her interview with Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, she confronted him, in the face of his denials, with her first-hand evidence of the violence. In the NYT article, Curry explained that she has been inspired since childhood by stories of people who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

As we learn what is happening in our communities and our world, we will discover ways to take action and involve others. Businesses in particular can play a major role in encouraging and supporting larger-scale and high-impact service. In the case of Katrina, Wal-Mart drew headlines by bringing their unique business skills and valued resources to bear. “The Only Lifeline Was the Wal-Mart” Devin Leonard, Fortune, 10.3.05.

Experiencing the remarkable camaraderie of the Katrina experience with his employees, CEO Lee Scott “stepped back from that and asked one simple question: How can Wal-Mart be that company – the one we were during Katrina – all the time?” “The Green Machine,” by Marc Gunther, Fortune 7.21.06.  The Katrina spirit was part of Scott’s decision to pursue a new environmental strategy for the company – a strategy that would engage his employees at all levels throughout the company, be good for business, and good for the world. Next, by establishing strategic relationships with nonprofits, Wal-Mart advanced pro-environment missions while gaining the expert counsel of Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund.

It all began with employees serving the victims of Katrina. Now, the benefits of Wal-Mart’s social responsibility approach continue to have an exponential impact, and seem likely do so long into the future.

The first step is being aware!

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About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions.

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