Corporate Citizenship Blog

Ecosystems create value

Posted by Katherine V. Smith, Executive Director on Apr 5, 2017 1:30:13 PM

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On Monday, March 27, I had the pleasure of welcoming more than 550 CSR professionals to the Center’s 2017 International Corporate Citizenship Conference, and had the opportunity to share my thoughts on the event’s theme: Corporate Citizenship Ecosystems. Below you can find a video and a transcript excerpting my remarks:

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"Great companies like [our Conference convening sponsor] State Street build lots of very complex systems across their companies. What differentiates an ecosystem? If we look at the roots of the word, it can give us some clues.

I thought going into this that the word ecosystem actually came from ecology and from nature, but in fact if you look back at the roots of the word, “eco” comes from oîkos from the ancient Greek, which is a house. It isn't a house where you and I live, but a house as in a great estate, a plantation where things were made and processed and sold into markets. “System” comes from sústēma, the parts that organize to make a whole. From the very beginning, this word was actually used to describe human enterprise. It wasn't until we had better scientific knowledge that we started to apply it to the natural world. For millennia, we've been using this word to describe how we create value in the world, and the key is inter-operability. Ecosystems cross boundaries to create a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. Ecosystems create value.

For corporate citizenship professionals, our ecosystem initially was limited, or people thought it was limited, to the social domain. Today, leading companies understand that in order to have a really vibrant, healthy society and economy we have to have a healthy environment. To have a healthy society, we have to have a healthy environment. To have a healthy economy, we have to have a healthy society, and, of course, to have a healthy company, we have to have a healthy economy. You, the corporate citizenship professionals, are the ones that make these very important connections. You're the ones who are the boundary crossers—who are connecting the assets of your business to our social and environmental domains. It's tremendously difficult work. It's tremendously important work, and I would just like to thank you for all of the great work that you do out in the community. We saw some great examples at the Film Festival last night, sponsored by FedEx. But, I want to give you a round of applause, and give yourselves a round of applause for all your great programs.

Let's take a look at a cross section of one of your ecosystems and look at the natural, the social, and the economic dimensions. So, in the natural world, on the left-hand side of the equation, we have productive land, species diversity, oceans and freshwater. On the right-hand side, we have social and economic objectives that we are all trying to achieve to create a healthy globemigration, health, safety, livelihoods, enterprises, commerce. In order for our objectives—our social and economic objectives—to be able to be achieved, we need to have healthy, natural ecosystems on the left-hand side. These things exist in relationship to each other. Ecosystems have to exist in equilibrium. When equilibrium is disrupted, then our ecosystems start to collapse. The work that you do is tremendously important, not only to ensuring the success of your company, but also to ensuring the success of our world and the health of our world.

You make tremendous contributions, of course, to the success of your companies. If we look at the corporate citizenship ecosystem, we have lots of activities that we undertake on a daily basis —policy and disclosure, sustainable operations, stakeholder engagement, giving, volunteering. We have economic objectives in our companies that we are trying to achieve and community objectives—engagement with consumers and communities, productivity, the ability to attract and retain employees (which we're going to hear about from State Street), reducing usage of natural resources. All of these things are supported by the very important work that our corporate citizenship teams do. You keep these ecosystems alive. You're the boundary spanners—the ones that create business and social value.

And, of course, I hope that the Center for Corporate Citizenship is considered to be a very important part of your ecosystem. We're here to help. Our purpose is to help people in the field know more, do more, and achieve more with their corporate citizenship investments. The list on this slide is by no means comprehensive, but these are just some of the ways that we aim to support your work. I want to highlight just three achievements from this year. The way that we conduct this work is through membership services, education, and research. I want to highlight an achievement in each of those domains.

Membership Services:

Membership this year continues to grow. We've had eight successive years of growth thanks in no small part to our terrific leader, Colleen Olphert, in membership services who's been leading that team. We now have 430 corporate members from a tremendously diverse group of industries, and we think it's important that we continue to revitalize this community because it means we're bringing more energy and more ideas into the community of practice. Thank you for all that you've done to help us grow the membership. We're very excited that this community continues to be in enriched.

Education:

Many of you have gone through our classes, and this year we're actually able to put all of our classes online which we’re very excited about. Stewart Rassier, our director of executive education, has actually been instrumental in getting this done. If you have had the aspiration to earn a certificate from the Center for Corporate Citizenship but have been limited by travel or if you've had global colleagues who would have liked to participate but couldn't bring them to the U.S., they can now access these courses from their desk in a self-paced learning environment. We're very excited about that.

Research:

On your tables is the 2017 State of Corporate Citizenship. This is a study that we've been doing since 2003, and in the last two study instances, in 2014 and 2017, we see that executive perspectives on corporate citizenship actually seem to be solidifying towards a positive trend. At the very beginning of the study, more than a decade ago, I think executives, it's safe to say, could consider these initiatives that we undertake every day as “nice to have”. Today, they're definitely considered essential, and most executives intend to either maintain investment or increase investment over the next three years. We're very excited about that.”

Topics: Corporate Citizenship, Partnerships, Responsible Corporate Leadership, Value of corporate social responsibility

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