All corporate citizenship work is change management; citizenship programs are designed with the express intent of creating meaningful, positive change in our companies and communities. Citizenship professionals are adept at building the case, marshalling (sometimes scarce) resources, and imagining that there could be better education, safer neighborhoods, and a healthier environment than there is now.
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:
“…Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” ~John F. Kennedy
British Standard, BS65000 (2014) defines "organizational resilience" as "ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, and respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper."
Corporate citizenship has a unique role to play in ensuring your company continues to thrive even in difficult times. A well-designed corporate citizenship program is the foundation to being able to weather adverse events. There are four critical practices to help any company PASS through disruptions and continue to thrive:
Who matters most: shareholders or the people? Around the world a revolt seems under way. A growing cohort—perhaps a majority—of citizens want corporations to be cuddlier, invest more at home, pay higher taxes and wages and employ more people, and are voting for politicians who say they will make all that happen. Yet according to law and convention in most rich countries, firms are run in the interest of shareholders, who usually want companies to use every legal means to maximize their profits…executives fear that they cannot reconcile these two impulses. Should they fire staff, trim costs and expand abroad—and face the wrath of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, the disgust of their children, and the risk that they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes?... Or do they bend to popular opinion and allow profits to fall, inviting the danger that, in the run up to their 2018 annual general meeting, a fund manager…will topple them for underperformance?
Schumpeter, "Six sects of shareholder value," The Economist, January 21, 2017
All corporate citizenship work is about change. Every environmental or social investment made by a company is about using the assets of business to change our operating context for the better. This should be a no-brainer, right? Isn’t any change for the better, well…good? The rhetoric put forth in The Economist’s Schumpeter column earlier this month presents with wry humor a range of six corporate responses to the question it proposes and highlights the conflicts that arise from competing social and economic perspectives.
In the more than three decades since the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship was founded, so much in our field has changed. Corporate citizenship has gone from a sideline effort of a few well-meaning companies to a strategic business imperative deemed vital by the majority of executives. Why has this shift occurred? Because business leaders have come to recognize that corporate citizenship delivers business AND social value—and that both of these are crucial to achieving sustainable growth.
In the last three decades, the role of a corporate citizenship professional has evolved. While many still operate in small teams, you have become experts at drawing on the ideas and information, expertise, effort, and financial support of your internal and external partners to advance your businesses, your communities, and our world.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Our mission of employing each company’s specific capabilities to provide quantifiable value to both business and society demands much of us as corporate citizenship professionals. To achieve it, each of us must have a thorough understanding of our company’s social and environmental impacts, an awareness of our stakeholders’ needs and interests, a strategy that addresses the issues that are material to our business and which our firm’s capabilities are best suited to tackle, and a way to measure and evaluate our impact.
Corporate citizenship professionals from across the United States and Canada will be traveling to the Boston College campus to attend our Management Intensive and Leadership Academy courses. These groups explore business and management approaches and tools that can be applied to their corporate citizenship, CSR, employee engagement, and sustainability jobs. Each year, one of the most popular questions we field is: "How do you create a corporate citizenship strategy?"
Last month, the leaders of seven of the world’s largest economies came together for the G7 summit, and committed to ending reliance on fossil fuels by 2100. In concert with that goal, they pledged to reduce carbon emissions 40-70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050. While the practical details of how these reductions are to be achieved have yet to be outlined, the commitment is a strong signal of how climate change has risen to the forefront of the global environmental and geopolitical discussions. Now, according to Sir David King, the top climate change diplomat in the United Kingdom, we can expect a climate deal to be reached during November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Business leaders are aware of the increasingly significant role that corporate citizenship can play in overall business strategy, and how—if effectively aligned—investments can improve performance.
According to the Center’s 2014 State of Corporate Citizenship study, the majority of executive respondents view corporate citizenship as a way to achieve strategic corporate goals and they expect its importance to increase in the future. In fact, for the first time in the decade that the Center has conducted the study, the majority of executives anticipate resources for every corporate citizenship dimension to increase over the next three years.
Let's be honest—every day we wake up with a different level of energy and patience to think big and manage our corporate citizenship efforts. We each juggle the need to be strategists, issue area experts, catalysts for internal and external action, and practical leaders about what we can accomplish. This process is not easy and requires a lot more than caffeine.