THE CHANGING FACE OF CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
BRAND SCHEFFER ON CSR MATCH AND THE CHANGING FACE OF CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Brand Scheffer has worked in the nonprofit sector for 30 years, running projects and programs and working in a consulting capacity. He is now Executive Director of CSR Match, a division of GBG and the GBG Foundation. Here, Mr. Scheffer describes the continuing relevance and significance of corporate-social responsibility (CSR), how it has evolved, and the future of CSR.
How was CSR Match created, and what service does it provide?
The owner and executive chairman of Global Benefits Group (GBG) asked me to come aboard because they wanted to play a more significant role in the NGO space. My suggestion was to enter the space not as an implementing non-governmental organization (NGO), but as a foundation. That’s how the GBG Foundation started: the focus was to provide financial related support for nonprofit programs in need of funding or help. Support ranged from gifts in kind (GIK), to direct funding support, to developing particular financial products that might be useful to the NGO community that weren’t available.
I realized that even though GBG Foundation’s mission was great, we weren’t fully addressing the essence of what we were trying to do: finding real financial support for NGOs. NGOs are all struggling to connect with potential donors, especially as the traditional sources of financial support have been decreasing over the years. The only real place that nonprofits have been able to go is the corporate sector.
We needed to find a way to get NGO projects and programs in front of CSR departments and the only way to do this was online. So we came up with the idea of doing this as a quasi-dating site. It was a personal joke on my part to name it “CSR Match”—my wife and I met online through a dating site, so I knew that the concept worked! The idea was to create a platform where NGOs could present projects, and where CSR departments and corporations could browse through them like a marketplace. We spent a lot of time developing this platform, and now I’m exclusively focusing on building, expanding and developing it. Today we have about 6,000 donors, corporations, and foundations that are in our database, and the NGO community is increasingly becoming aware of CSR Match.
What are the common barriers to enterprises looking to start CSR initiatives?
There are two main barriers. The greatest single barrier is not actually articulating corporate CSR objectives clearly. The original idea of corporate philanthropy was very much a short-term intervention—“let’s get a container of medicines to Biafra”—compared to today when we’re talking about a very sophisticated response to the consequences of globalization and making a contribution to realizing SDGs. That’s a very different paradigm. For many SME’s, the traditional view still is one of a short-term intervention. For those companies that are coming into the space and simply want to do some sort of activity, they need to sit down and articulate what it is they really want to achieve. What supports their corporate philosophy? What is their customer base looking for? What are the stakeholders looking for? All of those things are part of the definition of what might constitute a successful CSR program.
The second barrier is knowing what’s out there. If you spent the last 20 years focusing on developing your corporation, your focus has not been on the humanitarian space, who is operating in it, and what’s going on, what’s needed. So the problem for those corporations often is to find out how they might participate.
That’s where CSR Match comes in. You can see lots of different organizations with 1-year programs, or even 5-year programs, and you can filter through them by budget, geography, project focus, and type of support. And the process can become much more collaborative than simply being a request for funds. The opportunity exists to build a relationship with an NGO implementer, and that’s ultimately what he site is about.
How do different types of enterprises implement CSR funding differently?
The main difference is between large multinationals and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even though their priorities may be the same, the nature of and the way that they implement money would be very different, because they obviously have very different budgets.
Large multinationals nowadays are often thematically focused in their CSR: climate change, poverty eradication, education. If you’re a multinational that makes sense: your consumers want to know you’re involved in those activities, your stakeholders want to know, and it makes sense for the markets where you operate. It’s interesting to note that certain large brands are now willing to align themselves with themes that historically they wouldn’t have touched, like race and gay rights.
For the smaller enterprise, they won’t get as much impact even if they’re committed to these same thematic goals, so they need a different approach. My suggestion for those types of smaller companies, who want to participate in social impact initiatives but don’t have the budget to do it at a macro level, would be a “signature program.” For example, an SME could support a program of a small group of clinics in a particular area for example, and stay with those clinics for a period of time and so create real impact and change, so that they can actually show their employees, consumers, and shareholders quantifiable results and how they reflect on their corporate values.
The concept of “corporate-social responsibility” has, by now, been around for several decades. How it changed in that time?
CSR projects and programs have really changed, and it has to do with the way the marketplace and the world in general communicates.
The first references to CSR go back to the 1950s. At that time, CSR was based on short-term interventions, and it wasn’t an integral part of overall corporate development or marketing plan. Now, as we are faced with the realities of globalization, the whole role of corporations has altered, and the nature of how companies interact with their client base is hugely different. Nowadays, communication between consumers, and communication between stakeholders, takes place around the world and takes place instantly. Every company is visible always, including their ethics. Their entire client base is global. That’s a major shift of how companies interact with their marketplace and world at large, and has changed the nature of the way that they communicate. It’s all global.
Causes have become significant for global brands. Now it makes sense for certain brands to relate to certain issues. Historically, the corporate sector may have been even a little confrontational or adversarial to certain social issues, but that has changed as communication changed. Corporations are not always cynical but their prime objective is to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying that’s the only reason–I;m not suggesting that companies don’t also have altruistic motives and expressions- but -at the end of the day, CSR is part of an overall corporate development. And part of making money is being sensitive to a changing and evolving marketplace, and the perception a company holds in the marketplace is a significant part of that.
In a time of social enterprises, B-Corps, and other hybrid ventures, is CSR still relevant?
There are about 1,500 B-Corps in the world spread out over 40 countries, which is fantastic. But to put that in perspective, there are 30 million companies in the US alone, and about 200 million “registered” companies in the world. I think CSR remains utterly relevant. CSR initiatives are the emerging voice of an ethical worldview, however small. It is the voice of responsible commercial interaction, so CSR will remain relevant for a long time to come.
If we truly could incorporate the values of B-Corps, if that became an integral part of how we conduct business, then yes, we can restructure what a CSR program is—and this change is happening automatically anyway as it evolves. There are still a great many under-addressed areas where more CSR activity could make major significant change. For example, I think if we emphasized women’s rights and education programs more, we could make the most fantastic and phenomenal change in societies everywhere. There is so much to do to, so many issues we could undertake, that regardless of the advent of B-Corps and social ventures, CSR has a long way to go.
CSR has been criticized as opportunistic, serving the interests of the corporation, and not aligned with the real needs or desires of beneficiary communities. What more can CSR do to be more aligned and responsive?
That is a risk, and there have been inappropriate programs and instances over the last 30 years that I’m aware of that make you think “Oh my god, did we really do this.” That’s true particularly for short term interventions. For instance, you make a drop shipment of a whole bunch of blankets to some disaster area, and at a stroke, we destroy the only remaining industry that’s left, which is a blanket manufacturer. The motivations were good—but we were not paying attention. That’s really unfortunate.
The evolution of CSR has incorporated to a large extent, the idea of shared value. Instead of short-term interventions, people are much more sensitive, and are working in partnership to discern what’s appropriate. Certainly NGOs, who are often the implementers, are very attuned to it. Provided there are ears and eyes on the ground directing the process, in the form of NGOs and local actors, I think we can avoid those mistakes and move to a sustainable CSR initiative that actually makes sense.
Another criticism is that CSR may be used to whitewash harmful business practices or products. Do you see this as a continuing risk of CSR?
The opportunity to hide behind a veil of social responsibility while being irresponsible and cynical is much harder nowadays. When big multinationals, like some companies in the Niger delta, allocate a couple million dollars to some CSR initiative when they’re utterly, utterly destroying the local habitat, the people, and the social infrastructure, no one really takes that seriously. I think it’s common knowledge and much harder to hide behind.
The optimistic view would be that there is a commercial rationale for effective CSR. Everyone would prefer to have a society that is politically and economically stable with an educated workforce and a managed environment, because that’s the bedrock of commercial development. Without those basic principles in place, how are you going to build your business? How are you going to find your staff there? There is a long-term rationale for doing effective, rather than ineffective and opportunistic, CSR.
What do you foresee for the future of CSR and public-private partnerships (PPPs), with the SDGs and beyond?
If the trend that has started continues, I would hope that we would continue the shift away from short-term interventions. That is the single most important thing. If we can understand and make clear to corporations that sustained and committed support such as signature-type programs, are a more effective commercial venture, then I think we’re moving in the right direction. From a company’s point of view, a signature initiative is a much stronger, long-lasting effort that supports their own company’s enterprise better than anything else could. The answer to the SDGs’ hope for more PPPs would be to get SME initiatives to move toward signature programs, so that those too could be more aligned with SDGs. And make more commercial sense.
Increasingly, companies need to justify the money that they’re spending. We’re moving away from a simple philanthropic model to a much more commercially-focused model, where people have to justify their investment. That too lends itself to a positive direction: the perception, approach, and recognition that a synergistic relationship between the SDGs, implementers, and commercial sector is actually the more powerful way forward. We’re going to see more focused and more articulated programs.
Going forward, CSR is going to be more sustained, and focused, and participatory and synergistic. CSR Match, and the responses we’re getting to it, is a good example of that and it suggests that’s happening. We’re creating a social networking platform that seems to be fulfilling that particular niche.
Learn more and sign up for CSR Match at CSRmatch.org.
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