From a law firm offering pro bono services to an organization empowering women to a small company supporting community service projects, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are quickly becoming standard business practice.
According to CorporateRegister.com, companies around the world published 30 percent more CSR reports in 2014 than 2010—an increase likely driven by consumer demand. A recent Nielsen study revealed that 55 percent of global online consumers are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies committed to social and environmental impact.
CSR programs, also referred to as "corporate citizenship" or a "triple bottom line," can create value by enhancing an organization's reputation, building trust among stakeholders, creating a better public image and increasing positive media coverage. But what makes a great CSR program tick—and where do you start?
To learn more, we spoke with four passionate corporate citizenship leaders. Here they talk about their biggest challenges, important initiatives and advice for other company leaders aspiring to adopt a triple bottom line philosophy.
How did you get involved in corporate citizenship? After a career in advertising, I volunteered for the Peace Corps—working in community economic development in Panama—before attending business school at Cornell University. I see my role in corporate citizenship as a perfect way to use those blended experiences and skills.
What current initiative are you most excited about? We are building a partnership with the Peace Corps where IBMers can volunteer for short-term assignments with Peace Corps Response. This year we will have three different pilots together: Ghana, the Philippines and Mexico. We've begun the Ghana pilot with projects focused on girl's education in conjunction with the Let Girls Learn initiative.
What qualities make for a successful CSR program? Get advice from people who have done this before. Many companies have joined in on projects for our Corporate Service Corpsprogram to learn, and have then have gone off on their own.
What current initiative or project are you most excited about? I'm helping to organize an annual summer program that offers funded internships to high school students in the U.S. at local non-profit organizations. The program culminates in a week-long conference in Washington, D.C. where students learn about the intersection of business, government and philanthropic organizations.
What is the most challenging part of your job? There is always more that can be done in the philanthropic space. We must simply put our best effort forward knowing there is always more work to be done.
What qualities make for a successful CSR program? I believe it is important for companies to observe and seriously consider the environments they work in before taking action. In order to make the greatest impact, you need to have local, on-the-ground knowledge of the communities you hope to serve and must avoid blindly channeling your resources into areas where they may not be put to the best use.
How did you get involved in corporate citizenship? I was fortunate to be interning at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts when they were looking to develop a community involvement program. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, applied for the job and have been a part of developing our corporate citizenship programming ever since.
What current initiative or project are you most excited about? The last few years, we've honed in on central areas of volunteer opportunities to engage our associates and employees—one of which is a healthy living focus. We recently started working with the Trustees of Reservations and Boston Public Market, which provide demonstrations and tasting classes on a weekly basis.
What qualities make for a successful CSR program? Companies that have successful corporate citizenship programs are the ones that can align a non-profit's mission with the company's priorities and goals.
What current initiative or past project are you most excited about? Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) is a grades 9-14 school in Brooklyn, NY, created by IBM, the New York City Department of Education and The City University of New York. Through P-TECH, students are earning their high school diplomas and associate degrees and are first in line for jobs with their industry partners.
What is the most challenging part of your job? The most challenging part of my job isn't "my" challenge at all, but rather the challenge our world leaders face every day. What we have is the opportunity to leverage our people and our citizenship programs to help these leaders solve the most pressing problems in their countries, states, regions and the communities where we live and work.
What qualities make for a successful CSR program? For a company to embrace citizenship as a core practice, each employee must be a steward of the company's reputation as a global corporate citizen. Trust, personal responsibility and commitment to community keep a company successful.
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