by Alix Charles, Berkeley, CA
Worldwide, CSR funding is a multi-billion-dollar pool of potential support for community-based organizations around the world who play a critical role in the implementation of the SDGs. Corporate social responsibility goes beyond the responsible management of corporate activities, and seeks to positively impact society at large, or the communities in which the company functions. Among the many forms that CSR takes, efforts could involve managing social impact programs to counterbalance or remediate negative externalities of a company’s operations, general philanthropic giving (e.g. donation of funds or services), or the management of an external foundation funded by a portion of the company’s revenue.
In order to ensure that this opportunity is capitalized on, here are some questions for private sector companies to consider when designing or refining CSR strategies.
What do sustainable CSR initiatives look like?
Opportunities are endless for how the private sector can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs by 2030. One way to ensure that CSR initiatives will last and successfully grow as the company continues to develop is to engage the company’s employees and CSR beneficiaries during the process of designing CSR programs. This could mean utilizing the popular private-sector practice of user-centered design (a.k.a. Human-Centered Design), commonly used for product and user-experience development. Companies can then adapt this approach towards the goal of designing a program that motivates the company’s internal stakeholders while meeting the specific needs of the societies or causes which the company seeks to support.
Who is being left behind by CSR strategies?
As can be expected from the private-sector, many CSR programs involve red tape and strict regulations leading to them being very exclusive, labor-intensive for companies to implement, and for prohibitive for many organizations to benefit from. Thinking about who a CSR strategy has failed to support or has left behind is important.
Often times, small community-based organizations who work in remote locations are at the bottom of the list for grant programs and other CSR initiatives, and often do not have the resources to ensure they meet programs’ strict requirements.
However, those same locally-operated organizations are often the ones achieving the most change on the ground, as they are more likely to have the trust and buy-in from community members who would ultimately benefit from the program.
Ensuring that CSR doesn’t perpetuate a cycle of exclusively helping medium-to-large NGOs is key to achieving the SDGs.
What about the due diligence process?
If a broad portfolio of beneficiaries is desired, achieving a balance of large, medium, and small organizations will likely mean shifting programmatic priorities towards selecting fewer partners for CSR initiatives, or growing the CSR budget to account for a larger team of officers and coordinators in charge of designing and implementing social impact programs on behalf of the company. This will ensure that in-depth due diligence and follow-up is performed on each beneficiary to maximize the impact of the funds, services, or other support provided. Due diligence for CSR activities should include reviews of the organization’s qualitative and quantitative information with regards to its operations and community impact, while keeping in mind the potential barriers that the due diligence process poses for certain organizations who would benefit from the program.
Flexibility in eligibility requirements should be considered, and CSR program management should focus on building trust and mission-aligned partnerships, and maintaining transparency from both the company and the beneficiaries.
Does the Private Sector have a seat at the table?
In order to achieve the SDGs, no sector can act on its own. Collaboration, coordination, and communication are key to eradicating poverty and improving lives for all beings on our planet. The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a reminder that all industries are equal key stakeholders in its implementation. In order to ensure cross-sector collaboration, current and future network-building platforms including high-level meetings and conferences need to be equally inclusive of members from civil-society organizations, government, and private sector.
It seems that on this point, the international community is falling short. Yes, meetings such as the UNFCCC Paris Climate Change Conference, SDG forums, and UN Habitat recognize the important role the private sector will play in achieving the SDGs over the next 14 years. However, the recent Habitat III conference in Quito which marked the launch of the New Urban Agenda seems to have had a weak private sector presence.
Only once high-level meetings walk the walk when it comes to private sector inclusion will CSR be able to reach its full potential in helping achieve the UN SDGs.
Progress remains to be made with regards to how CSR is leveraged towards eradicating global poverty. However, with inclusive planning, sustainable implementation, and transparency, its potential can be achieved.
About the author: Alix Charles is a French-born and US-raised development practitioner with field experience in Bolivia, Colombia, and India. She currently works as a CSR consultant and has completed in-depth due diligence on NGOs in over 12 countries as well as market analyses and strategy recommendation reports for private sector companies, corporate foundations, international nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises.