The opening remarks at the recent Global Conference for Social Change, joint venture of the Foundation for Social Change and the United Nations Office for Partnerships, went something like this:
“Let’s take a look at this phrase corporate social responsibility. Let’s take away social. Now let’s take away corporate. What we’re left with responsibility, which is defined as being accountable for something and the moral obligation to behave correctly. That sounds really heavy and we don’t want that. Why don’t we call it an opportunity. And what’s an opportunity? To do something. Really, in essence, we’re talking about corporate social opportunity.”
As an advocate for socially driven business, it’s my responsibility to say, “enough.”
We are on the fringes of some amazing territory, where businesses can be used to meet significant social needs and can be successful doing so. But the territory is still undrawn and I fear that some of us in the party for socially driven businesses are digging sand traps, perhaps unwittingly.
Just as the momentum is gaining–consumers and communities are more expectant of companies to be proactive ethicists, new demographics are being served, and the perceived limits of business are bursting open with innovation and collaboration–there are some who are erecting smoke and mirror sideshows. And if there’s one word that could derail this movement, it’s inauthenticity.
Poorly executed employee volunteer programs and cause marketing campaigns are excusable for first-timers. These companies’ determination to make a social impact will carry them through novice flubs, but what about BSR–that’s Business for Social Responsibility–which invited Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant to keynote the recent conference and shepherded him around like the Maharaja? Nearly 20 years old, BSR is too experienced to make that type of mistake. Which means it’s not a mistake, it’s a hairy tangle of posturing, false marketing and deception.
What are BSR and the Foundation for Social Change, professed support systems for social business, doing? Where is their expression and action for real social impact? I won’t even hold them accountable for large-scale impact (yet), but I will demand honesty of intention in the name of world-changing.
While my bleeding heart is certainly beating strongly at the moment, I’m not letting it trump pragmatism. The stakes for social impact and economic growth are too high to let falsehoods of do-gooding perpetuate. I absolutely believe that through collaborating among sectors, meeting new market needs and working for our grandchildren’s world, we’ll see ample businesses that succeed by doing good and more individuals who benefit from business.
If you’re not on board, that’s okay, but please don’t stand in the way promoting false sustainability. There’s too much at stake–and too much opportunity–to turn this into a distorted fun house.