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PrintCorporate Social Responsibility (CSR) became somewhat of a ‘must-have’ some years ago when the idea of the ‘triple bottom line’ (concern for people, planet and profits, preferably in that order)came into vogue. This idea extended the supposition from the one that had companies’ prime responsibilities as shareholder earnings, to one that included the well-being of employees and society at large. Corporate reporting began to include CSR as a measurable item and, not surprisingly, created its own controversies.

Some argued that CSR activities were funded by company profits that should rightly go to shareholders. Others (cynically) suggested that this was just a way for firms to earn ‘brownie-points’ and look good in the eyes of society. Whatever the opinion, if some segment of the community is benefiting, why quibble?CSR has actually evolved from plain old donations/philanthropy (decided by the owner/CEO) to one where a business case determines the direction of the activity and the nature of the company’s association. This may go beyond just monetary contributions to include volunteer work by employees or some other level of involvement that is deemed suitable. A further question then emerges: should companies initiate CSR projects that benefit the bottom line? When you think that many segments of society view ‘profits’ as immoral (as if generating losses is doing everyone a favour), this question merits consideration.

There actually are many examples of community development projects that benefited both parties – from farm-to-market roads that helped sell more seeds, to educating villagers who then went on to promote FMCG products. What if you had an idea for something like this and wanted your company to buy in? How do you sell the idea to the powers-that-be?
First, articulate a ‘business case’ (what’s in it for the company). Then find a senior sponsor who can carry forward your idea to the relevant decision-makers. A mistake many people make here is looking for credit and glory as opposed to the greater good. Don’t worry if you are not successful at first; if you are convinced about your idea, you will find a way.

‘Feel-good’ projects are valuable to organisations on many levels, including employer branding (think attraction, recruitment and retention) and consumer preference. Corporations are not set up to be altruistic entities but there is no harm in finding ways to give back.

– Leon Menezes
The writer is an executive coach and a professor-of-practice at the IBA-Karachi.