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So you want to create real social change? Here are 9 good questions to begin with

Are your CSR activities not making the difference you would like? Then maybe it’s time to change gear. Here are nine questions which will put you on course to greater impact.

Would you like to create real change with your CSR? These nine questions give you a good start. [Photo: JumpStory]

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From CSR to lasting change – a series in seven episodes

This is the second chapter in our series on how corporations can create real and lasting social change through your CSR efforts.

The series is based on the book “Change for Good – An Action-Oriented Approach for Businesses to Benefit from Solving the World’s Most Urgent Social Problems” by Paul Klein.

The series consists of the following articles:

1. Paul Klein has a message for corporations: Drop CSR Lite and make lasting change
2. So you want to create real social change? Here are 9 good questions to begin with
3. The Impakt Model: How to find your way to create change for good
4. Here are the 7 building blocks of Change for Good
5. This is how you get the employees involved
6. Map the risk of social change
7. 7 steps when you want to go from talk to action

You have worked with CSR for a long time, but is there any traceable impact from your activities?

There have of course been good projects, and you have been able to use that in your communication. But has the money and resources you have spent on CSR created a lasting change?

If the answer to that question is no, then it may be time to refocus your efforts.

Because you can make a real difference in the world if you take your social responsibility as seriously as you take your earnings.

It is not easy, but it is possible, says Paul Klein. He is the author of the book “Change for Good” and has worked with CSR for more than 30 years.

In this article, you will get the starting point for the adjustment process you need to go through if you want to create lasting social change. It consists of nine questions that you can ask yourself.

1. Do we take proper care of our own employees?

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family,” said Mother Teresa.

Translated into company language, this means that you must start with your employees: They are the ones who must create the change you want.

“We give our employees a decent salary and a safe and healthy working environment,” you might think. And that’s good. But it is far from enough.

You must create an inclusive culture in which people with very different backgrounds thrive. And in your recruitment, you must make diversity a priority, so that you counteract prejudice and bias in relation to gender, age, ethnicity, religion and sexual beliefs.

Think of it like this: Your task is to ensure that all your employees thrive socially and health-wise and have the framework they each need to do a good job.

2. How do we contribute to social change through what we already do?

Are you creating social change today?

It might seem like a stupid question when the whole exercise is to find out how you are going to create change in the future. But think about it anyway.

To many companies promoting social tasks is something completely natural, but they could not dream of calling it CSR. Perhaps you have taken in young people who were a bit on the edge as apprentices. Or perhaps you are already well on your way to fulfilling one of the world goals – for example, because you produce medicine or bicycles.

Make the analysis of where you stand. Sometimes you get surprised. And the fastest way to real impact is always to systematize and scale up the good that you are already doing.

3. Are our actions consistent with our words?

Is there a connection between what you say and what you do?

“Yes of course!” is the automatic answer to that question. But are you sure?

Do you treat your employees as you say you do when the crisis hits? Or did the Covid-19 crisis also become an opportune occasion to cut the budget and get rid of a bunch of complainers at the same time?

Consider the company Gerber, which produces baby food. For years, the company has had “spokesbabies”, and in 2018 Gerber appointed a spokesbaby with Down’s Syndrome for the first time.

It was a strong message, but one that was slightly overshadowed by the fact that Gerber’s sister company, Gerber Life, had refused to insure children with Downs.

This is good to keep in the back of your mind before you answer “Yes, of course!”.

4. Are we as focused on creating social change as we are on making money?

Companies have a sharp focus on making money. There is nothing surprising in that. But are you ready to throw as much energy and dedication into creating social change?

The American billionaire and philanthropist Marcel Arsenault once told me that as a philanthropist you should spend your money with the same enthusiasm you displayed when earning them.

The same applies to the social change you must create. If you are not ready to do what it takes, then consider not to do it at all.

5. Do we take responsibility for people’s lives?

This question is about your mindset. Do you mean it when you say you want to create social change? Are you ready to make a serious commitment?

There is a big difference between considering social responsibility as a business disposition and an ethical requirement.

A pure business disposition is typically based on a cost-benefit consideration: Do we believe that this can pay off for us?

Creating lasting social change is a commitment that goes beyond business. You must be willing to take responsibility and persevere – even when things go wrong. Are you ready to commit to it?

6. Are we mobilizing capital to create social change?

If we are to solve the world’s social challenges, it requires money. And neither the public funds nor the philanthropic capital is enough.

Therefore, you have to dedicate money to create the change.

And although a lot of good can be said about philanthropy, it is not enough to create a small fund on the side of the company. You must have all means at play. This means that you must think the change into your core activities, allocate philanthropic funds and think about loans and investments. All targeted at the situation and circumstances.

7. Have we included people with lived experience?

Have you taken on solving problems with which you have no personal experience?

Let’s just be honest: You and your staff are unlikely to come up with the best solutions to problems you don’t understand in depth.

So, involve people who have personally experienced the problems you are trying to tackle. And involve them wholeheartedly. Invite them right into the boardroom and let them explain the problems. And let them help design the programmes that will solve the problems. It provides far better programmes with significantly greater impact than the solutions you are able to construct on your own.

8. Are we good business partners?

The social problems of our time are complex and tangled. No one can solve homelessness alone. Global inequality cannot be remedied by individual initiatives.

The wicked problems require several parties with different starting points to come together and pool their knowledge of competences in binding partnerships.

The well-known collaborations, where you give a little and your partner gives a little, and no one really invests anything, are no good for this.

If you really believe in making a difference, it requires you to collaborate deeply and wholeheartedly with NGOs, public authorities and other companies – including those you normally call your competitors.

Are you ready for this?

9. Are we prepared to take a stand and act?

Making a social difference can be controversial. It may require that you take an active position on issues that divide the population, stand firm on your decisions and act on them.

This is not always risk-free, as when Starbucks came under fierce fire from shareholders who believed the company’s decision to support the right to gay marriage was hurting business.

CEO Howard Schultz’s response was that not all decisions are business decisions.

“We have more than 200,000 employees in this company, and we want to support diversity in any form.”

Corporate activism is part of the new reality. And you will be tested on your steadfastness.

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