In touch : Comment on Corporate social responsibility

In the past 10 years there has been significant interest and activity in an area that falls under the common heading of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Increased focus on corporate social responsibility raises the challenge of defining parameters for what an activity under this broad heading might look like.
My view is that taking CSR seriously means going well beyond day-to-day business assessment of what we do into how our activities influence and affect our local communities.
Business and community are one and the same; we inhabit common space and access common resources. Communities house our employees and their families, our company stakeholders, and our neighbours all of whom are dependent on access to pooled resources: economic, physical, and knowledge based.
Access to these resources is not always equal or balanced. CSR ultimately requires consideration of, and positive actions towards balancing that access to key resources across communities.
In forming an effective relationship with non-corporate communities we have to base our approach on participation model. Before we can participate, we have to build bridges between what has historically been considered two separate sectors.
I’ll give you an example with Simpson Grierson’s involvement in Youthline (www.youthline.co.nz). In this case we are helping to improve access to key resources, support and information to young people, when they really need it, to make positive difference in their lives. We support Youthline financially by increasing the resources they need to fulfil this important role in our community. We all benefit.
A personal project I’ve recently become involved in takes the idea of connecting private and public sectors even further – the charitable trust Good Books. (www.goodbooks.co.nz).
Good Books is an online book retailer, basically an Amazon alternative with the same sorts of products on offer. I was able to fill the gaps in my collection of Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke while sitting at my PC. The books arrived in 10 days in perfect condition at very competitive price.
The big difference is that the entire retail margin from Good Books goes to support Oxfam projects. Another bridge is formed.
To put it another way, Good Books reworks the architecture of charity to build it into commercial model and creates sustainable revenue for disadvantaged communities. This bridge challenges traditional barriers to commercial involvement in addressing poverty.
These are just few examples of how corporate can help community. In addition to specific corporate commitments the skills and resources of staff can be major benefit to community projects. For example, each school week some of our staff visit low-decile schools during lunchtime to read or take children on field trips.
This hands-on work is important because it enables our people to really engage with the projects. Our organisational climate is one that supports staff involvement and commitment to any project that builds bridges.
While I’m proud of our role as good corporate citizen, we have to constantly seek ways to enhance that role. It is important that any initiatives have “feel good” factor, but the bigger driver must be genuine positive impact on the community of which we are part. We are in pretty new ground here and we want our bridges across it to last.
•Rob Fisher is the chairman of law firm Simpson Grierson.

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