Insight & Analysis

Who? Me? Responsible for CSR?

29 March, 2015

Cartoon of people bailing out a boat, watched by others

By Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global CSR expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and Advisory Service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.

Watching some of the discussion on corporate social responsibility it sometimes seems like governments, communities, NGOs and everyone else expects to sit back and have somebody (aka business) deliver CSR to them on a silver platter.


Corporate Social Responsibility is not something a company does to or for communities, governments or others. 

To be successful and sustainable it takes a shared and collective responsibility with all stakeholders.  How could it be any other way?

Yet, far too often we see major stakeholders, governments, communities, NGOs and others, placing all the responsibility on companies, almost as if they expected them to play the role of Government (or Santa Claus). 

Sometimes too, we see companies sitting back and trying to leave the responsibility to other stakeholders, including often other companies or industries.

Neither approach will work very well.

Those communities and organizations that are pro-active in organizing and planning CSR activities and sharing in the responsibility with companies, will find that they simply get more value at the end of the day.  And, they will gain more capacity as well, and more ownership over their destiny.

Those companies that take the lead AND have projects where ALL stakeholders take appropriate responsibility will find that more value is created for stakeholders and shareholders.

If CSR is about aligning interests so that more benefits can flow to more stakeholders (including shareholders) how does it make sense that all responsibility should be on the company or other partner to organize and do.

Surely Shared Responsibility is where everyone should be trying to get to.

Let’s assume that through a collaborative consultation process a mining company and local community identified that improvements in education and health were priorities.

  • What is the role and responsibility of the community and local organizations?What is the role and responsibility of local government?
  • What is the role and responsibility of the Sector Ministries (Education & Health)?
  • What is the role and responsibility of the company?
  • What is the role and responsibility of NGOs and other development actors with an interest in education and healthcare?

Think about what the roles and responsibilities should be.  Then think about how the project would normally play out.

This way works:  In successful examples the various stakeholders will all play a proactive part in the overall project, exhibiting leadership, collaboration and initiative as required. 

The project is truly made up of partners, working together and through their collaboration and collective responsibility helping to achieve results that none of them could achieve on their own.

This way, not so much:  In other cases one partner (often business, but not always) is looked at to lead and take the bulk of the responsibility.  Other stakeholders sit back and expect benefits to come to them.  

Regardless of which partner, or partners are left with the bulk of the responsibility, the project won’t succeed nearly as well as if there was a collective sharing of responsibility.

Arrows with 'his fault', 'her fault', 'their fault', 'not me'
Do your CSR projects sometimes end up looking like this?

Ironically, in projects where the bulk of the responsibility is left to one or two partners, they are the ones that get blamed if things don’t work perfectly. 

Is it any wonder that some get frustrated and, if they keep going, end up frustrated and cynical.

So whose Responsibility is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Look at any CSR projects that you are involved in. Is there a collective responsibility?

If not, why not?

And, what will you do to change that and facilitate collective responsibility.

Blaming the partners who have been carrying the responsibility probably isn’t the most productive response.  Training and encouraging all partners to accept a fair share of responsibility is a far better way to go.

add value, make it happen, show respect
Sharing responsibility across partners and stakeholders can drive project success and make the work more fun

 CSR can be an effective mechanism for creating value for society and shareholders.  But, it doesn’t work well for anyone if responsibility and ‘ownership’ is not shared amongst all stakeholders.

Tags: Leadership General CSR

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