Knowledge Centre

CSR is Self-Interest – Don’t try to hide it

Your stakeholders aren’t stupid.  They know your social responsibility programs aren’t just about their interests.  Embracing the self-interest in your CSR programs will give your programs more strength, create more value and make them more sustainable.  

If your CSR programs don’t have a healthy dose of self-interest you should immediately wind them down (and you should probably be fired for wasting your company’s money).  

Understanding, owning and communicating your self-interest makes you and your programs more credible with all stakeholders (including internal) and opens the door for more effective stakeholder engagement and communications.

Your stakeholders aren’t stupid.  When you tell them you just want to do good things for them, just want to support them, just want to look out for their best interests, do you really think they believe you?  Would you? Of course there is self-interest. It would make no sense if there wasn’t. When you try to deny it, or pretend it isn’t there, your stakeholders and the public will wonder what else you are being less than transparent about.

Successful CSR programs find alignment between companies and communities/stakeholders in a way that benefits both. But, to do this your stakeholders need to understand your interests.

I’ve often had pushback at this point – people tell me that their stakeholders wouldn’t understand and would resist if they thought there was something in it for the company.  I mostly look them in the eye and ask how stupid they think their stakeholders are. Do they really think stakeholder believe companies do anything with no self-interest attached?

When you understand and communicate your self-interest it is freeing and empowering.  It gives you an anchor, a foundation that will help you structure programs and activities to foster synergy and alignment between your interests and your stakeholder/community interests.  If you try to maintain that you don’t have a self-interest then it is hard to resist pressure from stakeholders to go one way or another with a project or program.

But, when you have done your homework and fully understand your own interests and how they can align with stakeholder interests you can be clear about your needs and give stakeholders space to apply their own creativity and innovation to find alignment.  Let them know what your interests are and engage them in helping to find ways to meet their interests and yours concurrently.

Owning your self-interest helps across the board in CSR projects, from planning to executing to measuring impact – and even with sustainability reporting and communications.

Owning your self-interest not only makes it easier on the program/project front; it makes it much easier internally as well.  When you are clear about your company’s self-interest and what you are doing you make it much easier for others in the company to understand and embrace your work – rather than resent it (as is often the reality).

To effectively own and communicate your self-interest you need to do the work to understand it fully, in all its nuances, permutations and manifestations.  Only when you do that are you able to communicate it effectively and be fully strategic about creating the alignment where stakeholder interests and corporate interests come together.  It takes work and investment to get there, but the payoff can by huge.

At the CSR Training Institute we specialize in helping businesses worldwide to succeed and thrive by successfully integrating sustainability and SGD impact in ways that drive value and competitive advantage.  If you think we might be able to assist you on your journey, please feel free to reach out to me directly (

Prof. Wayne Dunn

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