CSR and Development cooperation

just came back from a two day seminar in Sweden on CSR in difficult markets. It was the first time that we ran this specialized course and even though we have significant experience within our respective fields we where a bit nervous if the outcome would be satisfactory. The CSR gender groups consist of people from the business world and professionals from the development community. Two groups under normal circumstances would not meet in some conditions are even perceived as having opposing goals.

The diverse group has on average over 15 years of experience within their field, so there is no doubt that we could do the job within our professional fields, but were we also able to merge the two worlds? We have been working with the material for about one month and had come up with a basic approach that would enable us and the participants to travel the many areas of contact between business and development operations. We opted for a risk management approach on the business side and a contextual analysis and stakeholder engagement on the development.

In essence we went through the following general areas:

  1. Brief history and background on CSR
  2. Development and difficult markets (Development are never active in anything else than what would be perceived as a difficult context)
  3. A structured approaching risk management as in addressing Social Risk factors
  4. Using SWOT to address stakeholder engagement issues
  5. Strategic approaches and lessons learned from working in difficult markets

We wanted to add some more on communication strategies when risks becomes issues that organizations have to deal with but we did not have time for this extra feature. In the courses to come we will however expand the course to include a half day more in order to include this very important feature. We also wanted to add a gender perspective to the difficult market context as it is one of the most salient issues that when having to deal with strategic problem solving in these areas.

I think the most important lessons learned from the course were that the development and business communities have a great deal to learn from each other when it comes to working in difficult contexts. First of all because the experience from the professionals in development can be directly used by business in order to produce countermeasures and control mechanisms that can reduce the risks that they are confronted with. Second, business has an impact on developing and emerging markets that development aid will never be able to match. The effect of foreign direct investments (FDI) in these areas imperative if some of these countries are over to overcome the social and structural challenges that they are faced with. Third, companies prefer risk free or low risk areas but through a structural approach they will be able to grown new business ventures were they in many instances will be first movers.

The potential for business-development cooperation is huge and there is no doubt that in the future we will see more public-private partnerships. But even beyond the just working together with in framework CSR there are new ideas to be explored that utilizes the business sense of the companies and the unique inside knowledge that development can bring to the table.

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