I think that we are becoming to preoccupied with communicating about CSR, on the business case and on showing the value of CSR on the balance sheet, when it is really about business doing a difference in society. We think that when one lives in a welfare state like Denmark, where the government will tender to all your needs there wouldn’t be any need for locally context based CSR activities other than sponsoring the local football club. But the thing is that there are plenty of opportunities for companies to make a real difference to people who really appreciate the effort.
As one of the many activities I engage in is my work with the Danish association LEV. LEV is a private national association for retarded people, relatives and others that were formed in 1952. Basically covering handicapped people ranging from Asperger and ADHD to people with Downs and other relative heavy diagnosis. People, who can function in society, but need varying degrees of support and structure in order to do so.
One of the biggest issues that these handicapped people have is that they are being shoved away in state sponsored initiatives and offers, where they are isolated from the rest of society. One could call it that the “blanket of the welfare state” has covered them protecting people from harm, but making them unable to move. This is of cause done with the best of intentions shielding the weak in society from all the bad things that could happen (and maybe also shielding society from them). But an unfortunate side effect is that these people become isolated, their personal development stagnates and they feel that they are not offered the opportunity to contribute to society like everybody else.
However, I’m sure that there is room for one or two people in every workplace that is not exactly fitting into our perception of normality. I am also sure that many institutions have tasks that are waiting for employees, who will take pride in doing the tasks that we normally never get done, because they are routine and mundane. It may well be that an employee who is disabled does not have the same skills and resources as the rest of us, but they have something to contribute that we all can benefit from.
Some companies have already discovered that working in close corporation with local NGO like LEV on specific areas can actually make CSR very real to employees and customers alike. Even though they have not framed the initiatives as CSR in their own communication their activities are testimonials to some of the values that guide them.
To many companies CSR have become something that is detached from the day-to-day operations. Initiatives that are within communicated as CSR are more or less reduced to CO2 emissions, Codes of Conducts, Signing charters and different forms of philanthropy. But it does not have to be like that. CSR can actually be much more concrete, down to earth and close to the employees. By inviting a handicapped person into the organisation one gets a real idea about the values and ethical outlook of the company one is part of. The handicapped that are willing and able are more than happy to be invited into companies, where they can earn their own money and contribute on an equal basis with other employees.
I’m not saying that it is easy and it does require that the people who are involved also knows what they are going into, but the organisational benefits are huge. Not only to the individual handicapped person, but also to the employees that work with them and to the company as a whole.