Doing “good” also means taking hard decisions and being accountable for ones actions

Some people tend to think that if you are doing good you somehow do not have to be accountable for you actions. It would seem that it is like that ones you are “goodness industry” it is automatically a license to bypass the normal channels of communications and scientific standards. But with the growing number of stakeholders there is however an urgent need for more transparency also on the other side of the fence.
Very few of the stakeholder groups like NGOs or CSOs that I know of have a standardised method and understanding of how to report findings. Most often they god for a headline approach where what ever fits the main thesis is included in the reporting and all that contradicts will be left out. It is not that I think that they do this to be evil or that they are trying to twist the facts in a conscious way it is just that they are unaware that for anything to be true it needs to be transparent and capable of being reproduced. Unfortunately this is frequently not the case.
We often hold the most transparent companies accountable for their actions and dig into their annual and sustainability reports in order to find inconsistencies that we can explore but it rarely is the other way around. The possibility are explored that there is a discrepancy between what the company says and what they are actually doing. And when a flaw is found we make sure that everybody knows about it either through the press of using dedicated campaigns.
The Haitian earthquake disaster provides a good case for. NGOs and to some degree CSOs came under fire from locals who claimed that not enough had been done to transform temporary shelters into permanent homes, or to provide access to drinking water and sanitation services. In some camps run by NGOs, people were still dying from cholera a year after the disaster struck and by that actually doing more harm than good. Of cause it is not all NGOs that are active in Haiti that did wrong but it goes with the case that they cannot be left without some form of control and accountability for their actions.
Another example comes from Cambodia where international NGOs actively contributed to corruption, which was documented in the documentary “The Trap of Saving Cambodia”.

The film puts a spotlight on some of the troubling issues facing this country: government sponsored forced evictions; corruption on a massive scale; the underground trafficking of women and children. And maybe even as disturbing is that local NGOs with the finances of the World Bank, joined by huge donor countries are contributing to the continuation of these problems by providing access to billions of dollars in aid where most of the money is going to officials rather than to the people in need.
There are still NGOs that think the accountability is not for the “Goodness”-industry. Or as Mango a UK based NGO puts it “Research has shown that results-based management is not an effective way of managing and reporting most NGOs’ performance.” And Goes on to list why they should not held accountable for the results that hey produce. To a large extend reminding me of the discussions in the private sector in the 80 ties and 90 ties about quality management.
NGOs need to shape up if they are to continue to be the beacons of truth and uprightness that we have come to know them. They will need to shape up their processes and weed out the organisations that does not live up to the basic criteria of accountability, transparency and good governance or the whole sector will be dragged down into the mud from where it will be difficult of not impossible to escape.

CSR and Partnerships

partnership agreement

partnership agreement (Photo credit: o5com)

One of the more resent developments within the field of CSR has been the emergence of strategic partnerships. Ever since the start of business there have been different forms of partnerships from small business franchises to large-scale outsourcing. In the last decade there have been an emergence of other forms of partnerships such as business and governmental institutions and in the last few years between Business and NGOs. While the first form of partnership is relative unproblematic as it is assumed that both parties have similar end goals in their efforts to maximize return on investment it is another case for the two last forms of partnership.

Business and Governmental partnerships have been seen in areas were both parties could see synergies. This could be in cases were companies wanted to explore markets in developing countries but needed support in-order to get a foothold in the market. In both Sweden and Denmark business partnerships are promoted by governmental development agencies like SIDA Business-4-Devlopment and DANIDA Business-2-Business programs (SIDA, 2012, DANIDA, 2012).

CSR as (Social) Risk Management

Some thoughts on CSR and Risk management

Effective risk management has almost from the start of CSR been part of the reasons for engagement with stakeholders (Bebbington et al, 2007). Many companies have had NGO raise problems which companies did not even know existed or had any plan for how to tackle. In other cases the companies where attacked for business practices, which where part of their core business such as when City bank was under attack for lending money to project that lead to deforestation in Latin-America (Baron et al, 2004). Here stakeholder engagement becomes essential in order to keep the brand name undamaged and most important in keeping the trust that customers has put into the company intact. There are no single success formula on how to communicate effectively with stakeholder or which ones that should be heard or which can be ignored. What is important is that companies and organisations take a stand on how to make this communication work in practice; otherwise the risks can remain unseen for long periods until the day where it becomes unmanageable for the company and turns into a real crisis. As I have described have companies like Nike implemented systems that enable them to get a feeling for what is happening in the world and how there brand is perceived, and hopefully this system will give them some warning on cases soon to emerge.

Adopting a strategy of transparency have over time proven the best assurance for companies to manage their CSR risks and more and more companies are trying to create systems so that their stakeholders can see what they are doing. By looking at the growing number of members of GC it is clear that transnational companies from around the world are using transparency or at least what appears as transparent to manage social risk issues.

Getting to the context of CSR – Letting mentally handicapped people contribute

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.

The “goodness”-industry on the social media battleground

“Keeping your friends close but keeping your enemy even closer” seem to be the mantra that NGO should be following when battling it out on the social media scene.

Kony 2012 viral video

How come that millions can be mobilised in just a few hours on a problem in Africa that have mostly been forgotten for the past 20 years. The Kony 2012 campaign to get rid of the Uganda warlord has at this time (17 o’clock local Copenhagen) reached 55’000’0000 views. More people than all the Scandinavian countries put together and far more views than even the best rock bands can hope to achieve even with the best of songs. How come that in a time where politics and politicians seem further and further away from the people that have elected them, is possible to create a social movement in a matter of hours.

For one it cause is uncontroversial. We can all agree that the rape of children or being forced take up arms against your own family and mutilating others are bad. And when we even have a personification of there atrocities in the form of a concrete named person it makes it even easier for the many to come together. In contrast it would be much harder to create one consistent image if we had had to relate to multiple issues like the ones in Libya, Syria or even Iran. So hating Kony is easy because it does not force us to make nuanced decisions or relate to alternatives that might distort our image of evil.

The media also plays a significant part in the success of the campaign. We have witnessed activist consumers before, like in the case of Dow Chemical in Vietnam or Shell and the dumping of Brent spare in the North Sea. But with social media and the possibilities within viral videos, it is possible to communicate easy, fast and not least with a great deal of media richness to a very big audience. Within normal communication you substitute speed with quality and the amount of information you can put into one piece of communication. However, with the use of social media one can distribute information with high levels of richness at a fraction of what the cost of the media just ten years ago. The trade-off is that within the 30 minutes that you have to communicate, one often does not have room for more than one overall message. (e.g. Evil vs. Good/Innocence)

Social media might make it easy to get your message out. However, it is just as easy for competing communication and not least your competitors to try and top your latest viral campaign. One element of communication, that many forget, is that they are working on a competitive market. That even though that the viral message is out there for all too see, it have to compete with many other messages that in its characteristics looks very much the same as any other consumer market.

The interesting thing about the Kony 2012 campaign is that the video does not just need to survive in terms of competing with other messages out there, but also attacks that is meant to destroy your campaign all together.  Already there are organisations like Red Cross, Action aid Denmark and others who have attacked the campaign for exploiting the African conflict to their own ends. In effect attacking the production of another provider in the “goodness”-industry.

On the commercial market it is only very seldom we see these kinds of initiatives and responses to a product launch. But in the world of NGO, CSO and governmental aid organisations it is more the rule, that when a competing organisation launches a fundraiser or mobilisation campaign that it is immediately attacked. Not from the intended target, but from organisations in the same line of business.

I have no idea if the Kony 2012 campaign will be successful and if the warlord in Uganda will be put to trail. But it is amazing to see that the main challenges does not come from Kony himself or from struggles to get room in the complex media picture, but that it comes from organisations that have basically the same purpose and reason for operating.

These links are just a selection on what is out there primarily debating the sender rather then the message.

People can be ethical organizations can’t

From time to time the discussion of ethics arises in the CSR debate. We would like to think that CSR is a way for organisations to conform to the norms of society and what is expected from companies in terms of behaviour. But can you really directly link ethics with CSR ?

First of all, I would like to make my position clear on what I think of ethics and its relation to organisational behaviour. People can be ethical in the way that they can distinguish between what is good and what is bad or at least most people can do so. That can make a fairly good decision on the consequences of their actions in most cultures around the world even though they have never been there before. There will of cause be differences from region to region based on cultural norms, religion, politics etc. but it would be fair to say that all cultures would not accept murder, theft, or other forms of harmful behaviour towards people.

Secondly, organisations are made up of people but this does not mean that the sum of their ethics can describe the decision making process that it goes through. Rather an organisation lets say a company, will develop it own rational for make decisions. In this case it can be profits as the raison d’etre is to make a profit for its owners, it is what one could call a fundamental condition of being a firm. So even though people might bring ethics in to their workplace it will be overruled by the condition that they have to make a profit.

This it where it becomes interesting because what CSR is trying to do is to make the organisation receptive to other conditions or the ethics of other stakeholders. Remember that stakeholders can be other organisations as well as individuals that have a stake in the actions of the firm. These stakeholders might have other raison d’etre than the firm such as reduction pollution or creating better work conditions. They might not regard profit as a very noble goal at all or they might even think that the whole concept of profit before people is an unethical condition. But with CSR the two create a platform from which that can communicate in a meaning full way. As one can not talk to an organisation like wit people so what is needed is the creation of a language that both parties can think of as meaningful and as a way that it can express its ethics through. In terms of CSR this language have become expressed through the use of systems.

CSR systems are in my mind the codification of ethics that enable organisations and stakeholders to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. With my almost 15 years around different management systems I have come to believe that the only way an organisation is effectively able to communicate with it self or with its surroundings is though the use of systems. Mind you I have used the word effectively as individual are able to communicate outside the management system but it will always less effective in relation to reaching organisational goals. Codification means that the organisation negotiate and in some cases just accept the norms which a stakeholder present. F.eks. is the ten principle in the Global Compact a codification which a large proportion of firms are willing to accept and subscribe to. Or a firm can subscribe to the code in SA8000 that communicate to stakeholders that this organisation is upholding the Human Rights, Rights of Children and ILO declarations and conventions. This does not mean that individuals can make mistakes and break the rules or that decisions can be made which are poor or bad, but like “people” this is what is to be expected.

So back to the question if you can directly link ethics to CSR. If one accept the sentence that; “people can be ethical but organisations can’t”. Then one needs to invent some form of bridge between the two that gives meaning, but at the same time accept the conditions that each must function under. For people this means the ability to distinguish between good and bad, and for organisations their raison d’etre eg. Profit (firm), knowledge (education), helping the poor (NGO?), survival (the poor), etc. Bringing these two together is done through the use of systems that enable toe codes from one stakeholder to be understood and acted upon by the other. This bridge or translation systems is continuously negotiated between the parties involved based on their individual understanding of what is good. So can you directly link ethics and CSR? Well yes if you accept that CSR is a coding system for effective communication between stakeholders that would otherwise not understand each other.

Where there is smoke there must be fire – EU CSR policy measurement for success.

In my short series n the new EU CSR regulation I have come to the subject of EU CSR performance. Within the document there are a list of success stories highlighting what have been achieved since the last revision in 2006. The focus is on the normative institutions, which have been established and that companies have started to adhered to (on a voluntary basis of cause).

According to the CSR policy there have been significant progress in the commitment to sustainability issues from companies in the EU.

“The number of EU enterprises that have signed up to the ten CSR principles of the United Nations Global Compact has risen from 600 in 2006 to over 1900 in 2011.”

While it is nice that the number of companies and organisations who are participating the UN global compact is rising it is hardly to be a considered a success factor in itself. Of cause it depends on your perspective and what you believe that CSR should be about but basically the commitment to UN Global compact is not a set of actions it is rather a communication about a future action that you might or might not take.

Last year around 2000 organisations were thrown out of the GC because they were unable to produce a communication on progress (COP) whish is the document that you commit yourself to produce when signing up. It is a common mistake that one screen for signing up for the GC rather than to look for the COP, which at least give some basic verifiable data to look at.

The EU regards the “promise to commit” tangible proof that companies are committing themselves to the CSR cause on a bigger scale. And to the true believer this might be enough proof that CSR is really working, that organisations and companies are participating whole heartily in the movement. While this would be nice there are also some who suggest that companies participate not for the good of the world but because it reduces the risks it is subjected to and that CSR is a novel way to market your brand and your products.

So when the EU promotes the signing of different normative standards as a success indicator for CSR it is only one side of the truth. It would seem that the EU uses the criteria “where there is smoke there is fire” as a measurement for success.