What is CSR built to accomplish?

What is CSR built to accomplish?  Are we achieving meaningful social impacts or are we doing just enough to protect our reputation and bottom line? Can good be more than just greed?
While the current age of CSR programming has advanced the value of purpose-driven marketing, the idea of dedicating business resources to solve social problems is at a cross-road. An overly-saturated landscape of colors, clichés and awareness-raising has often stirred confusion and cynicism. The trust gap is widening, stretched further by recent controversies – from oil spills, to supply chain realities, to controversial policy changes at our most admired non-profit organizations. For all of the money raised and awareness campaigns launched, the social issues addressed by these initiatives – from climate change, to obesity, to cancer – show limited signs of real progress.

Transitioning to a new form of CSR demands more than coming up with the next “Big Idea.”  It requires a paradigm shift.  It requires social impact being treated as the number one priority.  It requires resources towards making impacts a reality.  It requires companies, non-profits and consumers coming together to take actions that are easily defined and measured with full transparency.  And most importantly it requires company words matching company deeds. 
When done right, CSR fosters a natural sense of community,  broadly appeals to our humanity and acknowledges the role we must all play – consumers, businesses, public institutions – in the betterment of our society and our environment.  It’s the idea that regardless of one’s political affiliation, belief system or personal/organizational interests, we are all members of a greater community and should find ways to work together toward a specific end.  That somehow, business can join hands with the public in an honest, transparent way and “do good” simply because it’s the right thing to do. 

At Citizen Relations, we believe that people of the world are bound together in profoundly common, simple ways.  We’re all members of a community.  We love our family.  We want to provide for our kids. We’re fiercely protective of our “home.” We want to be treated with respect.  And, ultimately, we want a purpose – to be part of something greater than ourselves.

Can good be more than just greed? I’d like to think so but first we’ll need to do some soul searching about how we, as an industry, approach the subject.  Social impact must regain its rightful position as the primary purpose of CSR – not reputation-building.  By focusing on actions, not words, and embracing a shared desire for a happier, healthier society, businesses can build authentic relationships with customers and achieve some amazing things. 

“Doing good” and demonstrating one’s citizenship can be a source of pride, build admiration and lead to meaningful change.  Activating that instinct is the center point of our work. 

Corey Langworthy is a Group Director at Citizen Paine