I had a chat a while back with Al Golin about CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, while he was in Singapore to celebrate his firm’s 50th anniversary.
Al’s the chairman and founder of GolinHarris and also the man who developed the concept of corporations having a ‘TrustBank’ – in a nutshell, this involves corporations doing ‘good work’ (and being seen to have done it) on a regular basis so that if ever the company gets involved in a sticky situation and the s*** hits the fan, you can mitigate the crisis by drawing from the bank of ‘good work’ you’ve done before.
I mean the philanthropy you see Bill Gates doing all the time seems well and good, but during my conversation with Al, I couldn’t resist asking him that really, aren’t these corporations carrying out CSR activities to contribute to a fatter bottom line, and not because they genuinely want to do it or sincerely think it’s good? In short, isn’t CSR for corporations a means to an end? Besides, even Al said CSR can act as a ‘tie breaker’ of sorts for companies – if they project an image of being trustworthy and reliable, more people would do business with them as they would rather deal with companies that they know, trust and admire than one that’s unknown.
Al didn’t miss a beat in his reply. He said, “Well, maybe it’s a bit of both, maybe it’s not all bad. Even if their motives are not as pure as it should be and they’re thinking of it from a business point of view, at least they’re doing something about it and getting it done. When you see Bill Gates and Warren Buffet give all this money to philanthropy, a cynic would say, well they’ve got all the money in the world, of course they’re going to give some of it away. Ok, it’s true, but at least they’re doing something about it, and something good is happening as a result of it. If they’re getting a good rub-off to their companies then why not? So I don’t think it’s a negative thing. If society is benefiting from it then it’s good.”
What do you think? Is CSR just a hypocritical myth for a shot at smiling for the cameras, or is there good underneath it all?