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Weaving Corporate Social Responsibility into Your Company’s Business Practices

March 16, 2018

What does it mean to truly embed corporate responsibility into the structure and operations of a company? This was a recurring theme of the Corporate Philanthropy Institute organized by Northern California Grantmakers, attended by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ San Francisco team members in February 2018.

This discussion echoed similar dialogs at the 2017 European Research Network on Philanthropy conference, hosted by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Copenhagen Business School. The Danish model of industrial foundation-owned companies, such as the beer giant Carlsberg, was discussed as an example of a balanced corporate social responsibility strategy. In such a structure, a corporate foundation is the primary shareholder in a company. The foundation has dual responsibilities: to 1) generate profit for the company; and 2) carry out its social impact imperative. It also helps set a longer-term time horizon, which ideally promotes sustainable decision-making in the company.

Structure, after all, is what determines the vector of power and accountability. At the Corporate Philanthropy Institute, speakers and attendees highlighted other cases that illustrate this relationship:

  • Leila Janah’s skincare line LXMI builds social enterprise into its supply chain by employing Northern Ugandan women to grow, harvest, and process the ingredients. In the same way that a Danish foundation-owned company is accountable to a charity, LXMI is partially owned by Janah’s nonprofit Sama group. The model allows LXMI to provide funding for Sama’s charitable work creating jobs for low-income people around the world.
  • Medtronic’s social impact efforts—which had previously long resided solely in its foundation arm, Medtronic Philanthropy—became formally integrated into business units across the company. Now, corporate citizenship goals are set in collaboration with corporate stakeholders and held to the same degree of accountability as other business metrics.

The melding of social responsibility, business mission, and corporate practices can be a difficult balance to achieve, but is certainly possible. At RPA, we work alongside corporate clients to help realize this potential by assessing and developing social impact strategies within each firm’s distinct context and governance structure. Our projects with leading multinational corporations have included researching issues, designing strategies, evaluating fit of philanthropic vehicles, and managing programs on an outsourced basis.

Corporate social responsibility is a diverse and multi-faceted field. As with all of our projects, we approach these engagements with the understanding that each organization’s set of needs is particular. Most importantly, we work with passionate corporate leaders who are committed to furthering their contributions to the long-term health of society and the planet, creating value for all stakeholders.

Written by Sueli Shaw of the Advisory team at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

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