Corporate social responsibility is a key strategic issue

Recently, we have observed how active and genuine social responsibility is becoming an increasingly important part of today's corporate cultures. Being part of something bigger, making a small but significant difference, in the neighbourhood and/or in the world, is something that creates meaning and impacts on multiple levels.

To contribute is to create meaning

In the first 24 hours after Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Swedish people donated more than SEK 10 million to the Red Cross. Naturkompaniet announced only a few hours after starting a collection of clothes and sleeping bags to be sent eastwards through Europe that their stock was full and they could not accept any more. Social media is throbbing with sympathy and heart for those affected by the unfathomable. Our involvement is a way to process, to cope with the despair and desperation that we now see up close. We do it because we want to help. We do it because we feel powerless. By doing something and trying to influence the context, we create a sense of agency and meaning, of being part of and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Initiatives help people navigate away from the feeling of meaninglessness. Our engagement gives us comfort and reassurance in a difficult time.

The power of commitment

The human need to make a difference, to come together and create better conditions and less suffering, is an incredible force. It is impressive to see the difference that engagement can make when disaster seems imminent, but it is also legitimate to ask where it goes next. When the crisis has been mitigated or normalised, when the most intense news coverage has faded and what was initially shocking has become commonplace, where does the power to act go? Civil society is doing its best to find it. In digital newsletters and physical mailings, aid organisations remind us that crises, disasters and wars are ongoing. They let us know that our support is still crucial in many parts of the world. Non-profit organisations are scrambling to find the campaign that grabs us, the gala that inspires us and the tone that makes us feel how meaningful it is to contribute to a better world. But isn't there a reason for more than just fundraising organisations to work on increasing engagement and willingness to contribute?

A potential force in the world of work

Tänk om våra arbetsplatser i större utsträckning kunde präglas av agens och mening, av kraften som kommer när vi är med och påverkar, av känslan att vi bidrar till någonting större, tillsammans. Lösningen ligger närmre än många tror och stavas strategisk och systematisk utveckling av verksamhetens sociala ansvarstagande. De arbetsplatser som framgångsrikt frigör den kraft som bor i engagemanget för vårt gemensamma samhälle ökar chansen att lyckas med även andra strategiska utmaningar. Verksamheter som tar samhällsansvaret på allvar attraherar och behåller kompetens, vinner kunders långsiktiga förtroende och bygger en corporate culture characterised by context and meaning.

Social responsibility freer and more difficult

Today, the issue of sustainability with a focus on climate and the environment is on every company's agenda and many choose to take responsibility beyond the level of requirements. Social sustainability is closely related to environmental sustainability but differs in a number of important ways. Expectations of social responsibility do not come in the form of emission levels or international requirements. Social responsibility lacks frameworks and reprimands. Instead of striving for neutrality, as in the case of climate change, all social responsibility in theory ends up in the organisation's plus account. This absence of instructions and clear frameworks for follow-up could provide inspiration and enthusiasm for corporate social responsibility. Unfortunately, this freedom can instead lead to anxiety and uncertainty about what can be done and what impact can be achieved.

How to unlock the power of social responsibility?

So how do we do it? How do we create the conditions to harness the power of the organisation's collective will to take responsibility for our society? How do we realise the resource of each employee's potential commitment? We simply do what it takes to solve all strategic challenges. We figure out what we want to achieve, what impact we want the action to have on society and on the organisation, and make sure we release the resources needed to get us to the desired state.

Common denominators for activities that manage to harness the collective commitment and create impact for both society and the organisation:

  • The issue of social responsibility is addressed and remains on the strategic agenda
  • The issue is well anchored both in the organisation itself and in the affected parts of society.
  • There is a clear vision of the desired impact of social responsibility in society and in the organisation.
  • There is a long-term strategy for implementation and the necessary resources are allocated.
  • There is a clear plan for monitoring impact and evaluation, which is used to plan further interventions.

Vårt inneboende behov av att känna tillhörighet och mening avtar egentligen inte när krisen och katastrofen blir mer avlägsen. Men när nyhetsrapporteringen och sociala medier slutar hjälpa oss att rikta vårt engagemang till ett tydligt mål behöver vi att någon annan tar över. Den arbetsplats som lyckas göra det på ett framgångsrikt sätt kommer att belönas med möjlighet till stärkt prestation, ett bättre mående och en ökad känsla av mening. Det sociala ansvarstagandet levererar värde för samhället, för företaget och för framtiden.

Author Tove Lindahl Greve, CEO Ansvaret AB

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