Corporate Social Innovation Pays Dividends in Many Ways



There seems to be an important opportunity being left on the table by many corporations. And it offers great potential benefits to people, planet andprofits. It’s all to do with simply linking together two sets of issues that are major hot topics for corporate leaders everywhere: climate change and social responsibility on the one hand and talent attraction and retention on the other.

In other words, as we’ll see, we’re talking about what we could call externalcorporate responsibility and internal corporate responsibility. 

So, four crucial points:

·     Everybody’s looking at these two matters – HR and CSR

·     Nearly everybody’s working hard on both

·     Hardly anybody is putting them together

·     When you do, it pays back in many more ways

The battle for attraction and retention in customers and in employees has never been harder. And both groups increasingly demand attention to ethical integrity and action. So, CSR and HR are working their butts off to get it right on diversity and inclusion, inequality, climate, poverty and much else.

But how often do they collaborate on these things? And, on the rare occasions that they do work together, how often do they measure and report the outcomes to maximise returns on their investments, thus generating more funds to do more good stuff?

Here are some super-simplified client stories:

We helped a major supermarket group create a food-growing project for 38 schools in an area of urban social exclusion. The benefits to the community have been many, lasting and great. The boosts to brand value and employee engagement have also been considerable. With internal and external communications married to numbers and narrative to account for outcomes, the commercial value of this project was many times the cost – and has accrued across the entire national network of stores (though the project itself was initially focused around just one store and one community).

In another case, a passionate champion of sustainability at a global client corporation decided to go for it. He invited like-minded people to join him for a weekly lunchtime brainstorm-and-action meeting. In the first year the group made waves and made a difference by creating in-house projects such as lift-sharing, food waste and plastics recycling. Soon the thing had gone global and massive savings were being achieved. The biggest strategic shift in the financials, however, was in areas such as talent attraction and brand awareness.

A utility company engaged in a superb apprenticeship project that offered a second chance to promising young offenders who could benefit from a ‘second chance’. In just two years the company fixed a problem they had: the need for newly trained young engineers. This also saved the taxpayer a great deal of money that would have been spent on dealing with re-offending: police, probation and prison services, court costs and so on. A social impact bond would have yielded a big return for them. In fact they got what they wanted (the trained engineers and much else besides) and very generously left the taxpayer savings on the table for the good of the nation.

But they did this knowingly.

How many people are missing opportunities like this by not even noticing them?

In each of the above cases, the opportunities, internally and externally, to engage with matters such as inequality, gender, diversity and poverty grow with each action and learning project in which the teams engage. This adds further to the immediate benefits to the other stakeholder groups involved.

When we join the dots and HR, CSR and Communications work together on corporate responsibility inside and outside the company, the results can be enormously beneficial for all concerned.

You could say it’s an all-win deal…

Robert Barnard-Weston BA, MSc, FRSA

Robert Barnard-Weston has lived in Bath, UK, for forty years, spending thirty of those years working in social and environmental responsibility.