HR & Management

We’re all in this together: How "one world" CSR initiatives turn purpose into practice

5 min read

19 December 2018

Rachel Forde argues that business owners can achieve far more if they extend their thinking beyond their own four walls.

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s only natural we should contemplate the year that lies ahead. But while the UK may be focusing inwards when it comes to issues like Brexit, it doesn’t mean the business community must do the same, particularly regarding CSR programmes.

In fact, one of the best CSR strategies for businesses is to capitalise on the value inherent in broader networks.

All for one and one for all

This ‘one world’ view on CSR is one of the most compelling, and can also be the most effective at delivering transformative results for charity partners.

In a nutshell, it aims to unite all of a business’s offices regionally or globally, as well as potentially its suppliers and clients, behind a single cause.

This enables it to make a genuine, appreciable large-scale impact rather than relying on a collection of diffuse, half-hearted efforts with multiple charities.

The whole premise of CSR itself is that a company’s value is greater than its financial bottom line alone, so it makes perfect sense to make it into an initiative that brings different organisations and communities together.

With a little help from my friends

We all too often undervalue the community links that extend between firms, but businesses in the marketing and media agency sector in particular are uniquely placed to find synergies across disparate sets of clients.

They also often sit within networks extending into regional and international territories and encompassing multiple skill-sets.

But it’s far from the only sector that can achieve this. Pull all a business’s resources together and you can really shift CSR activity up several gears. And this extends beyond just cash – if you’re pooling the wealth of expertise that corporations already have in-house, such as digital, HR, marketing and finance, the benefits are manifold.

This principle of sharing skills doesn’t need to just apply to making charity campaigns more effective in themselves: instead, it should be put at the heart of what is delivered to charity partners.

For example, coaching, mentoring and workshops play a hugely significant role in developing the skills organisations in the third sector need to build their own infrastructures and create longer-term revenue strategies.

Just as importantly, business can learn an awful lot from both CSR initiatives and the communities they work with through those programmes.

The ‘one world’ approach creates a broad, holistic view of the effects that businesses have on society and vice versa, which can only help strategic thinking.

Similarly, the current (and long overdue) emphasis on diversity in the workforce, which is near-unanimously accepted to add tangible value to the bottom line, can extend to who and what those businesses work with: charities and other communities can bring a perspective that corporate clients often can’t.

Empowering and encouraging participation

As the UK CEO of a media agency that operates in over 100 countries , I’ve learnt from experience just how much can be achieved when offices extend their thinking beyond their own four walls.

One of the best things we’ve done? Swap our day jobs for some philanthropic activity. This really helps to drive home the underlying principles and the truly transformative power of concerted action.

Another crucial lesson is that local action needs to always fit into a bigger picture, so it can contribute towards a larger campaign as well as reap the benefits of getting so many talented people working on one overarching project.

It’s an approach that essentially unlocks the value of CSR to businesses and society.

If you treat it as a bolted-on tokenism then that’s the way it will look – but align it with every branch of a firm, wherever in the world, and you’ll find it properly reflects the business’s core beliefs.

It will also help reinforce client and supplier relationships if they can get involved with your charitable initiatives – and grow them beyond what you could have managed on your own.

Rachel Forde is UK CEO of media agency UM.

CSR