Archive for October 12, 2006

Good Business

shake_hands.jpgDr. Wilhelm captured the stage again as key note speaker after the dinner (btw an excellent one, don’t get me started on this). Funny enough, he quoted a NEPAD executive’s speech from the opening session of the Bonn IBF conference from the beginning of the week. And, he ends with a brief but true demand: Do business, but do it in a good and profitable way.

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Sessions

hu-logo2.jpgAfter the morning keynotes, the entire conference moved into a different building – the quite impressive Paul-Löbe-Haus, a politicians’ beehive immediately next to the Bundeskanzleramt. Of course, I felt like a politician (minus the tie), observed by classes of wee schoolchildren trying to figure out whether or not I would actually board one of many black limousines waiting in front of the building. Never mind. Only sad thing about the building was that due to security constraints there was no WLAN available, so what follows is a brief account from my notes.

There was a wealth of lectures – which is the right occasion to congratulate Anja Schwerk for the months of hard work in putting this together: What a great job! The lectures often covered aspects which are just about now reach the awareness of companies in Germany - or, more interesting, they were bleeding edge in their own right. They ranked from a consumer perspective to CSR (most notably Good Brand’s recent survey on cause-related marketing) to a workshop on measuring performance and sustainable value creation – and why companies fail to quantify sustainability. Also, there was a session on labour, another one on regulation and yet another one on corruption. As I’d say, anyone only faintly interested in CSR would have been hard pressed not to find a session or a lecture of interest.

I picked the session on “What does corporate responsibility mean in different cultures and how should global companies handle the difference?”, so here are some impressions on this:

Van Miller from Northern Kentucky University looked at “CSR in Outsourcing”, focusing on Maquilas in Mexico. Based on information by the maquilaportal he looked at what the portal named as the “Top 100 Maquilas”. Key conclusion by Miller: „Human rights is not really an issue – it is not that salient: Labour is the issue”.

Sanford Moskowitz and Roxanne Rabe tackled the issue of “Bridging the cultural divide within MNCs and International Ventures” - as fuzzy as the title was the presentation. It’s actually been a while that I listened to professors discussing in broadest terms “Globalisation as a Western Ethical Model” and that the “Asian Model” (remind me again: what is Asia and how many countries does it include??) is less efficient than an obscure much needed universal code of ethics. Hmm.

Jürgen Wilhelm from German Development Service DED made up for this with quoting a lot of examples of “Practical experience of CSR programmes by German development co-operation”. Amongst other things, Wilhelm sees increasing CSR-interest in Nicaragua, where the DED assists in the founding of a CSR-organisation. Also, he points to successful development projects that are financed by the private sector. This includes an SME-mentoring program in Namibia, financed by local banks and a HIV/Aids program in Uganda, financed by a tea company.

He went on to discuss the well-known dichotomy of voluntarism versus a regulated corporate accountability (a quick “Hi” to Yvonne from the Nachhaltigkeitsrat :)), but poses this question within the context of developing countries: What works better? Hmm. Complex, me thinks, since this is tangent to the responsibility of MNCs in the informal sector - and to the benefits they can reap through that in learning about the “indigenous knowledge”.

(I remember that at this weeks’ InWent conference there had been a strong desire by the South to opt for “light regulation coupled with financial assistance” — whereby light refers to securing basic rights.)
Wilhelm ends with stark statements anyone from within the PSD-crowd will agree on: “Mugabe will not attract foreign investors” and “There are so many wonderful stories in Africa, but the media does not report on them”. True.
After a much needed coffee break, the audience heard the rapid account of what would have easily qualified for an entire 90 minute session - given in some 20 minutes by Liesl Riddle from George Washingthon (DC) University: A case study on “CSR as an informal institution: The case of Egypt.” So she referred at such speed that one couldn’t think, let alone write down what she said. I just somehow managed to get the impression that it must have been an excellent presentation, but to pin it down now?

There’s a comment I need to make, though: We all know that life in globalisation times got “americanized” to a large extent. Germans have learned English, most of us can cope to a satisfying degree or more - but: what about people from Eastern Europe, new EU member states or, for that matter, from Portugal, Greece and other countries who have not been graced by a 40+ year presence of US/UK soldiers? If I didn’t get a lot out of that lecture, how would they feel?

Ah well, it will all be online soon, giving us the opportunity to follow through. Gotta go now, more later…

Update: I knew it was good: Here you go - Presentation by Riddle

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Boston CCC: reframing the role of business

googins.jpgIt’s conference week: I could not avoid attending the 2nd International Conference on CSR in Berlin. As they’ve got WLAN available, I will try to blog it - forgive me for any misunderstandings or wrong perception and interpretation of ideas - mistakes are all mine.

There’s Bradley Googins starting just now. He’s a former student of Brandeis, of all things (disclaimer: me too…), and now runs the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. His focus is change, or the way in how it has been speeded up lately. His take on the private sector is, to recognise the changing role of business - and the changing of the role of government. Not that this in itself would be particularly new, but he has just finished a research study with 25 CEOs of MNCs, posing his frame in front of them and asking, if there are implications of this towards a much needed change in leadership within businesses.

Googins’ main point: Businesses can no longer afford to be bystanders in the process. They already do take sides. Isn’t that a bit like “It is not possible not to communicate” or Mary Anderson’s background to “Do no harm”: “presence is not neutral. It influences the context”, I thought.
CSR is at a very early stage in capturing the necessity to adopt to the responsibilities they de facto have: while 51 of the 100 largest “bodies” (in regards to value and GDP) are companies and 49 states, they have only adopted to the compliance issues introduces, while not seizing the opportunities this responsibility.

Googins presents a survey (can’t read source) on the trust of different players citizens bring towards all three sectors. NGOs rated highest, corporations at the very bottom end.

He points to the growing inequities on our planet and then, aptly connection, to fat cat pay rises, and closes this critical remark with some more positive some examples that show opportunities, such as SC Johnson (?) and the ecomagination campaign by GE. And, he adds that he perceives the new GRI G3 as a very promising step forward.

A McKinsey Study (2005) looked at the CEOs perspectives and tactics for the future. They have four issues: Increasing transparency, implementing internal CSR policies, engaging stakeholders, industry coalitions for self regulation.

Then there’s a real compliment for “German” corporations: They seem to by far outperform US companies in regards reporting (only 18% of US companies - sample: the largest 200 companies worldwide - report on their CSR activities, the percentage of German companies doing this is much higher… didn’t get the figure). However, he does not discuss whether or not this is mainly a PR exercise - leading on to an at first sight quite funny chart, connecting the to-do’s of companies within a sort of mindmap cloud.

He goes through the stages of corporate citizenship (CC), starting from donations and philanthropy up to Business Practices, naming Starbucks, HP, AMD - and their quest for the “sweet spot” i.e. business case in CC. His earlier mentioned CEO survey was quite a surprise: when talking with (and taping) CEOs, they seemed to have more time than Googins originally thought: actually always more than an hour. Quite amazing, I thought, especially since their word is weighted on gold scales by shareholders and the investment community, who has nothing else to do…
New Reality emerging:

1. Business perspective is moving from shareholder to stakeholder (a quote by Sam Palmisano, Chairman and CEO IBM), but still: Milton Friedmans quote of “The business of business is business” remains the paradigm of Wallstreet.

2. Deregulation comes at a price: the benefits of economic prosperity can only be harnessed, whenever the responsibility that is connected to the opportunity which in turn is the reason for pushing towards deregulation.

3. Short-term thinking does not provide solution for long-term problems.

Creating a soft landing to Globalisation means to use the positive contributions economy brings to society - and, of course, the secret of success is to do what one aims for and wants to be good at without generating envy in the world around. It is this that creates the demand for business leaders that recognise their importance in and value to society.

Update: Googins’ keynote.

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