Building a career with impact in CSR

Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR

Building a career with impact in CSR

Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR
Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR

The story of capitalism in the 21st century is largely the story of responsible business. Of course, businesses must still focus on the bottom line, but the days where this is all that a business focuses on are long gone.

One growing focus for business is on how they can be better corporate citizens. This is driven by ever-more conscientious consumers demanding ethically delivered products and services, as well as an increasing awareness of the challenges we collectively face, such as climate change and structural injustice.

According to research from KPMG, more than 90 per cent of the 250 largest US companies published a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report in 2020. This number has been steadily increasing over the past 15 years – 64 per cent reported on CSR in 2005 – and has been supercharged as the pandemic increased the focus on risks of all kinds, including environmental and reputational.

This has led to the emergence of a whole new career path in the field of CSR. As businesses look to professionalise and embed their approach, they are seeking creative and ambitious people to help shape and deliver their CSR agendas. We have seen this at global financial services provider Apex Group, where a dedicated Head of CSR role has now been created for the first time. So, what can this relatively new career involve and what is needed to succeed on this path?

Building a CSR skillset

Not so long ago, CSR roles and corporate responsibility were largely the preserve of the creative industries. This meant that the field offered only narrow job opportunities and prospects for business graduates seeking an impactful career.

Recently however, this has changed dramatically. Now, corporate responsibility is front and centre for businesses across all sectors of the economy and there is a growing demand for CSR professionals across the fast-moving and growing professional services and finance industries. In one estimate, the number of CSR-related job roles was said to have jumped by nearly 75 per cent between 2020 and 2021, with nearly a third of those roles coming in senior positions. And according to research from recruiter Robert Walters, the financial services and professional services industries accounted for eight per cent and 13 per cent of CSR job vacancies, respectively, in 2021.

With greater opportunities to build an impactful career in CSR come greater competition for these roles. So, it’s important that those looking to build a CSR career start cultivating the skills needed to succeed in their career and ensure that they are equipped to drive positive and measurable change.

My own experience has taught me that running a successful CSR programme requires the ability to engage senior stakeholders to secure their buy-in, budget and explain the return on investment (ROI) you are delivering for the organisation. This ROI is just as much about corporate wellbeing, reputation and impact than it is about profit, so strong communication skills are essential to ensure you can translate outcomes into a language which your stakeholders understand and respond to.

Apex Group is committed to CSR, so internal conversations on the subject tend to be positive. Other businesses and management teams may need more convincing, however, so being able to engage, persuade and convince senior business leaders, especially those who remain unconvinced by the need for a focussed CSR programme, is going to be central to success.

As a CSR lead, you also need to be able to take the business with you. This means demonstrating to colleagues and managers why CSR is important, why it should be done and how best to do it, as well as communicating its positive impact. Building an internal network is also important as you will have to work closely with teams across an organisation. This could include any governance or regulatory teams as CSR is closely tied to growing regulatory responsibilities around environmental and social governance (ESG). You’ll also be working with HR in relation to giving employees the chance to get involved, for example, and with the communications team so that the good work being done can be communicated properly to your internal and external stakeholders. In addition, you’ll need to build a network with NGOs, partners and charities outside the organisation that can help your business drive positive change.

More than all this, however, you will need a genuine passion for having a positive impact to succeed in CSR. This isn’t a role where you can fake it and you’ll need to be sincere in your desire to do good for people and the planet.

Challenges

Making an impact is not always going to be straightforward and CSR roles come with potential challenges and setbacks that those looking to build a career in the field should be prepared for.

Many of the challenges relate to the realities of the corporate world generally. Navigating large, matrix organisations with disparate teams that are often spread across multiple locations requires intelligence, adaptability and people skills.

However, one challenge I’ve found that is particular to CSR is choosing which causes to support. Apex Group supported the launch of the Apex Foundation in 2022, a non-profit entity set up to support charitable initiatives and projects that empower positive change. We set out clear criteria for the foundation to support grassroots charitable projects in two key areas: the preservation, conservation, and protection of the environment; and women’s empowerment and economic independence. These aims align with the personal priorities of the Founder and CEO of Apex Group, Peter Hughes, and the firm’s CSR objectives. The criteria then made it easier to identify the charities with which we have now partnered – namely, WaterAid, Blue Marine Foundation, CAMFED and Tusk Trust.

While it feels great to offer support to charities that fit your company’s CSR priorities, turning down those that aren’t currently the right fit is hard. It can be emotionally tough and conversations can require a good deal of diplomacy.

What next?

CSR is one of biggest growth areas around right now and is a great field in which to consider building a career. It allows me to combine professional development and career growth, with the sense of fulfilment that comes with supporting deserving causes and helping move the corporate world and wider economy towards driving positive change for people and planet.

My advice for those looking to enter this career would be to stay passionate and to keep learning. Regulation is constantly changing, so listen to webinars, attend networking events and join relevant groups on LinkedIn. Your role is to be in the know and keep up with emerging knowledge. Find what works best for you – my top tip is to listen to podcasts on your commute or on a run. This is when some of my best CSR inspiration has struck.

Lakshmi Woodings is head of CSR for global financial services provider, Apex Group. With a decade of experience working in marketing and communications, Lakshmi is responsible for developing and executing comprehensive campaigns to promote and drive forward CSR initiatives.

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A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

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The principles of business ethics | How to adapt a responsible approach to management

The principles of business ethics | How to adapt a responsible approach to management

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teamwork-3213924_960_720

As an impactful business school, adopting a responsible approach to business management is essential, for both the institution and its students alike.

In this article, we discuss the key principles of business ethics, and how these impact an institution’s approach to responsible management, from integrating social responsibility into your curriculum to partnering with responsible businesses.

At the Business Graduates Association, responsible management is one of the main core pillars of BGA’s vision. Our goal is to be the leading global movement for responsible management, positive impact and lifelong learning.To learn more about BGA, please visit here.

What does business ethics mean?

Business ethics refers to the principles and values that guide the behaviour of business organisations and the individuals within them on a global scale. It encompasses a range of considerations including honesty, respect for human rights, social responsibility and sustainability.

Why are ethics important in business?

Not only do ethics help business schools develop future leaders and build trust with students, alumni and employers, but they can also help prepare students for the real world.

Additional reasons why ethics are important in the world of business education include:

Address social and environmental challenges

Business schools have a responsibility to address the social and environmental challenges facing society.

By ensuring the MBA curriculum features business ethics, institutions can promote sustainable business practices, assisting students in understanding the impact of business on society and the environment.

Foster innovation

By encouraging students to think creatively and make ethical decisions, business schools can help students create innovative solutions to complex challenges in the business realm.

Ensure compliance

Efficient business schools will acknowledge their responsibility for ensuring graduates comply with ethical standards in the workplace. By teaching students about the importance of good business ethics, institutions can help build trust by demonstrating their commitment to business ethics and sustainability.

Prepare students for the future

Ethical challenges in the workplace are incredibly common. Teaching business ethics can assist students in forming an understanding of the ethical dilemmas they may face throughout their careers and provide them with the tools required to manage these situations effectively.

Encourage lifelong learning

Business schools can encourage lifelong learning by teaching their students to think critically in a range of situations. By incorporating business ethics and sustainability into the curriculum, institutions can help students develop a lifelong commitment to learning and self-improvement.

Contribute to a better society
Accredited business schools have a responsibility to contribute to a better society. By promoting good business ethics, schools can assist in creating a business culture that values society as a whole, rather than an individual asset.

The evolution of business ethics

Since emerging as a concept in the early 20th century, business ethics have evolved greatly thanks to various social, economic and political changes. Initially coming into view as a means to approach worker exploitation and poor working conditions, business ethics became a more formalised field of study in the mid-20th century.

The 21st century has witnessed a growing emphasis on the importance of ethical leadership in business, driven by high-profile corporate scandals and financial crises. Nowadays, the field of business ethics continues to evolve, with a growing focus on diversity and inclusion.

Key principles of business ethics

Integrity – refers to being honest in all business dealings, even in the face of making difficult decisions.
Fairness – treating all stakeholders fairly – including the avoidance of discrimination, exploitation and unfair practices.
Responsibility – taking responsibility for the impact of business activities on society and the environment.
Respect for human rights – including the right to dignity, privacy and non-discrimination.
Transparency – being accountable in all business dealings – this involves being open about business practices and decisions and addressing unethical behaviour.
Compliance with laws – this involves following the law and regulations in all business activities, as well as upholding ethical standards that go beyond requirements.

Business school membership | Promoting good business ethics within institutions around the globe

BGA believes that business schools should strive to innovate beyond conventional means.

As a member institution of the BGA network, your business school will have the opportunity to pursue BGA validation, an offsite assessment of a business schools’ ability to meet the BGA Charter, built upon the nine pillars that would demonstrate continuous improvement, quality and responsible management practices of an institution. BGA validation serves as a great way to prepare schools that are new to business school accreditation. Learn more about BGA validation here.

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professional development:

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Cover Story

A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

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The mutually beneficial pursuit of ethics and profits

Business Impact: The mutually beneficial pursuit of ethics and profits

The mutually beneficial pursuit of ethics and profits

Business Impact: The mutually beneficial pursuit of ethics and profits
Business Impact: The mutually beneficial pursuit of ethics and profits

Taking an ethical approach to business may not always be about morality or making the world a better place – it is about responding to shifts in consumer behaviour and the demands of ethical investors to remain commercially relevant, competitive, socially acceptable and investable.

Milton Friedman famously stated 52 years ago that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”

Friedman questioned the notion of corporate social responsibility, suggesting that businesses can’t have social responsibilities, only people can. But he didn’t have Gen Z or millennials to deal with.

Shifting consumer behaviour

Friedman also didn’t have socially responsible investor activists organising themselves under the fashionable acronym ‘ESG’ (Environmental, Social and Governance) but he might at least be glad that they found a new way to say CSR without emphasising the ‘responsibility’ bit.

In 2019, McKinsey and Company stated in its annual review of the international fashion business that “nine in 10 Generation Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues” and that these consumers not only consider them to be the defining issues of their time but that they also “increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favouring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t.”

McKinsey goes on to state that Gen Z and millennials accounted for $350 billion of consumer spending in the US alone, with Gen Z representing 40% of all global consumers. Put preferences and power together and you get a consumer force that cannot be ignored.

Ethical trading values are not confined to younger consumers either. McKinsey estimates that two thirds of consumers worldwide would “switch, avoid or boycott brands based on their stance on controversial issues”.

Aligning with change

This tsunami of consumer sentiment has led to the B Corporation movement. B Corporations, certified by B Lab US and UK, state their strategy as “rooted in the global Theory of Change, aiming to redefine the role of business within our economic system so that every business is a force for good”.

To be a certified B Corporation, businesses commit to an agenda that promotes “an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy for all people and our shared planet”.

I can hear you more seasoned business leaders scoffing at the wokeness here, but know this: there are now more than 1,000 B Certified corporations in the UK, 4,300 in the world and 6,000 new applications in 2020/21, representing a 38% increase over the previous year, according to the B Lab Company’s annual report for 2021.

Sounds impressive, right? Gen Z and millennials think of themselves as being “more learned, more egalitarian and more humane” than previous generations, as described by Dana Thomas in the 2019 book, Fashionopolis. But then, why are they still buying £5 GBP t-shirts and £12 jeans from Primark? Do consumers reconcile their values with the value retail sector? What do they think Primark paid their manufacturers for these items and what do they think these manufacturers paid their workers to make them?

So it is not only businesses that muddy the ethics waters; consumers do too.

Muddying the waters

According to the NGO, China Labor Watch, there is evidence that Apple “violates China’s labour laws through practices such as using child labour and forced overtime work.”

Yet, “experts say the company is unlikely to change its subcontracting practices [in China] as long as there is no consumer backlash—and so far, there is no evidence of one,” according to research from Jonathan Broder, published in 2020’s Issues in Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Apple has 343 billion reasons to allow China to censor its app availability and not care about any ethical dilemmas or consumer consequences. It is still consistently reporting record profits: the company posted an all-time revenue record of $123.9 billion, up 11 per cent year on year for its fiscal 2022 first quarter ending December 25, 2021.

But Apple does care, apparently. According to CEO Tim Cook: “We do the right thing even when it is not easy.” Indeed, Apple cares enough to publish a 19-page Business Conduct Policy but how do we reconcile this with regularly reported whistleblowing accounts of dubious practices in supply chain management? Is its Business Conduct Policy really about sincerely expressed ethical business values or is it more about the ‘Applewashing’ of world-record breaking profits?

Connecting with the consumer zeitgeist

Patagonia built corporate social responsibility into the core attributes of its brand. It has a robust set of environmentally sustainable policies that underpin all business activities from fair trade to organic farming.

Its stated goal is “to not only minimise harm, but also create a positive benefit for the lives that we touch through our business.” As such, Patagonia rails against fast fashion, preaching wear and repair instead. It also promotes fair trade and regenerative cotton production.

Here’s the thing though: by connecting with the current consumer zeitgeist, all that fantastic ethical brand equity, all of Patagonia’s renowned better way of doing things for the benefit of mankind, has made owner, Yvon Chouinard a very wealthy man indeed, with a reported net worth of $1.2 billion.

But if it’s an ethical approach to business you want, maybe all billionaire owners should consider what Chouinard did in September 2022 when he gave away his company to a charitable trust in order to fight climate change. Now that is living your brand values.

Stuart Ailion

Stuart Ailion is a lecturer in business at The University of Law Business School’s campus in Manchester, UK.

Read more Business Impact articles related to corporate social responsibility:

Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR
careers

Building a career with impact in CSR

Creative and ambitious people that can help businesses shape and deliver their CSR agendas are in demand, says Lakshmi Woodings. Discover what careers in CSR involve and the skills you’ll need to succeed

Read More »

Download the latest edition of the Business Impact magazine

Cover Story

A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

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Does CSR improve performance?

Business Impact: Does CSR improve performance?

Does CSR improve performance?

Business Impact: Does CSR improve performance?
Business Impact: Does CSR improve performance?

The relationship between corporate social responsibility (CSR) and performance is a frequent topic of research. The problem is that the results vary across studies. Some conclude that the relationship is positive, while others find that it is neutral or even negative. How can this surprising state of affairs be explained?

A review of dozens of studies published in the top academic journals showed that the relationship between CSR and financial performance is slightly positive. Furthermore, the intensity of the relationship depends on which journals publish the studies.

The (positive) relationship between CSR and profitability is twice as strong in articles published in journals specialising in ethics as in economics, finance and accounting journals. The results of the studies that are published in management journals lie between these two extremes, although they are nearer to the ethics journal publications. This may seem odd. Since all the researchers are examining the same problem, study results shouldn’t differ between publication outlets. The meta-analysis revealed that these differences are mainly attributable to ideology.

Differences in ideology

Ever since Milton Friedman, economists have tended to be sceptical about CSR, believing that it always has a negative effect on profitability. The upshot is that economic, finance and accounting journals tend to publish studies showing a negative or (at best) weakly positive relationship between CSR and financial performance.

Ethics specialists take a diametrically opposed approach. They see no incompatibility between CSR and profitability, and even hypothesise a virtuous circle: greater corporate investment in CSR leads to better financial results, facilitating more investment in CSR. Ethics journals thus give priority to studies finding a strongly positive relationship between CSR and corporate financial performance.

Management researchers are less categorical. Unlike the economists, they don’t systematically reject the idea that socially responsible behaviour can enhance profitability. Nor do they have the pro-CSR convictions of ethics researchers. As a result, the studies published in management journals have the most nuance.

What can we learn from this meta-analysis? The first takeaway is a warning: beware studies exploring topics with ideological connotations. CSR is undeniably one such topic. Some people think CSR should be a requirement for all firms. Others see it as a heresy that does nothing but distract firms from their true purpose, which is to create value for shareholders.

Although studies published in academic journals are more objective than reports published by think tanks, they can still contain biases. Academic journals play a ‘gatekeeper’ role for the screening and dissemination of knowledge. A study that finds a strongly positive relationship between CSR and financial performance corroborates the ideas held by ethics journals editors and reviewers. So it has a much better chance of publication in a pro-CSR journal than in an economics, finance and accounting (or management) journal.

The second takeaway is more encouraging. Annoying though it may be for the ethicists, nobody has yet managed to prove that CSR is good for financial performance. But neither has anybody proved the opposite. So why wouldn’t firms adopt (more) socially responsible behaviours? It would enhance their image without being bad for profits (or shareholders). And it’s a fairly inexpensive way for business leaders to do good.

How investments in CSR affect a CEO’s tenure

While there is no evidence that CSR strategies get in the way of business, research shows that they have a subtle effect on the tenure of CEOs at the head of a firm.  

Indeed, results show that a business leader’s view of the importance of CSR has no direct effect on their tenure. CEOs who make significant investments in CSR have neither more nor less chance of being shown the door than CEOs who make no investment at all in CSR. However, CSR investments accentuate the impact of financial performance on the way shareholders treat CEOs.

When a firm’s financial performance is good, financial markets respond very positively to investments in CSR. They take them as a sign that the CEO can both create value for shareholders and act responsibly. A CEO with good financial results who also considers CSR to be very important runs half as much risk (-53%) of losing their job than a CEO with good financial results who doesn’t consider CSR to be very important.

The opposite applies when a firm’s financial performance is poor. In that situation, financial markets tend to think that the CEO’s focus on CSR has been detrimental to creation of value for shareholders. A CEO with poor financial results who treats CSR as very important runs almost twice the risk (+84%) of getting marching orders than a CEO with good financial results who pays little attention to CSR.

So, is investing in CSR advisable for a CEO keen to stay at the helm? It all depends on the firm’s financial performance. If it’s good, a CSR-focused CEO will hold on to the job longer than counterparts with less of an interest in CSR. If it’s poor, the same CEO will be dismissed faster. Financial performance thus remains a priority for the markets. They have no objections to CSR… as long as the financial results are there.

Headshot of Jérôme Barthélemy

Jérôme Barthélemy is executive vice president, dean for post-experience programmes, corporate programmes and relations, and professor of strategy and management at ESSEC Business School, Paris. He has been a visiting professor and visiting research scholar at New York University, Stanford University and Cambridge University, and is the author of Myths of Strategy (Kogan Page).

Read more Business Impact articles related to corporate social responsibility:

Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR
careers

Building a career with impact in CSR

Creative and ambitious people that can help businesses shape and deliver their CSR agendas are in demand, says Lakshmi Woodings. Discover what careers in CSR involve and the skills you’ll need to succeed

Read More »

Download the latest edition of the Business Impact magazine

Cover Story

A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

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Business Impact?

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Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Content Editor
Business Impact

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Differentiation through impact part III

Business Impact: Differentiation through impact part III

Differentiation through impact part III

Business Impact: Differentiation through impact part III
Business Impact: Differentiation through impact part III

The way business schools compete is changing. Those that can demonstrate their positive influence on society are increasingly able to stand out from the crowd, in the eyes of prospective students, employers, and other stakeholders.

Business Impact set out to learn more and share examples of how business schools across the global BGA network are striving to make a positive impact on their graduates, communities, and the natural environment.

This article considers how business schools are making a positive impact on the communities in which they operate. Interviewee respondents represent business schools in France, Japan, Egypt, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada. 

How is your business school making a positive impact on the community/communities in which it operates?

Yasmina Kashouh, DBA candidate at Ascencia Business School and Faculty Member at Collège de Paris International: Collège de Paris is a French network of 25 schools specialising primarily in business and management. The group now has almost 40,000 students enrolled in continuing education. The main goal is to make high-quality education available to as many people as possible throughout the world.

It has, for example, a partnership with the association, Universités & Réfugié.e.s (UniR) that works to improve access to higher education for refugees and asylum seekers in France. Today, the project is expanding, as it also includes support for the Validation of Experience (VAE) for migrants who already have professional experience abroad, as well as online or distance learning courses.

We have also developed a new concept of tokenisation built on blockchain technology related to payments. Today, payment is one of the most important aspects of distribution. It is very difficult to pay school fees in nations where the domestic currency is unstable or illiquid. To provide as many students as possible with access to education, we want to use blockchain technology, specifically cryptocurrency payments. We are in the process of developing a token for the distribution of education, called ‘Talent’. The idea is that this token could be used for international payments, tuition fees, investments for student projects, and so on. The aim of the initiative is to create a valuable coin for the education and integration of international students around the world and for the introduction of new payment methods.

Headshot of Yasmina Kashouh

Steven De Haes, Dean, Antwerp Management School: Our master’s students are engaged in community projects, as part of their education. They cooperate with local organisations to address issues such as social inequality, access to public services, poverty, climate change, sustainable use of materials, and so on. Often on a small but very practical scale, the aim of these projects is to make a real and concrete difference by using students’ managerial talents for the benefit of a local community or a specific target group.

Headshot of Steven De Haas

Nicola Jackman, Head of Academics, Geneva Business School: As a Swiss business school with a student body that represents more than 100 different nations, we ensure that all our programmes have three fundamental principles: sustainability, accountability, and responsibility (leadership) which are further supported by our mentorship approach. To further assist our students and their communities, we are launching an Entrepreneurial Foundation Hub through which students can seek financial support for their projects, as well as access to a knowledge pool, composed by practitioners from different areas and countries.

Headshot of Nicola Jackman

Kenji Yokoyama, Dean of External Relations, NUCB Business School: NUCB Business School is located in the midst of Nagoya’s Central Industrial Area. NUCB has been at the centre of human resource development for the industrial area [to the extent that] it is said that the industrial area has developed together with the development of NUCB.

Headshot of Kenji Yokoyama

Sherif Kamel, Dean, The American University in Cairo School of Business: The school seeks to generate a positive and measurable social impact. It understands and values the invaluable importance of the UN SDGs’ (sustainable development goals) integration into curriculum, research and community development activities and services.

For instance, the school in collaboration with the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) has recently launched the PRME Africa chapter as part of the third AUC School of Business Forum.

Headshot of Sherif Kamel

This article originally appeared in the print edition (May 2022-July 2022) of Business Impact, magazine of the Business Graduates Association (BGA).

Read more Business Impact articles related to corporate social responsibility:

Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR
careers

Building a career with impact in CSR

Creative and ambitious people that can help businesses shape and deliver their CSR agendas are in demand, says Lakshmi Woodings. Discover what careers in CSR involve and the skills you’ll need to succeed

Read More »

Download the latest edition of the Business Impact magazine

Cover Story

A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

Want your business school to feature in
Business Impact?

For questions about editorial opportunities, please contact:

Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Content Editor
Business Impact

Tim

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What does your business stand for?

Business Impact: What does your business stand for?

What does your business stand for?

Business Impact: What does your business stand for?
Business Impact: What does your business stand for?

All business leaders are relied on by stakeholders to make the best decisions with regards to the impact their company will have on them as individuals, their interests and their income. Companies that perform well for their stakeholders tend to secure even greater success for the business in the future. But how can leaders articulate this and execute it, especially when it comes to persuading shareholders and directors that some ideas are the right strategic choice?

The need to satisfy and act on an implicit duty of care to all should be the priority for businesses. They are accountable to customers and shareholders first, but also employees, suppliers, the environment, and communities, wherever they make an impact. This is in addition to remaining responsive to government and regulators at home and in all markets, and amid a changing profile of investors or lenders. 

A ‘Great Shift’ is around the corner

During the next 10 to 15 years, humanity will fundamentally change in terms of what, how and why we buy and consume, and why we decide to work for any given company. The governments and businesses our elders run are responsible for all global societies reaching a precipice of globally catastrophic proportions. As a result, the attitude barometer is moving very, very quickly. Public opinion, among those generations soon to be aged 20 to 50, increasingly represents a clear and present threat to business.

Market conditions are shifting, and the race is now on. Either your business or another will be the first company in your competitive environment attaching a brand to a set of principles or a purpose that is important to your target audience.

Businesses will act or be left behind

The threat of being outrun by competitors should be enough to motivate shareholders and directors to invest in ways to navigate that shifting new norm. This is likely to become one of the greatest causes of discontinuity in businesses that we’ve ever seen. This ‘Great Shift’ will be a pan-sector disruption event second to none. Even now, it is simmering away in the background of every industry and competitive landscape. Employees and customers are just waiting for viable alternatives to arise. As soon as alternatives appear that better serve a burgeoning and overwhelming desire for satisfaction, the dial on employment and buying choices will move without warning. 

Change presents an opportunity

Yet, by pinpointing more precisely who and how their impact can be changed for the better, change gives businesses a positive opportunity. This is a key enabler for future success in business. It will be difficult to remain relevant unless businesspeople can clearly state what they stand for. This could be in terms of values and principles-led strategy, or simply the impact that is being made in the interconnected value chains of their ecosystem – both positive influences and actions to resolve previous negative effects. 

Business leaders need to look ahead and think about the scenarios that could arise in the future and try to identify potential vulnerabilities or opportunities in their ecosystem’s interconnected value chains. Doing this will help organisations decide how and when to act in response to unforeseen events as they unfold, using scenario planning and monitoring changes as they occur. 

Ideas come from your people

You don’t need to look far to find the sources of ideas. Listening to your own people and asking your business ecosystem with genuine curiosity will help you uncover the ideas and changes that are desired most urgently by consumers and employees, and the principles that will result in their loyalty. Some key actions to take are:

  • Aligning your business with global issues that matter deeply to most people at a human level, regardless of the scale of impact. This is likely to resonate immediately and could be a vital differentiator for your business.
  • Embracing the nonconformists and contrarians out there because they are the ones who will take your business in unforeseen directions.

Translating ideas into actions

To form coherent arguments, business leaders should learn to use frameworks, methods, tools and techniques, professionally and wisely. Get some help and become better at using the insights gained. Getting this right will directly improve financial performance and will result in increased company-level valuation. This is at the heart of your ability to convince directors and shareholders of the reasons why your choices are the right strategic decision – for survival and for improved profit. 

By being inclusive of people in your team and across your ecosystem you may create a force of evangelists that will spread news of your business’s purpose-led differentiation. To make sure their choices are right, leaders should encourage respectful challenge among that cohort. It also ensures the business is reactive to changing dynamics that its people might discover before leaders can.

Your deadline to act is now

There are more than 200 million businesses in the world and collectively, we are able to have more impact than any other community can. However, this impact must be preceded by an opening up of people’s minds. There must be widespread acceptance that doing good and having a better impact throughout the value chain and supply chains is now a matter of business survival, not simply a nice-to-have icing on the cake. 

It’s likely that business leaders will doubt this because they haven’t witnessed it before. Nobody has. The truth is, that we are at a crucial moment in the history of our species, at which it appears we are failing to act judiciously, expeditiously or with respect for the significance of our historical duty. What is more pitiful is that an addiction to consumerism and an insatiable thirst for perpetually growing profit – our basest human urges – seem likely to precipitate our fall. 

Whether this ‘Great Shift’ is an opportunity or a threat for organisations will largely be determined by how they react, and the course of action they choose to take. Will they act now or opt to wait and see? I sincerely hope you make the right choices.

Headshot of Steve Sanders

Steve Sanders is an entrepreneur, the author of Five Horizons and market strategist at Business Growth Mechanics. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and an MBA strategy guest speaker.

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Making an impact: corporate social responsibility

A close-up photograph of a single water droplet about to hit a pool of water; pool of water is causing a circular ripple motion. Water, in this case, signifies sustainability. Business Impact article for Making an impact: corporate social responsibility.

Making an impact: corporate social responsibility

A close-up photograph of a single water droplet about to hit a pool of water; pool of water is causing a circular ripple motion. Water, in this case, signifies sustainability. Business Impact article for Making an impact: corporate social responsibility.
A close-up photograph of a single water droplet about to hit a pool of water; pool of water is causing a circular ripple motion. Water, in this case, signifies sustainability. Business Impact article for Making an impact: corporate social responsibility.

A new way to do business with social impact is emerging – purposeful, ethical and sustainable. This approach, with a focus on business as a ‘force for good’, disrupts established thinking around traditional profit-based models, but is this model viable?

With the most forward-thinking organisations actively putting people, the environment, and positive impact first to achieve a fairer society and a more sustainable economy, there is evidence that pursuing a ‘force for good’ business model can be more successful than a profit-driven approach. 

There is also a growing consensus that business leaders have a responsibility not only to shareholders, but also to wider society – customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and the environment.

What does this mean for business education? A session of the AMBA & BGA Festival of Excellence gathered CSR experts for a debate on the subject of positive impact, innovation, sustainability, and responsible management. 

Topics under discussion included: the challenges surrounding the role of Business Schools; how sustainability and social impact could and should be integrated into every MBA programme; how MBA students can learn the key skills required to become forward-thinking leaders; and how the sector can challenge the business models that have resulted in the unintended consequences of today. The following paragraphs are just a selection of highlights from this panel debate.  

Measurable impact

Pavlina Proteou, Founder and CEO of BeyondCSR, started the conversation: ‘The challenge, in part, is that lots of corporations still view sustainability as a PR activity, rather than a core activity. It should be CEO level; it should be the umbrella strategy – the only strategy, actually,’ she said, before adding: ‘When you have CSR and you have that budget, you can use it to come out with a positive measurable impact, because impact has to be measured; it’s not just adopting initiatives and corporate philanthropies. CSR is there to progress and accelerate sustainability strategies, but it has to be part of the core business development, not a marketing division. 

‘This is how you make impact, and social impact is part of sustainability. We talk about sustainable development and social impact as if they are two different things but it’s one thing. If you have concrete sustainable strategies, then you can make measurable social impact and environmental impact. 

‘One of the problems is that corporations feel it’s like ticking a box. There are game-changing companies, but if the approach is only ticking a box, you’ll never have the desired outcome.’ 

Echoing calls for a reset

James Gomme, a Director at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, added: ‘In the long term, businesses will only be successful if they are operating sustainably. All governments are moving in that direction and societal expectations are moving very strongly in that direction as well. 

‘There were calls at the World Economic Forum for a complete reset of our capitalist model, of the way financial markets work and the way financial markets value sustainable business behaviour. 

‘I would encourage Business Schools to start to echo that and to incorporate sustainability-related topics into the class on financial accounting, the class on strategy, the class on HR-related discussions, and so on. 

‘It is a topic that touches everything you do as a business. Purpose should be something that runs through all of these different functions and those functions should be in support of that purpose.’

Being held to account

Celia Ouellette, Founder and CEO of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, noted that there is a clear link between diversity, CSR and social justice, against a backdrop defined by unrest. 

‘Diversity should be the bedrock of good teams,’ she asserted, before pointing to her experience of leading and running a non-profit organisation: ‘The strength of our team lies in the diversity of experience, culture, ethnicity of our organisation, as well as the diversity of its agenda. You need to continually look at each aspect of an MBA programme through these lenses. It will create more sustainable businesses in the long run. 

‘You can create businesses that are less risky and more future-proof. I think that “cancel culture” is just one symptom of what will come when businesses don’t align their purpose and values with the people that they are employing, or that they are selling to. 

‘One of the things that businesses will really need to face is how they’re being held to account, particularly post-Covid-19.’ 

Chair: Andrew Main Wilson, CEO, AMBA & BGA

Panellists: James Gomme, Director, World Business Council for Sustainable Development; Celia Ouellette, Founder and CEO, Responsible Business Initiative for Justice; Pavlina Proteou, Founder and CEO, BeyondCSR

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An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

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Business Impact?

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Content Editor
Business Impact

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Why businesses must develop greater integrity

A white and brown dog propped up with his two front paws looking outside a window. Business Impact article on Why businesses must develop greater integrity.

Why businesses must develop greater integrity

A white and brown dog propped up with his two front paws looking outside a window. Business Impact article on Why businesses must develop greater integrity.
A white and brown dog propped up with his two front paws looking outside a window. Business Impact article on Why businesses must develop greater integrity.

If you were described as an integrous person, you may wonder whether it was a compliment or not, but it simply means a person full of integrity. I heard the story of a man called James Doty, a neurosurgeon, entrepreneur and university professor, who early in his career was involved in developing the Cyberknife, an invention that netted him millions of dollars. At the turn of the millennium, he promised $30 million USD out of his $75 million USD net worth to charity – just before the dot-com crash of 2000 to 2001, which brought his wealth down to around the $30 million USD he had already pledged. Doty’s lawyers advised him that he could renege on his promise and get out of the pledge; surely people would understand the change of circumstances and he wouldn’t lose his standing in society. However, Doty was a man of his word and decided to do the right thing and go through with his promise, giving away the last of his fortune to charity.

In a much less costly example, at Cotswold Fayre, we announced in the spring of 2019 that we were going to become carbon neutral from August that year; this was based on some logistical change we had made to vastly reduce the carbon impact of our distribution network, meaning that the carbon offset figure for the carbon used in the distribution of our goods was attainable. The data came from our new logistics company, and either we misunderstood the data at the time or we were just given the wrong figures, but the amount we had to pay to sequester our carbon was considerably higher than what we had budgeted for within the business plan. However, there was never any doubt within our management team that we would go ahead and pay the higher amount, even though no one outside the company would know any different. Money doesn’t make decisions for us; doing what is right does.

These days, many companies want to link a social purpose to their products and make great claims about the percentage of their profits they are giving to social justice projects, such as charities working with street children in Brazil. They often push back when I challenge them and ask them how much they have contributed so far. Of course, many startup brands don’t make a profit for a few years, yet these brands’ products often carry such claims during this time. To my mind, this approach lacks integrity. Surely, it is far better for a young company to say that it will give 5p for each product sold, for example.

In many cases, SMEs can often get away with not doing the right thing because no one notices what small companies do. That is the great advantage of a certification process such as B Corp, where businesses must provide evidence of what they are doing and be analysed on how good they are for the world: both the people and the planet.

Doing the right thing when no one is watching

The Urban Dictionary definition of ‘integrity’ is based on a quote often attributed to [author of The Chronicles of Narnia] CS Lewis, but which might actually paraphrase a line by author, Charles W Marshall: ‘Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.’ It is all too easy to trumpet a high moral standing on social media yet not follow through when the heat is turned up a little. I am concerned that occasionally even renowned ethical companies and their leaders sometimes present a better view to the outside world than what is really happening inside of their organisations. There is a need for more integrity and a greater depth of character among leaders.

People detest hypocrisy more than absolutely anything in a leader, and it has been the downfall of many political figures – as seen by the huge furore caused when the UK prime minister’s closest advisor broke his own rules with regards to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on at least two occasions. Imagine a stick of Blackpool rock that you can cut through at any point to reveal the word ‘Blackpool’. Would people see integrity running through us and our businesses if they were to figuratively cut through us at any point?

The wonderful message from the James Doty story is that even though he ‘lost’ personally, he still went through with his promises. For some of us, winning is too important and can come at the cost of all else. I know the appeal of this, as, like many entrepreneurs, I am very competitive and hate losing, and I have had to temper that competitive streak to maintain my integrity. The former tennis player, Andy Roddick, provides a great example of this. He was once awarded a match when a second serve from his opponent was deemed to be out. However, Roddick saw the ball’s mark in the clay himself and made the umpire reverse his call. Roddick went on to lose the match, but he maintained his integrity.

The danger of overpromising and underdelivering

So, how, do we develop our integrity? Well, probably the most important factor is silence. If we speak too hastily and make promises, we are in danger of overpromising and under-delivering. It is best not to speak hastily and to even learn to say ‘no’ on some occasions, where we may risk losing our integrity and disappointing customers, suppliers or, worst of all, team members. One of the most common reasons people leave employers is when they have been promised promotions, money or bonuses that haven’t been forthcoming.

In these instances, circumstances may well have changed – as they did for James Doty, to the tune of being $45 million USD poorer; but he stuck with his promises all the same. Incidentally, Doty claimed to be happier than he had ever been after he had given that money away, saying: At that moment I realised that the only way that money can bring happiness is to give it away.Being integrous, or full of integrity, is not only the right thing to do, but we will almost certainly be more fulfilled and happier as a result.

Paul Hargreaves is a B-Corp Ambassador, and the Founder and CEO of food and beverage company, Cotswold Fayre. He is also the author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership (2021).

Read more Business Impact articles related to corporate social responsibility:

Business Impact: Building a career with impact in CSR
careers

Building a career with impact in CSR

Creative and ambitious people that can help businesses shape and deliver their CSR agendas are in demand, says Lakshmi Woodings. Discover what careers in CSR involve and the skills you’ll need to succeed

Read More »

Download the latest edition of the Business Impact magazine

Cover Story

A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

Want your business school to feature in
Business Impact?

For questions about editorial opportunities, please contact:

Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Content Editor
Business Impact

Tim

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