A recent New York Times report on Toyota’s work with a member agency of the New York City Food Bank has brought much-needed public and media attention to companies’ efforts to create shared value through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Toyota’s engineers are applying efficient manufacturing principles to streamline operations at the Food Bank, getting more meals served more quickly, cutting costs and even reducing wasted transport space. This is a compelling example of what companies can do on the CSR front. Yet in some ways, the article and subsequent coverage is just as interesting as the program itself.
Consider the article’s headline – with emphasis added: “In Lieu of Money, Toyota Donates Efficiency to New York Charity” – which seems to reflect a popular notion (echoed in some online comments) that money is still the primary way in which companies deliver CSR programs.
In fact, for numerous firms, CSR has long meant more than just giving money. As noted in this report in the International Business Times, corporate volunteer programs – in which employees provide their unique and high-level business expertise to nonprofits, microenterprises, microfinance banks, or community groups – are key parts of the CSR profiles of firms like IBM, Dow Corning, Deloitte, and others. Toyota’s in-house efficiency experts support other nonprofits as well. The pro bono work done by law firms can be considered an early form of such CSR.
Such initiatives help employees feel they are part of the firm’s CSR efforts, which surveys show those employees value, thus building employee loyalty, as well as leveraging companies’ core business competencies – which is often worth more to a nonprofit than just cashing a check. Most nonprofits could not afford to purchase such consulting, skills, and advice at market prices. The companies are not just “donating”; by building the capacity of nonprofit clients, in turn helping these organizations carry out their social missions more effectively, the companies are contributing to those missions.
These principles are a key part of what is often called “CSR 2.0,” moving past philanthropy into more sustainable and effective forms of CSR. Such principles have been long accepted by the business world and CSR experts. As this recent coverage of Toyota’s work demonstrates, more work needs to be done in terms of information and awareness, in order to communicate the diversity of CSR programs to a wider audience.
Marc Schleifer is Senior Program Officer for South Asia at CIPE.