Trying to define Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
CSR has grown to include many perspectives, all of which have contributed to enriching the concept while at the same time making the term ungraspable and incomprehensible. Confusion is the result of the differing opinions, motives, drivers, emotions, directions and vocabularies used in CSR. It will remain difficult to come to one clear definition of CSR as it continuously adapts itself to the changing needs and trends of business and society. One might even wonder if it is at all desirable to create one definition. Its inherent diversity reveals that the CSR debate appeals to many people from all walks of life. It is interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and intergovernmental.
CSR does not stop at the borders of companies or countries. Despite their sometimes fierce disagreements, those involved in CSR share the mutual concern for the issues at hand. It is this shared concern that has enabled CSR to become the discussion of the century with an ever increasing scope and scale. The basic notion that is shared among all CSR advocates is that the business enterprise has an important role in society. A role that is evidently changing. Providing a one- size- fits- all definition is therefore not only difficult but also tricky.
CSR can be seen as a debate that emerges most saliently at the interface of business and society. It is at this interface that the interaction between a corporation and its social, economic and ecological environment is being (re)shaped. Since this environment is continuously changing, it places new demands on corporations. Corporations cannot disregard these changing demands; they need to respond to them. Problems and challenges arise when trying to answer the question on how to respond to these changes. Just talking about an appropriate response is not sufficient. Solutions need to be imagined, invented, developed and integrated. Corporations need to become innovative in the true sense of the word. It is not just a matter of thinking out of the box but imagining new boxes. Wasn’t it Einstein who said that the problem of the future cannot be solved with the concepts of the past?
As the business enterprise has developed over the past century, so too has the idea of its responsibility to society. Just following and obeying to the rule of law is not good enough. Maybe the core of responsibility is to be or to feel responsible for oneself, for others, for a given environment and for the use of that environment. Responsibility thus implies mastering the art of balancing diverse needs and expectations of various stakeholders at the same time. It implies organizing is such a way that for each of these stakeholders value is being created, simultaneously. Or to put it in the words of Porter and Kramer (2010): “The solution lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value (read corporate growth or profit) in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the center.” This requires balancing needs and expectations, and making choices that can and will be disputed. It requires leadership and exploring innovative organizational concepts. Finally, it will require us as individuals working in organisations to answer the question how we contribute to society.