[social_buttons] The 2009 Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Conference begins today and runs through Friday in San Francisco. The theme this year is Reset Economy, Reset World and focuses on a “trio of global crises – the worldwide recession, accelerating climate change, and a collapse of trust in business.”
Nearly 500 businesses, non-profits, universities and other organizations are expected to attend. Speakers from major corporations such as Nike, eBay, Chevron, Wal-Mart, Gap, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Monsanto will join speakers from Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, Global Fund for Women and the International Labour Organization to discuss everything from stakeholder engagement and public policy to supply chain transparency and human rights. So does all this networking and talking actually inspire change and make a difference?
I have attended several BSR Conferences over the years. My first one was in 1999. Back then corporate social responsibility (CSR) was relatively new, and the conference participants were hungry for information. We were willing to be honest and vulnerable when discussing our challenges and tackling the hard questions. The size of the conference allowed for stimulating conversation and debate.
Today, however, companies have more structured CSR programs and have developed strong communication strategies to support their efforts. The BSR Conference has become another vehicle for corporations to promote their CSR initiatives and talk about their successes. Not many will openly discuss their current challenges or mistakes. Personally, I think you learn just as much (if not more) from mistakes as you do from best practices. Plus, more and more CSR consultants are attending every year in hopes of garnering new business. One year, I actually hid my name tag because I became tired of the constant solicitation.
If you are new to the CSR world, the BSR Conference is a great introduction. You will hear what leading companies are doing and meet passionate, experienced people in the field. But if you have been around the CSR block a few times…say 10 years for example, the conference may seem a bit superficial because it doesn’t dig into the heart of the issues.
By bringing together so many diverse organizations, BSR has a wonderful opportunity to not only challenge the participants but encourage collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. What is the goal of the conference? 500 organizations come together, and what is the call to action? How are they working together to create change?
Yes, I know it’s impossible to solve the world’s problems in just four days, but at least, we can start by creating a plan of action. We need to be active participants in developing long term strategies that work for all of us. For example, the BSR Conference would be an excellent forum for companies to discuss the environmental position of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Many of the conference attendees are members of the Chamber. If they disagree with the Chamber’s position, how are they going to influence it? According to BSR, climate change is one of the three “global crises” to be addressed at the conference. Isn’t it time to stop talking about what we’ve already done and start working toward solutions for the future? Or perhaps the BSR Conference is exactly what it is suppose to be…a place to network and share best practices.