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Perhaps the Definition of CSR is Semantics

An interesting anecdote was described in a recent Vault.com blog post entitled “Why Don’t Executives Understand CSR?” The author discusses an event that she attended which dealt with the advancement of women in the workplace. She had a discussion on the side with an executive that basically boiled down to this. The author saying she was at the event because this is an important “CSR issue” and the executive stating incredulously that this is not a “CSR issue” but something of great importance, one that is very strategic (whatever that means). The author was frustrated as anyone who spends their life trying to get CSR on the agenda would be.

First I want to say that Vault has done excellent work profiling the CSR space of late. I think is of great importance because it’s become a well-known brand that people go to in order to find information on various corporations. Secondly, I believe the broader issue that is pertinent due to this short, one-off exchange is really something worth exploring.

What exactly was going on here? Well, someone who firmly believes in the principles of CSR and regularly works in this space came to an event regarding female advancement in the workplace, which I think would fall under anyone’s definition of CSR. On the other hand you have an executive that is clearly interested (dare I say passionate) about the same issue, but as evidence of the exchange, clearly believes that CSR is not a legitimate business strategy.

What I think is interesting is that I can see both sides of the issue and in a sense it seems as though they are arguing about the definition of something that, in principle, they both agree upon. Much has been made about what the definition of CSR is and how it’s implemented, but I wonder if arguing about that is really the best use of our time. We want CSR to be taken seriously and to be implemented properly so I can understand the author’s annoyance by the conversation, but clearly the executive found the issue equally important even if said executive displayed how important an issue they thought it was by disparaging something (CSR) that they did not find so strategically important.

So my question is, how important is it to define something when, ostensibly we’re working towards the same goal? Is this just semantics and does semantics like this get in the way of pursuing a common goal, which in this case happened to be the advancement of women in the workplace. Or perhaps I just started another argument that is taking away from this pursuit of common goals.

Image Credit by Gerard Fritz via Flickr under a CC license

Written by Jonathan Banco

Jonathan has worked in both journalism and various facets of small business development over the past eight years. Most recently, he graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (graduate school of Middlebury College) in 2010 with an MBA and an MA in International Development Policy. His interests include SME development and its role in economic growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as how CSR/Sustainability measures impact both business operations and the communities in which businesses operate. While at MIIS he worked as a summer fellow involved in small business consulting in Accra, Ghana and was an active member of the MIIS Net Impact chapter. As a life long traveler, Jonathan has been fortunate to have lived in, worked in or visited over 20 countries on 5 continents and he truly hopes that he will be able to continue this trend.

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