Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Case against Corporate Social Responsibility: Where It’s Right and Where It’s Wrong

By Keren G. Raz, NYU Law Social Enterprise Fellow and Apollo Management’s Socially Responsible Investing Associate


Last week Aneel
Karnani, Professor of Strategy at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross
School of Business, made the case against corporate social responsibility (CSR)
in the Wall Street Journal
. Hundreds
of comments flowed in arguing the case for CSR. Having spent the past few
months deeply immersed in the CSR world as Apollo Management’s Socially
Responsible Investing Associate, I thought I would weigh in on where Karnani is right in his case against CSR and what he gets wrong.

 

TRUE: In practice,
business goals do conflict with CSR program goals, and where they do, business
goals trump.

 

Karnani wrote, “In circumstances in
which profits and social welfare are in direct opposition, an appeal to
corporate social responsibility will almost always be ineffective, because executives
are unlikely to act voluntarily in the public interest and against shareholder
interests.” Karnani’s statement that profits and social welfare at times
conflict has been criticized as outdated. One person wrote in response, “We see
from experience that profit and public interest are interdependent.” This
critic’s comment through is an oversimplification.

Generally, the two may be
interdependent, but Karnani is looking at the situations where the two
conflict. He is right: business and CSR goals will experience conflict at some
point in time for any given company. A hypothetical illustrates this point. Company
A has hired a manager to oversee its operations. The manager now has a choice
to make as he/she puts together a budget. He/she can retrofit all of the
company’s smokestacks with new and expensive carbon-reducing technology that
the company can barely afford, or the manager can leave the current smokestacks
alone. Regardless of your opinion on what the outcome ought to be, it is
crucial to see that there is a conflict here between business goals and social
welfare goals. An acknowledgement of this conflict arms us with additional
information and provides us with a good starting point as we determine the root
causes and most appropriate solutions to a problem.

 

ERROR: Karnani leaves stakeholders out of his analysis

 

In discussing how we might arrive at a solution to social problems, Karnani lists government regulation, citizen activism, and corporate self-regulation as the main players. Crucially, in this statement, Karnani leaves out the stakeholders who also play a role, constituencies including consumers, employees,
suppliers, and others who are necessary for a business to succeed. Employee
strikes in China make poor working conditions unprofitable for corporations.
Consumer preferences for organic foods make putting organic food on the shelves
a smart decision for Wal-Mart. Cheaper energy saving technologies, provided by
suppliers, motivate companies to buy them and save on costs. In other words,
where profits and social welfare conflict, stakeholders may hold the answer to
realigning incentives such that the two no longer oppose each other.

Stakeholders are not only
noticeably absent in Karnani’s piece, but also detrimentally so, for the
absence affects his analysis. Where a corporation is vigilant about its
consumer CSR interests and desires that affect long-term demand for its
products, the corporation designs a good CSR program to anticipate these needs.
In this way, a good CSR program identifies strategic social and business
opportunities. While there may not be a perfect match at times between business
interests and public interests, a CSR officer can find the synergies that
continue to ensure alignment. Thus, for consumers and other stakeholders who
want to see companies act as good corporate citizens and for companies that
want to stay relevant, a CSR program is now vital. Stakeholders and CSR programs also hold the keys to solving problems.

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Motivations, Suicide and the Myth of Sisyphus: Existential Social Entrepreneurship

By Alexandre Carvalho

176-jesterlute.bmpThe Jester. Weird and fascinating invention of Middle Age courts: a tradition that in some places lasted as late as the 19th century, and with some incredible stories behind it. For instance, there are references indicating that Queen Elizabeth I reprimanded her official court jester for not being severe enough with her on his ridicule. Jesters were irreverent and did not spare anyone in their jokes and crass. Even though the role had no credibility for “serious matters”, there are accounts of court jesters that were advisers to the monarchs in affairs of state – after all, no euphemisms, omissions, silence or half truths were necessary.

 

       The jester was in a privileged position: due to his discredit and lack of reputation, he was the only one in the court who could freely speak truth to power and don’t be beheaded in the process. To this day in power circles or wherever there is substantial accumulation of power, the presence of an official or natural jester is not uncommonly noted. Someone has to cry out that the king is nude.

 

       But ‘what the j’ has to do with Social Entrepreneurship, motivations, or whatever else that was up there in the title? Well, lots. First, sometimes he appears randomly in society and inappropriately writes about things uncalled for, in a manner that is also uncalled for; so the buffoon kind of asked this humble writer to give out the disclaimer. On his words, “give this son of Dionysus a break, for freaksake!”.

 

 Second, the jokester said that it has nothing to do with the individual that impersonates the fool: he is poetically taken by the zeitgeist and has to write out stuff under strict disorders of Puck. Yeah, Puck – our building mascot (Puck is a jester too, by the way: make a prayer-joke when entering 295 Lafayette). 177-PuckCover.jpg

 

       Ok. Now that a ridiculous sound case was made for starting this essay talking about jesters, let’s move to what moves you. Why we do what we do? Why we say we want to change the world and obsessively chase after dreams, sometimes at the cost of our health, romantic relationships, and even lives? Who do you serve? yourself or others (or a blended value of both)? What do you seek? fame, glory, recognition? did vanity or ambition took the best of you or is it perfectly human to have them inside? what you search in the night is purpose, meaning, significance?… – is it about legacy, a footprint that enables you to feel special? you know, so later you have the legitimacy and authenticity to tell your children that you indeed lived the ideals that you now preach them?

 

       The question is sharp as a blunt knife. Why do you do the things you do? Moving beyond motivations, why do the things we do if in the end death takes you into dissolution? It feels as if life is about pushing a huge rock high up a steep mountain so to see it roll back again (and again) to the valley. 178-481_sisyphus-297x300.jpg

 

       Albert Camus, the French existentialist writer, wrote and discoursed about this human condition on a book called “The Myth of Sisyphus” where he asks if suicide was a logical answer to this trickster riddle (and the Jester is back). To this humble non-depressed/non-famous writer, suicide is not a logical option. Though everything is apparently meaningless, each time we push the rock we change and change everything and everyone around us in the process.

       Change is the giver of sense. Change is possible and happens at every breath. It hurts but if your social entrepreneurial project received a deathblow or had a huge setback taking you to the startup line, remember: when you forced that boulder uphill, you may have influenced a whole lot of people and definitely changed zillions of chaotic initial conditions that will reverberate. So dear jester, change is what gives meaning to life – social change then, even better.

 

       179-albert-camus1.jpg

 “The struggle itself… is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” 

Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors

by Eliana Godoy and Nathaniel Curtis

Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors, the latest installment from the Ping Chong and Co. theater company, is a stunning exploration of childhood sexual abuse and its lifelong effects. Written and directed by Ping Chong & Co.s Associate Director, Sara Zatz, it depicts the personal experiences of five child sexual abuse survivors who share their stories in their entirety for the first time. In a question-and-answer session following a reading of this work in New York City in May, Project Coordinator and creator Amita Swadhin explained that, although sexual abuse is an epidemic problem in the US, most mass media representations of abuse deal with the issue at a safely fictional remove. Amita wanted to bring the intensity, diversity and prevalence of the problem directly to audiences while creating a space for other survivors to share their stories.

Secret Survivors, then, is a theatrical performance about sexual abuse told by the survivors themselves. A childrens song sets the stage, transporting the audience back to their own playground years. As childhood permeates this adult theater, the long talons of abuse are slowly revealed. Like a quilt, the monologue fragments are stitched together across the stage, cuttings of personal history sewn together by the chorus and the poignant music of one of the survivors.

A woman tells about the romance of her parents, both immigrants from India, in Ohio, hoping to build upon their dreams with their two daughters. At age four, the father would become her abuser. Her mother dismissed her story. The little girl blocked the abuse by creating her own world outside her home. Though she has struggled through it all, she excelled in her education. She shares, “I carry with me only one physical scar. Here on my lip, where he once bit me.”

Another shares, “I will never have any children.” Her well-to-do parents loved her, but their careers always demanded their full attention. Not until her childcare provider was arrested did they recognize the behavioral changes that accompanied her enrollment in the town daycare. Years of therapy could not unleash her deep-seated memories.

One man explains how he devoted his life to social justice issues because of his loving familys influence. Later in life he realized that he was losing jobs and friends because of his promiscuity with women. Exerting his masculinity, the way society showed him, was his own form of resistance. This is how he responded to the abuse he endured from a friend of the older son of his babysitter. He kept this a secret until a friend told him about her rape by an older boyfriend.

Next, a survivor shares how she found acceptance of her adopted family in Queens by making everyone laugh. Her older adopted brother abused her almost immediately upon her arrival to her new home. She found a voice in her music and poetry. Her life changed after being asked to become a part of an artists collective. This is how she finally healed. Midway through the performance, she sings a song to her adoptive mother, who had refused to confront the abuse by her birth son. The experience is gut-wrenching for the audience.

It is hard to describe the cumulative power of these stories. They thread through the surrounding contexts of structural violence, economic strata, racial tensions, sexual orientation and the intersections of the storytellers numerous identities. In fact, it inevitably speaks to the audiences numerous identities. Specific moments awake a different part of oneself – the instincts of a mother, a sister, a member of a family, the duty of a public servant, the experiences of a woman or person of color, the vulnerability and resilience of a child, the role of a friend, a teacher, a social worker. One will find themselves in deep reflection about broken systems and structures just as much as remember ones own closeness to sexual abuse or its prospects.

The stories serve as a reminder that child abuse can happen to anyone. One will walk away feeling like taking action so that it does NOT happen to another child. Yet one is struck, as the narratives pass, by an overwhelming truth. Despite the early trauma, despite the long and bitter influence these episodes of abuse can inflict on its victims, these survivors who are sharing before you have survived, have mastered the forces of destruction that might have overcome them, are, in the very moment of the performance, embodying hope, asserting with each utterance their liberation from the experiences that might have chained them.

Many artistic attempts to scale the cliffs of abuse, like other social justice motivated work, can feel like the art has taken a back seat to the message. This is not the case in Secret Survivors, partly because it falls under the Undesirable Elements umbrella of projects, which has since 1992 put on productions that deal with a wide range of oral histories. Secret Survivors has taken full advantage of the template developed in the Undesirable Elements series. Each survivor tells his or her own story in a series of linked monologues, and is bolstered in his or her telling by the choral participation of fellow actors. The choral element, a throwback to the Greek dramas, is particularly effective in at once highlighting these moments of high trauma even as it reveals the community of support these survivors have later carved out for themselves.

The power of an open conversation about such a taboo topic can often feel like a blow to the stomach. But, this unique performance has many layers. Though at times it leaves you hopeless, each narrative evokes a variety of feelings and emotions, for these survivors are real. They candidly share their multiple identities by voicing small vignettes of their lifetime journeys. “What is justice?” they ask — each one gives their definition. The audience is left to ponder on this question too; days, even months after experiencing the performance.
Secret Survivors is a wake-up call about an issue that is too often kept hidden, a cancerous monster that needs to be addressed. It is a remarkable work that must be experienced by everyone, because 1 in 4 female-bodied and 1 in 6 male-bodied people are currently victimized. It is an epidemic problem that survivor Amita Swadhin is committed to solving. The performance is only the beginning of what has turned into her life-long journey.

For more information on Secret Survivors, visit www.secretsurvivors.org.

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Social Entrepreneurship and Non-Linear Dynamics: Chaos Theory in Service of Social Change

 By Ale Carvalho

174-holmes.jpgSocial Entrepreneurship and Non-Linear Dynamics: Chaos Theory in Service of Social Change

(and while at it, let’s borrow Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty too)

Main thesis -   Powerful ideas implemented in the simplest form and in the smallest contexts possible have the potential to produce butterfly effects either by themselves or with the aid of a minimum set of enablers.

Today I was at the United Nations Development Programme talking amenities to Charles, a senior staff member from the Environment and Energy Group. Very cool guy. The topic of my upcoming Haiti trip came about, and we started discussing innovative approaches to care after a harsh disaster. Our conversation revolved around the care for the soul, care for the heart, and care for the spirit – not only the body as mainstream efforts so narrowly focus on. Music popped up as a venue, and we exchanged ideas for at least 20 minutes.

Charles then mentioned a small grassroots group in Kenya that started a soccer league and was using soccer as a way to bring self-esteem and life guidance to underprivileged kids. And he went on to say that they eventually became something big, with recognition and reach outside of the borders of Kenya.

That thought amazed me. How can such a tiny little effort, in such a tiny little place in Kenya, somehow reached the voices of two people at the United Nations in New York? and suddenly their work was being cherished and discussed by two people miles and miles away?

Eureka. That’s the Butterfly Effect through a lens of Social Change. When powerful ideas with sufficient key enablers grow and reach the Tipping Point of Social Breakthrough (TPSB), oh my! they spread like wildfire around the community, city and sometimes world, changing mindsets and influencing new initiatives that will further positive impact.

Good ideas are highly contagious, resilient, and only perish when one stops believing on them, either because they weren’t successful in producing the desired measurable effects or simply because the brain that generated the thought stop believing in it. And quit honestly, inventors of new things – be them prototypes or new ideas – are well known for being very stubborn to accept that the numbers were fair and clean when assessing their inventions and tend to continue spending time and even money on a condemned project. So in the end, as Plato would love to hear, ideas – like gods or deities – only die if you stop believing them.

So we should have a beautiful incubator of butterflies. Released around the globe with the minimum necessary, in the form of proof-of-concepts that may eventually become full-fledged projects or organizations, and who knows? Wingflaps in Cambodia, Kenya, Chad, Rio de Janeiro, Cuba, Mexico, Prague, Australia, and many other places in the world – and so sorry conventional wisdom: we have a big hurricane of change coming from all sides and been picked up by many different entrepreneurs that will advance, refine, and make the thought more elegant by adding new lessons learned.

 How many of them ideas will generate hurricanes? How many of them will die? Impossible to know beforehand. Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. But do we have any choice but to have faith and launch?… see what happens? That’s the thrill of Social Entrepreneurship. Ultimately a Leap of Faith into the unknown.  That’s the thrill of life. That’s something worth living for.

 

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Eat So They Can

Courtney Montague

There seems to
be one phrase that unites every Reynolds Fellow, Scholar and Alum- “I am not ok
with this.”

Reynolds Alum
Amita Swadhin is not ok with child abuse and the exploitation of power.
Magogodi Makhene is not ok with the lack of financial resources available to
medium sized businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ben
Cokelet
is not ok with corruption in corporations, especially
organizations in Latin America.

172-children busy in paiting and drawing in AN's care centre-thumb-200x135-170.jpg

For me that
phrase popped up when I walked into a filthy, poor orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal
about five years ago.  I met ill children
covered in sores and drinking green water from a nearby well. I’m not ok with
that, children have no business living in filth; children shouldn’t be
suffering in abject poverty.

That is why I
co-founded Global Volunteer Network Foundation (GVN Foundation), an
organization that raises money for community based organizations around the
world. The bulk of our partners and programs focus on projects that serve to
assist children living in poverty.

I also believe
that there are a lot of people around the world who honestly don’t realize that
abject poverty affects most of the world’s population. Therefore, to raise
awareness, and funds for our work throughout Africa, Asia and South America GVN
Foundation started the fundraiser ‘Eat So They Can.’ We ‘Eat So They (the
children we serve) Can’… receive medical care, an education, immunizations or
access to clean water.

This is the
fourth annual Eat So They Can and it will take place October 16-17, 2010.
People around the world will host a dinner party, invite their friends, discuss
issues surrounding poverty, and ask their friends to donate. Because we believe
that people should see for themselves what we are doing around the world, any
host that raises $500 or more will be entered into a drawing to win an expense
paid trip to join us as we distribute Eat So They Can funds to projects in
either Haiti, Vietnam, Peru or Kenya.

Our goal is to
raise half a million dollars this year for women, children, anti-trafficking
efforts, and emergency relief projects we are working with in Kenya, Uganda,
Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda, Nepal, Vietnam, Peru and Haiti.

Please consider
joining us at: www.eatsotheycan.org

And here’s to
all the people who say ‘that is not ok,’ and get to work changing the system!

Best,

Courtney
Montague