Business schools need to promote CSR beyond legal and profit motives

  • 22 January 2015 | Somaya Isaacs| Opinion

"Most business schools do not equip potential leaders with the awareness and tools to internalise the concept of CSR. In many instances, these business schools will address CSR in relation to good corporate governance and as an opportunity to increase profit margins."

When provided with an opportunity to work in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) sector, one is forced to reflect on the perceptions created and experience gained around CSR.

Having had the privilege of working across several sectors, ranging from education, engineering and mining to finance and now CSR, I am able to provide some insight on middle management views of CSR.

Large amounts of middle to senior management believe that they are only accountable for the legal, compliance and profitability aspects of an organisation. In other words, a business exists to make a profit. Consequently, in many organisations, CSR is seen as a legislative requirement and is merely a tick in the box.

In actual fact, managers and leaders who have worked through the ranks and have acquired business school certifications have a much bigger challenge than their counterparts two decades ago.

Many business articles state that misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions exist about the business prospects and profitability available at the bottom of the economic pyramid. It is believed by many that by serving the poor, business can gain new sources of swift revenue growth and greater efficiencies with cost reduction initiatives for multinational corporations, which also translates to increased purchasing power for local consumers. Business schools should not be advocating this belief; rather, they should be teaching that this could be a possible by-product of CSR.

In reality, leaders are faced with the challenge of not only managing their shareholders and staff, but also managing their affiliation with communities and society. They are now accountable for their organisation’s influence on society and the environment that extends beyond legal and compliance requirements.

It is refreshing to note that Tshikululu understands the concepts of sustainable CSR and has created a platform that allows organisations the ability to invest in sustainable CSR. So the question in my mind is then twofold: firstly, how do organisations become genuinely socially responsible? Secondly, business schools are feeders for most organisations, so how do we get business schools to change their approach and teaching about CSR?

Most business schools do not equip potential leaders with the awareness and tools to internalise the concept of CSR. In many instances, these business schools will address CSR in relation to good corporate governance and as an opportunity to increase profit margins.

While in a discussion with a colleague, he highlighted that CSR should be a key module at business schools, and that graduates, interns and A+ players in all organisations should be afforded an opportunity to spend time in organisations such as Tshikululu in order to appreciate the effort and time taken on sustainable CSR.

Work needs to be done across and within organisations, including business schools, to ensure that a fuller appreciation and understanding of CSR is promoted in management and future business leaders. Many organisations have a long journey ahead in order to evolve into good, genuine corporate citizens, a journey that can be expedited by graduates who have a proper understanding of CSR.

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