The way that business and the third sector intersect was the theme of the recent inaugural CSI (Centre for Social Impact) International Research Conference in Melbourne.
Called ‘Intersecting Transformations: Business and the Third Sector’ it looked at how business, the Not for Profit and public sectors can work together to devise creative and innovative solutions to drive social impact.
Les Hems, the director of research at the Centre for Social Impact says social impact is an emerging field of research of great interest to business schools, with many challenges facing emerging interdisciplinary fields of research.
A key theme of the conference was a growing recognition of the need for community organisations to be financially sustainable.
The conference heard that organisations are increasingly looking outside of ‘traditional’ funding models which often prove unstable, particularly during an economic downturn.
As well there is a desire to reduce the constraints imposed by financial dependence on governments, philanthropic foundations and companies has also led to a blurring of the boundaries between sectors, and the emergence of new hybrid organisations which blend financial and social returns.
Six international academics presented at the conference:
Professor David Vogel is the Soloman P. Lee Distinguished Professor in Business Ethics at the University of California, Berkeley. Vogel used the example of global social enterprise Fair trade to illustrate the influence that third sector organisations have been able to have on corporate behaviour but discussed the need for global governance and public policy to institutionalise the move towards self regulation.
Prof Sandra Waddock, from the Carroll School of Management in the US looked at where corporate responsibility would be in 2010, and the role for the civil society and community. She said she could foresee an increase in the role of the business sector in delivering social impact, and discussed the fundamental difference between corporates engaging in philanthropy and community engagement, and those who embrace corporate responsibility as part of ‘the way they operate’.
Professor Helmut Anheier is the academic director of the Heidelberg Centre for Social Investment and Dean and Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance. He described the transformation from a focus on NFP organisations and philanthropy to social enterprise and social investment.
Professor David Grayson, from the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, at Cranfield University in the UK. He looked at the contribution of social intrapreneurs and how companies can encourage them. These are people within a large organisation who take direct initiative for innovation which addresses social or environmental challenges. However many organisations find that intrapreneurs’ efforts are discouraged as people resist change and feel threatened by their actions. Grayson talked about methods to encourage intrapreneurship within a company such as creating space for them to focus on these initiatives and providing support such as seed funding.
Professor Marthe Nyssens from the Department of Economics of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium looked at different conceptions of social enterprise in Europe and the United States. She found that it was a strong driver of public policy in Europe but not in the US, because of the focus on intermediate labour markets, public service delivery, and social innovation.
Professor Paul Reed is Senior Social Scientist, Statistics Canada, and Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Law at Carlton University. He presented on the global economic downturn and the Canadian experience. He made a case for a third sector knowledge base however acknowledged issues around comparable data on social impact especially when comparing citizen participation and engagement across communities.
The main purpose of the conference was to explore the implications and possibilities inherent in the intersection of two transformative movements; the business sector represented by corporate social responsibility, community engagement and socially responsible investment, and the third sector, represented by the embrace of business models and commercial practices in not-for-profit organisations, the growth of social entrepreneurship and transition from charitable giving to social investment.
Les Hems says the conference is critical to shaping a new research agenda for the third sector in Australia and formulating CSI’s own research priorities for the next decade. It would also formulate the research for the proposed cooperative research centre, Knowledge for Social Impact.