Corporate Heavyweights Find Camaraderie
16 July 2014 at 11:11 am
In this month’s Executive Insight, Pro Bono News speaks with Debbie Haski-Leventhal, the founder of a network forging research connections between CSR professionals, Not for Profits and academics.
The Corporate Social Responsibility network is hosted by the Macquarie Graduate School of Management and led by faculty leader of Global Citizenship, Dr Debbie Haski-Leventhal. The network aims to understand CSR in Australia, create significant social impact through shared learning and to increase public awareness of CSR issues.
Haski-Leventhal says she created the network to fulfill a desire to conduct meaningful research while also producing social impact. Participating corporations now may serve as the basis for new studies while benefiting from evidence-based peer learning to guide their own initiatives.
Members of the network share knowledge, participate in workshops and year-long research projects around CSR topics.
Last year the network produced research on corporate volunteering that received national media coverage, while this year’s study will focus on how the three sectors prepare for, respond to and help to recover from natural disasters in Australia and overseas.
Current members of the network include the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, NAB, PwC, IBM, Unilever, AMP, Brookfield Johnson Controls, the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the NSW Department of Citizenship, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and the NSW Centre for Volunteering.
Pro Bono Australia News spoke with Haski-Leventhal about this network and how it has secured the support of Australia’s corporate heavyweights.
A New Transparency
The rapid growth of the network seems a testament to the value it offers to participating corporates, providing a means for a long-term sustained exchange of information from other CSR professionals facing the same challenges.
“We had 15 organisations after the first year, now we have 30. Mostly companies, but we also have some Not for Profits and two government agencies,” Haski Leventhal says.
“A lot are doing it on their own…they’re the only one in their organisation, and there’s not enough networks for them to share the challenges.
“More and more companies interested in CSR are interested in long-term CSR.
“It also creates social impact by encouraging employers to build a business case for CSR – for example, through our corporate volunteering research last year.
“We see CSR as becoming more of a competitive advantage for companies.We see that as a growing trend. In the network there is a level of sharing and collaboration that is not competition.
“You can see why this also relates to social impact. The more companies doing it, the more social impact can be achieved. CSR is an area where there should be more collaboration.”
Haski-Leventhal says the network is inclusive of all corporates regardless of the advancement of their CSR initiatives.
“Many of the companies are advanced in CSR, the others are very keen, but not quite there yet.
“You can see the difference between some companies and others. Some had overnight 1000 respondents to a survey, others couldn’t push more than 100. Some are champions, some are a little more passive. But that’s okay.
“Even just the names! Corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship…PwC was thinking of social relevance.There are so many terms tied to CSR.
Haski-Leventhal’s preferred framing as a scholar and university lecturer is strategic CSR, where CSR is framed around the strategies of a company which also aim to create social impact – making CSR “more than just a nice-to-have sideshow.”
The Multi-Sectoral Advantage
Projects undertaken by the network have true multi-sectoral involvement. The network consults members on research questions, ensuring projects have the voice of Not for Profits and government as well as academics and the corporate sector.
“Many research projects don’t have the voice of NFPs and government,” Haski-Leventhal says.
“It’s remarkable to see how much they are willing to share.”
First-hand data from corporate contributors is also beneficial at the academic end of the spectrum.
“It’s such a mutual contribution. Usually we [academics] just sit there and write a survey. This is so much more meaningful and comprehensive.
“For many years there was the notion of rivalry. [Academics] would go into companies to do research, then leave. There wasn’t that ongoing collaboration.
“You see that everyone has the same intentions but not always the same means or channels.”
Haski-Leventhal says the network has also contributed to the quality of dialogue between the private, public and social sectors.
“Not for Profits are now articulating their preferences regarding CSR. In the past they might have been more passive…now they say ‘we’re here, this is what we need if you want to work with us’.
“The government asks, how do we invest in CSR without interfering too much? Do we need to have a social change policy?”
Haski-Leventhal says the partnership network has created further opportunities for collaboration outside the group workshops.
A desire to build cross sectoral relationship was, she says, the major catalyst in choosing natural disasters as the focus for 2014.
“This way can maximise multi-sectoral collaboration on natural disasters,” she says. “When the time comes, they will already know how to collaborate together.”
The Salvation Army, she says, has already begun working with IBM after a presentation on shifting from corporate volunteering to micro-partnerships.
Growth and Groundswell
Looking to the future, Haski-Leventhal says there is the prospect of expanding the networks activities overseas so more than just an Australian perspective is taken into account.
Speaking with colleagues in the Netherlands, she has helped generate early interest in a Dutch network, and flags the possibility of future collaborations between the Dutch and Australian networks.
A priority, however, is expansion within Australia.
“Currently we’re on the east coast – Queensland, NSW and Victoria. I want to get the other states involved, especially Western Australia.
“I think there is a lot of awareness [in Australia] – high level social and environmental awareness – which is great.
“Australia is ranked as one of the most giving countries in the world. You don’t leave your values at the door when you go into the workplace. I think it’s getting bigger, it’s getting better.”
Growth will enable to network to eventually undertake longer and more involved research projects – and push its message out to the public.
“The idea is to make all knowledge as public as possible. We think about how people can gain access to this knowledge and create more social impact,” Haski-Leventhal says.
“We need to think about academic social responsibility too. Every person in every role can do something to make the world a little better.
“We all need to ask ourselves how we could use our role to create more social impact.”