What is the Role of CSR During Coronavirus?
Corporate Social Responsibility (or the usual abbreviation CSR). A term that sounds familiar. However, it is worth trying to define it, at least for the present purpose. Hence, in the sea of definitions, I would like to highlight the following: „management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders."
Each term needs to be placed in a specific social and temporal context. Today's context is fully defined by the current coronavirus pandemic, which requires certain adaptation from each individual, company, institution. Therefore, the question arises – what is the role of CSR during coronavirus?
Every day we read news how large corporations like Amazon and Google are contributing to the fight against coronavirus and spending their funds earmarked for corporate social responsibility to address the new situation, and provide support to those who need it most; or how the automotive industry is trying to redirect their operation to produce medical equipment. Similar examples (of private and public companies) exist in Croatia and its neighbourhood.
However, not everyone is Google or Amazon. Still, everyone has its role to play. Probably the most important thing a company – small or large, local or international – can do right now is to start from its “backyard”. In other words, one should first try to take care of its employees and provide them (where possible and where the nature of the job allows) with the option of working from home in order to preserve the stability of the business and jobs.
In this situation, it is very difficult to imagine how far-reaching the economic consequences of coronavirus will be. Therefore, the pursuit of business stability is currently being imposed as a priority. Moreover, for some, the current situation opens up new opportunities for further business development and profit. Eventually, one man's loss is another man's gain.
After the successful stabilisation of business, companies remain with a series of issues related to the CSR. The answers to these questions can contribute to the overall societal effort to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Emily Kane Miller in the interview with Forbes has raised various interesting questions:
· Who are our core partners? How are they right now? Is our funding is restricted? How can we shift so existing partners can use our resources right now? Do we have additional capacity? How can we do more?
· What major COVID-19 related concerns is my organisation uniquely positioned to solve?
· Alternatively, because of current realities, is my labour force not currently working at capacity? Is there a way for my team to pivot, and help fill a need?
· Can we be the wind at the backs of public agencies, elected officials, or the healthcare system?
· Who is doing similar work and how can we join forces? It is time to collaborate and partner like never before.
· Lastly, but not less important are the small things that mean a lot: offer to help, ask questions, listen, comply, and lighten the load of those who are on the „first line“.
It is very clear that SMEs do not have the resources that large companies have. However, even the smallest contribution is worthwhile. Therefore, in times of crisis it is crucial to make a detailed analysis of what companies – regardless of their size – really have at their disposal. The concept of CSR can facilitate the understanding of the entire business chain, where each link has its own purpose, and the non-functioning of even the smallest element can jeopardize the whole structure. This brings us to another important issue, and that is the responsibility and the role of individuals engaged in corporate responsible businesses.
There are different ways in which CSR professionals can contribute to the current fight against coronavirus:
· Clarity and timing are key
· Check in regularly with the executive level of your company and business partners
· Rethink your staff engagement schemes
· Now is not the time for self-promotion
On the other hand, state institutions need to act to strengthen a culture of corporate social responsibility. Examples of good practice already exist. A recent decision by the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs allows the funds that companies spend to fight coronavirus to qualify as an activity of corporate social responsibility. This attitude of the state authorities encourages the use of funds for this purpose, strengthens the role of companies in finding answers to the current crisis, and generally promotes the importance of corporate social responsibility.
Similarly, a branch of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently made a list (regularly updated) of companies that provide support in the fight against coronavirus. This approach is interactive and transparent. On the one hand, it provides public insight into the activities of various companies and corporations, while providing ideas to others who want to help in a similar way. On the other, it serves companies and corporations themselves as an effective and innovative way of the business communication and promotion of their products and services.
Ultimately, challenges require creativity. And it has always been so. Very often, the greatest achievements and inventions come in times of the greatest crises. Perhaps we can observe the entire history of humankind in this way. The current crisis needs to be approached in a similar manner. Every day we witness exceptional ideas, innovations, and partnerships. All of these are accompanied by empathy and solidarity with those most severely affected by this situation. The role of CSR in the time of coronavirus should also be considered in this regard. So that once we return to the "old and normal", corporate responsible business becomes "normal and standard".
Author: Darija Sesar, The Croatian Institute for CSR