Exploring the limits: CSR to Individual Social Responsibility

Almost a month ago, at the request of the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Arecibo’s Business Administration Faculty I offered a conference on how to apply corporate social responsibility to the small and medium sized business.  A month before the conference I had been brought aboard a project by a client of mine that sought to instill the precepts of Free Enterprise and Social Responsibility in our Univerisity students (you can see our contribution – the webdesign and framework -to our client’s project by opening this link).  What a coincidence, I thought.  I am tasked with speaking to their target audience about the very same principles.  As I worked on my client’s pet project,  I became convinced that the students would be better served if I took the core business proposition for corporate social responsibility and applied it to more immediate examples.  And thus I wrote about: "Corporate Social Responsibility: Beyond the Multinationals" (I attached it FYI).

Usually when we talk about CSR we hear examples of multi-nationals that get involved in their communities, become greener, and push the limits of human resources policies. Nike had their supplier’s child sweatshop scandal –> Nike developed new stricter policies for ensuring that there is no child labor or violation of human rights on the premises of their suppliers.  Scandal did not always directly pre-empt the socially responsible corporate program, Ford Motor company has their green manufacturing plant where explore new ways to reduce the impact of their plants, Starbucks pro-actively sought to incorporate into their purchases, a percentage of coffee that comes from suppliers recognized to have fair wages. Though the examples are good and noteworthy, when the examples used are solely of the big and mighty one begins to think that in order to work in CSR one has to be employed by them or count with their resources.

In preparation for my presentation I googled around for CSR and small business and found alot of nothing and some "under construction pages."  I was on my own on this one and yet I was teaming with things to say. I pulled from my own experiences. Looking back our the highs and lows of these past 7 years as an entrepreneur I can safely say CSR strategies have been vital to making things easier for the company and its employees.

In designing the business I kept in mind "living wages," office day care, volunteer hours, flexible hours, flexible location, and the means to motivate and measure performance in order to get ideal results.  I had to defend these policies to investors, board members and lenders, who thought – and not wrongly so – I was being idealistic and causing unnecessary expense to the company. 

My response: the actual costly decision is to employ anybody. Pay anybody a miserable wage ad you get bottom of the barrel quality you communicate to the employee "you are just another body I need to run this business" and they reply "this is just a jobs to pay the bills." This common meeting of the minds results in a revolving door of hiring, valuable time of the key company officers training newbies and a constant loss of company history. To give you an actual example: My administrative assistant was paid $21,500 in 2000, not a lot, for US standards, but this was a startup in a lower paying marketplace it raised many eyebrows.

"Laura, the market does not demand that type of salary, comparable positions earn 16,000, heck you could even get away with less!" I was told more than once. Aware that the  salary was $5- 6,000 more than I was suggested to pay I added that company policy would also cover her and every employee’s direct health plan.  She had 2 week paid vacations and 9 "personal use" days.Had she had children she could have used our office daycare. Had she found the right non-profit she could have volunteered 2 hrs of work  every 2 weeks.  I was lucky to have found her and keep her working with me for over 2 years. She was committed, driven, open to perform multiple tasks and explore or develop new talents.

Unfortunately, a myriad of factors coalesced and six years later the staff had dwindled down from 12 to 2 but that is another story.  I credit these policies for having assured me the best out of the staff I had. The administrative assistant was excellent. She worked with us for of long as we could have her. In the end, however, it was she, like many employees before her, who decided to part ways, realizing it would be in the best intent for the company. Years later employees that worked with us harbored the company no ill will and when they could sent us referrals for sales. 

No matter how fun Donald Trump made it seem, firing people is not fun and a moment fraught with potential liabilities  for the company. I consider the company’s inhouse CSR policies to have benefitted it greatly when things got tough and the economy tanked.  

Drawing from my experience in those early years I spoke to these students on the ROI  for socially responsible policies- even in the early years of a company.   But keeping in mind that these were students, I wanted to take my message a step further. take CSR to the individual.

The bridge to talking about individual social responsibility is more elegantly made in Spanish – the original language of the presentation – since in this Spanish CSR uses the word Entreprise, Empresa and the link to entrepreneurial spirit  "empresarismo, espíritu empresarial" is more easily made. Once the task of being socially responsible is put to the entrepreneurial spirit -and not limited to a corporation- the concept of CSR flourishes into a force of social change and economic development.

The importance of entrepreneurship is that it does not require the actual birthing of a company. Anybody can be entrepreneurial by having a vision, a plan, strategies, and metrics. A dreamer with a plan and the good sense to make it happen or revise it. When students get together and develop a call to action and steps for change, they are being entrepreneurial.  There are social entrepreneurs, these give birth to social movements, foundations, and non-profit organizations. There are intrapreneurs working in large companies and government. These are employees that lend their vision and leadership to the larger bureaucracy for which they work and take on the responsibility for carrying out that vision. 

The world needs more entrepreneurs and if these individuals layout plans for change ensure that their plans are socially responsible in the methods and goals, the world will be a better place.