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Social Responsibility as a Strategic Goal


I’ve been postponing this blog entry for a few weeks now (actually months), attempting to distill an evolving understanding of the concepts of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability while considering their business context and relevance to the community.  Beyond charitable acts and voluntary good behavior, the CSR and sustainability topics are essential to any conversation around social, political and environmental issues affecting not only a company’s bottom line but also the performance and compensation of its employees. That means your bottom line as well.  Do I have your attention? 

The understanding clouds when folks bandy about (frivolously use) words such as: integrity, transparency, accountability, sustainability, responsibility while failing to give them proper business application.  It seems that many adopt the current jargon du jour, rolling buzzwords off their tongues with relish, oblivious to their meaning.  Probably many of us are guilty of beta testing catchphrases or catchwords.  Perhaps it is even a natural process of language learning.  Like many amateur wine tasters, we enjoy the swill, savor the taste but don’t know how to identify the vintage.   

So let’s first talk about what social responsibility is not.  It’s not just a philanthropic set of activities meant to stimulate the feel-good hormones. 

According to wikipedia, social responsibility is:

“an ethical or ideological theory that an entity whether it is a government, corporation, organization or individual has a responsibility to society. This responsibility can be “negative,” in that it is a responsibility to refrain from acting (resistance stance) or it can be “positive,” meaning there is a responsibility to act (proactive stance). While primarily associated with business and governmental practices, activist groups and local communities can also be associated with social responsibility, not only business or governmental entities”

And let’s find a simple description for sustainable development.  A classic one goes back 20 years to the UN definition:

“Believing that sustainable development, which implies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, should become a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments and private institutions, organizations and enterprises”.

Lately there has been a good deal of conversation in our own back channels about the over-use of the word transparency. This might, in part have, been triggered by some influential blog entries from heavyweights such asMaggie Fox  in We over-use and under-articulate the word “transparency” and Dennis Howlett in What does transparency really mean?

Let’s set the stage here to have some “real” conversations (yeah, transparent ones) about what Corporate Social Responsibility, Citizenship and Sustainability are all about. 

Guess what?  They aren’t just platitudes or do-good acts of charity.  They are actually part of our business strategy or the strategy of our business partners and if they aren’t they should be or will be.

So let’s have those conversations happen in a business context.  If you don’t “get the picture” then let’s paint one together.  We can create a glossary, examine the trends and pull in some subject experts, external to the SAP ecosystem and internal to it.

Let’s start with clarity about how the business strategy of managing beyond compliance is a business imperative.  Let’s connect the dots between an implementing software solution for governance, risk, compliance and the business reasons for why you already need to be thinking beyond the very compliance you in your respective companies are tasked to adhere to.

A good way to start is by example.

How the SDN and BPX Community Spreads Sustainability Education 

As a community we are partnering with the World Food Program and supplying school children around the world with meals. (You can read about specific examples of this engagement of the SAP Feeding Knowledge website)

Many of you now know about the Points for U.N. World Food Programme and the fact that as a community we are now half-way to meeting our first milestone of 2.5 million points representing 100K Euro in contribution toward eradicating hunger for the world’s 59 million under-fed children.

This is as much an education process around the topic of sustainability and social responsibilty as a good and beneficial activity. 

This week we saw the further spread of educating our own employee base when employees “took to the streets” in solidarity with the World Food Programme to meet the call to action and to raise awareness. 

Executive support from folks like SAP Corporate Officer and President of EMEA, Ernie Gunst, help spread this awareness beyond our communities and our ecosystem.



1 Comment
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  • Hi Marilyn,

    the questions you raised about the content of buzz words is a good starting point especially in the context of sustainability and csr. I realized that some people use some words easier as others do, not to judge anybody. This usage might be specific to skills and expertise (think about a psychologist versus a scientist). Anyway we need a bit better understanding about what is meant and what isn’t, otherwise this whole sustainability topic might loose efficiency in the current transformation of this world/globe.

    Discussing clarity and transparency in business context isn’t easy. I just read The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind by Robert B. Laughlin (ISBN-13: 978-0465005079). At least the first 5 chapters address dynamics (based on patents, IP, etc.), which is well known in high tech, software, and service business.

    Clarity and transparency in private engagements is normal among friends, but also there it isn’t unlimited and unrestricted. A nice area is genetics under breeders or examinations/trails to rank, but also to filter. Suddenly open discussions don’t support transparency as it can harm private glory.

    Anyway let’s start getting clarity/transparency in the meaning of “clarity and transparency in the context of sustainability and csr”.

    Kind regards Paul