Tardiness is not an option when the world moves at a breakneck speed. Therein lies the beauty of the happier side of marriage between life and process. The battle with time whether against or for it is one not to be won. For, it traverses its own path.
Just as it takes time to build image, so do initiatives that fall under corporate social responsibility. And in between much water has flowed beneath the bridge resulting in the concept of CSR to progress as well.
Those engaged in the study of the subject would trace the origin of CSR to philanthropy, bringing to life visions of the patronage received by artists and litterateurs in creating works that we still wonder at. And the earlier view of philanthropy evolved into CSR through various community-building initiatives. Essentially there grew the divide between the developed and developing countries.
With societal development providing much as was needed in the more affluent countries, the concept of CSR changed rapidly to the new agenda of corporate responsibility in a clear deviation from the word 'social'. Partly masked by the Millennium Development Goals, a new order emerged and as always the developing world is struggling to make matters match.
It flows naturally, therefore, that the CSR agenda in the developing world is significantly different from that of the north. Education, environment and health facilities are still far from being available in the south, leading to boardroom wrangles over what should be focused on. To complicate matters, the MDGs have undergone changes in their definition and substance.
There are ones who will not wait for matters to mature, the ones who would make a mockery of the process and yet it is they who expect results of general approbation. So while the concept of promoting eco-friendly practices meets with societal approval, it doesn't take too long to find out that the hotel linen rolled over from the ash for even a day saves more than just the environment, it saves on cost. And the little strip of paper that suggests the toilet has been 'sanitised' would have been better served not being wasted. At least a tree-hugger somewhere would have been pleased. Fascinating is the cruel fact that the same hotels who care so much about the environment don't consider the piles of information cards and paper-communicated promotions they indulge in. The environment comes a poor second.
How often have beleaguered CSR specialists had to smile wryly as the hard-nut perfectly well-meaning business manager poses the question: "so what does this do to our bottom line?" In support of the CSR person the answer is a difficult one. In support of the business manager it is an even difficult call. It is, indeed, a fine line.
The reality is that CSR or CR has moved on to a more pivotal position that goes beyond the business nitty-gritty of the bottom line. It has shifted from a support role to a key link in the chain that binds economic, social and environmental realities. If these are the three main factors around which business and profits revolve-sustainability has to be the key end goal. Those three factors and their well-nourished existence will have to be ensured. Or in other words, people, planet and profits are interlinked.
The search for 'sustainable' and renewable' energy sources would have one believe so. Healthier and long-living people will consume more of the consumer and lifestyle products available. During Kofi Annan's tenure as UN Secretary General, his Senior Adviser Maurice Strong had suggested that 'Sustainability (i.e. CR) means running the global environment - Earth Inc. - like a corporation: with depreciation, amortisation and maintenance accounts.
This very aptly described view of sustainability in business speak was targeted towards the multi-national corporations in drawing their attention towards the issue of the MDGs being more than just a government or NGO agenda. The response was good till the profit crunch set in. On one hand, there were shareholders to satisfy, albeit many of whom had keen interest in sustainability. Increasingly, employees became selective about what sort of organisation they were joining and even pay took a backseat in the considerations, without waning in importance.
The developing world's requirements were significantly different. The idea of child labour is abhorrable. Reality suggests that with more mouths to feed the sole bread earner has no option. And again societal reality allowed for the family to chip in just as in other societies. There then emerged a middle-way. Children employed would be kept from hazardous vocation and provided nourishment and education. The concept is nascent and time is required before the efficacy will be known.
The 'creche' concept for garments workers has proved to be more successful and has drawn the approval of Western companies seeking to source their imports from Bangladesh. There are still the issues of fair pay amongst the host of CSR requirements but progress is being made.
In between the philanthropic initiatives of forestation, building people's homes, providing solar lights to those who can't afford and pure drinking water sources continue to have a role. Smaller activity such as providing people the wherewithal to re-define their lives and the training and education to open up their minds to what can be achieved is just important.
What probably puts a lot if to shame is the apparent flagrant attempts to portray sports sponsorship as some sort of CSR. It appeals to the masses and is drum beaten incessantly. For the purists it is time to hang their heads and ponder.