CSI vs. CSR: A One-Letter Change Makes All The Difference

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Although still in its infancy, corporate social innovation (CSI) has the potential to radically transform corporate social responsibility (CSR).

While traditional CSR can be a reactive strategy when companies track only lagging indicators to measure effectiveness, CSI represents a significant paradigm shift by being proactive. It leverages existing resources to drive social and environmental change, and reinvents the relationship between the corporate and non-corporate worlds by being present and engaging in both.

CBSR had the pleasure of hosting HireUp CEO, Preston Aitken, at our Professional Development Networking Call last month, who spoke about how businesses can begin to redefine their mission and purpose, and generate social change.

Aitken outlined the following four areas of CSI that businesses should explore to jumpstart their social commitments and generate more value for themselves and their stakeholders:

1) Create A New Product

Many essential items and services that we take for granted are completely inaccessible to lower income and impoverished people both at home and around the world. Hundreds of millions of people could improve their quality of life if they had access to glasses, for example, but the cost is too high.

To combat this reality, a venture arose out of Enactus, a community that educates and nourishes emerging entrepreneurial leaders seeking to address social issues through business. By cutting the costs for the production of glasses, the OneDollarGlasses project sold eye ware for less than a dollar in the small African country of Burkina Faso. Hiring locals and training them to become micro-opticians also allowed the project to establish sustainable industry for the largely agricultural local economy.

“It’d be interesting to see a company step up to provide affordable food to Canada’s North,” Aitken says, addressing an issue that is much closer to home. The need is great, and the opportunities are within reach. Challenge the status quo.

2) Improve Talent Acquisition And Retention

There is a huge pool of untapped talent right here in Canada, but barriers prevent it from being visible to employers. Identifying this talent and working to remove barriers will provide both companies and employees with the opportunity to excel.

“Think inclusive growth,” Aitken says. His company, HireUp, is a great example of enabling CSI through “impact hiring.” Working in tandem with service providers, HireUp supports youth who face unique challenges – they have experienced or are at-risk of being homeless. An uncontrollable situation should not negatively impact an individual’s success, and targeting marginalized talent pools can help a company find stellar employees.

Being a purpose-driven company dedicated to improving the lives of employees strengthens employee loyalty, too. Demonstrating commitment to the well-being and growth of staff by providing living wages and other benefits allows companies to retain their best talent, in turn supporting financial growth.

3) Consider Your Supply Chain

A big shift from CSR to CSI is considering the big picture.  Are suppliers and manufacturers for your product also committed to addressing and solving social issues? A supply chain is like a food chain: if the shrimp that the fish eats is poisoned, the eagle that eats the fish will be poisoned too.

Buy from enterprises that made sure that all of their procurement transactions are also committed to CSI practices. The Social Purchasing Portal (SPP) is a tool that can help.  It provides an online environment for business-to-business transactions to leverage community economic development activity. Think big. Look down as well as up.

4) Invest Where It Matters

Successful corporations are uniquely positioned to be big drivers for change. Impact investing – strategic investing that yields positive social or environmental impact as well as financial returns on investment (ROI) – can help unlock millions of dollars in additional capital.  This unlocked money can be channeled into sustainable solutions for challenges that face our communities. The financial ROI can then be reinvested to build value and scale impact into the future.

Not only is impact investing a great way to align company purpose with social purpose, recent reports by Responsible Investment Association suggest that it works, and is itself a catalyst for greater positive change. With growing numbers of asset owners shifting their assets into impact investing, more impact investment products that seek to solve systemic social issues are being developed. Think about where your money is going.

Impactful And Imaginative Innovation 

Shifting from corporate social responsibility to corporate social innovation in sustainability spheres represents a shift on the CSR spectrum in how the corporate world positions itself within the larger human, natural and built systems. Instead of merely addressing the symptoms of sustainability issues, innovative business leaders challenge the very system itself and work to transform our economy, society and our planet for the betterment of all.

Be audacious and take the step forward. Accelerating our efforts will unlock the potential that is inherent in CSI, and will encourage us not to look backward at our shortcomings, but forward into the future.

Preston Aitken is the CEO of HireUp, a certified B Corporation that helps companies find, hire and support the success of untapped talent. That talent just happens to be young people who have experienced or are at-risk of homelessness.

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