In the old (pre-Murdoch) days, The Times of London, which then had a fair claim to be the world’s premier newspaper, promoted itself for years with the tagline, “When The Times speaks, the world listens.” But in the 1960s when I first began reading it the entire front page was still filled with classified ads. The world has moved on. As has (sad to say) The Times.
Pride of place now has been unambiguously ceded to the New York Times, though The Economist, which describes itself still as a “newspaper,” could on a broader definition make a claim.
So when The Economist tackles a subject, even in its often quizzical way, it means it matters.
A piece on “corporate social responsibility” is therefore worth noting. It doesn’t add much to the discussion, but recognizes big shifts from when it was regarded as merely a reputational snow job. I’ve written more about this, including the significance of Michael Porter’s intervention and the concept of Shared Value, in my CSR column for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (http://bclc.uschamber.com/profile/nigel-m-de-s-cameron).
My sense is that CSR is presently a thoroughly transitional form. This explains the somewhat disordered situation of the CSR community as (let us say) a quasi-profession. The Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center and the CSR professional association recently collaborated in a report that noted the lack of institutionalization (training, standards, and so forth). Seems to me that this is not a problem as the whole effort is in transition; indeed, the idea of deciding in high school that when you grow up you want to be a CSR VP suggests a category mistake.
CSR is a nettlesome enterprise in the nature of the case, catalytic in respect of mainstream, old-time, bottom-line businesses; indirectly also in the social enterprise direction; and as a whole a component in a set of fast-moving parts as we are drawn into fresh models of capitalism in a culture sensitized to issues of social good – with brands scrambling for credibility and ever-more transparent windows replacing the opaque screens that used to shield all but the product and the marketing ploys chosen by the Ad Men to present it.
As I have noted elsewhere, I think we need not to be naive in our adoption of Porter’s Shared Value concept as if tomorrow afternoon altruism and the pursuit of profit will have come into perfect alignment. But the tendency is there. Slow but, I do suspect, sure. The values market is increasingly asserting itself as a frame for the more conventional market, and the integration of the two will become progressively more plain with the passage of time and the growth of transparency-hungry technologies.
More on this soon . . . .