Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cut the Capitals. Do Good Things.

On days when you think the world is all falling to bits and no-one is trying to fix it, go to see Ted. Pick a lecture and watch it. Each of their speakers is extraordinarily bright, positive, interesting and reassuring, in that you find out that someone is indeed working on fixing the problems we think everyone has forgotten about.

Last week I watched Nic Marks' talk about the Happy Planet Index, and as a result I joined his organisation, the New Economics Foundation, "economics as if people and the planet mattered". One of their suggestions is that in order to measure a country's success we ought not to look at growth or how rich everyone is, we ought to measure how happy the people are, measured against ecological sustainability. Using the HPI, Africa and the USA come out terribly. Latin America is miles ahead of the rest of the world. (Costa Rica wins.) Go visit and find out.

Coincidentally, I met a friend of mine last week at a do and found out that she works not far from me now, in the CSR department of a big multinational company.
"Let's get together one lunchtime," I said, and her brows furled.
"One evening?" I said.
"That would be better, because we don't really do lunchtimes," she said.

Now 'scuse me, but CSR stands for corporate social responsibility. I've long had a thing about CSR. I think that as soon as you reduce it to an abbreviation, and give it to a department to take care of, then it stops being a real responsibility for the company, and becomes the small place where you get to spend your tax deductible charity budget and make your organisation look as if it's behaving ethically. I was at a fundraising lunch given by Breast Cancer Care one day, expressed this view to the woman sitting next to me (from a huge UK retailer) and got a wry smile.
"Don't tell me! You work in the CSR department," I said.
"Yes, she said, "But I agree with you."

So what we end up with is a slight nod in the direction of doing some good things - because that's what corporate social responsibility is supposed to be about - while the rest of the organisation goes about the daily business of making masses of cash for the shareholders which, according to the New Economics Foundation's research, is pretty much guaranteed to make everyone concerned less happy sooner or later.

We know that volunteering makes people happy, and yet big organisations with their relatively large CSR budgets don't want happy staff; they want profitable staff. They're content to give money to charities so that someone else can do their social responsibility for them, but they still treat their own people like caged hamsters.

Let's dump the abbreviation, and even the silly name: corporate social responsibility. That only got invented so that it sat nicely on the agenda with financial reporting structures or management information systems or customer relationship marketing. Call it doing good things. Then do some. Start by giving your own staff enough time to take a walk, read a book and eat their lunch somewhere away from their own desks.

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