The state of Corporate Responsibility in Europe: 10 trends from the 2011 Responsible Business Summit

The state of Corporate Responsibility in Europe: 10 trends from the 2011 Responsible Business Summit.

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Brain drain in Spain: interview with one of the young professionals who has left the country.

In an article about “Spain’s lost generation of graduates“, The Guardian recently reported that rising unemployment was leading to an exodus of young Spaniards looking for better opportunities abroad on a scale not seen since the 1960s. This massive departure of educated and professional young people looking for better pay or living conditions is a source of concern for many, although the exact numbers are not easy to figure out according to a recent article in Actualidad Económica (in Spanish).

Experts disagree both on the volume and the consequences of this “brain drain”. They agree on the causes as unemployment among graduates aged 29 or under is running at 19%. Regarding the consequences, some experts are extremely pessimistic, considering that the amount of money spent on the education of those graduates is lost as many will tend to stay abroad, while others believe that those young people will some day come back to Spain with a set of personal, professional and languages skills that will benefit to the economy and to the society.

Sustainability is directly affected by this “exodus” as Human Capital Management is a key element to build a sustainable business. Companies should include in their sustainability strategy the way they plan to get the resources they need in the long-term. Nothing can confirm the prediction that those young professionals will come back to Spain after they’ve developed their skills abroad. At least, a company shouldn’t rely this hope. Instead, a sustainable business should include in their recruitment strategies how they will target Spanish professionals who live abroad.

I’ve interviewed Alex, one of those young professional who recently decided to move to Germany, to understand why he decided to leave Spain and what spanish companies  can learn from this:

Aequology: Hello Alex, can you tell us who you are and where you work?
AM: Hi, my name is Alejandro Martinez, and I am employed by www.misterspex.es, Spanish division of www.misterspex.co.uk ,  German leader in online sales for prescription glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. The company, a personal project launched by Dirk Graber with little capital investment, currently has over 140 employees. A successful business story and a new capital injection has led Mister Spex to venture on an international strategy. After launching projects in France and the UK, the company has recently placed its eye on the Spanish market because of its promising future in e-commerce on a mid-term basis. Mister Spex’s headquarters, located in Berlin, host fully autonomous IT, logistics, customer service and marketing departments. I personally work in the marketing department as an SEO specialist, and combine these tasks with website content creation and management.

Aequology: Why did you decided to move to Germany?
AM: Coming to Germany was both a personal and a professional project. Although I had been in love with Berlin for a few years, I wasn’t strong or brave enough to go for it. The tremendous financial crisis in Spain and the fact that I wasn’t enjoying my personal project as a translator brought me to travel to the only European that enjoyed economic growth in 2010. Besides a promising environment, numerous government aids and an alternative lifestyle that I am extremely attracted to, Berlin hosts numerous start-ups that make the effort of taking risks and train motivated people who are eager to learn and renew themselves. My experience tells me that this kind of approach would be absolutely inconceivable in Spain. Generally, German companies do not focus on short term benefit, but undertake actions believing they will be positive in the long run.

Aequology: How’s the workplace in Germany compared to Spain?
AM: Besides German companies’ predisposition to undertake risks, I have sensed that managers and administration boards are much more open to suggestions. If you have a good idea, they will take it and make the best possible effort to execute it. Besides, I feel lucky because, although I work in the marketing department and Scrum methodology was initially conceived for the IT departments, Mister Spex decided to apply it to the whole company. This method allows projects coming from management to be carried out in a transversal way, communication is 100% open, and, consequently, motivating your peers, feeling integrated in the group, and identifying mistakes becomes much easier. To some extent, this reflects that, indeed, innovating in Germany is much easier than in Spain.
I would also like to highlight that e-commerce, an incredibly attractive field for all countries due to its low investment costs and high profitability, was solidly established in Germany quite some time ago and is now working at full speed. Te constant news informing about the German’s urgent need for technicians and computer engineers are the best indication of this fact. Focusing earlier on this sector has allowed Germany to remain one of most powerful and solid economies, since they have managed to diversify their economy.
Last, I would like to highlight that in Germany it is the companies who assume the biggest risk. In order to have a hired person with a net monthly wage of 1.000 Euro, companies must provide private insurance, pay higher taxes, and provide social benefits, among other things. This does not only allow workers (who, in turn, pay 40% of their salary in taxes) to be aware of the social network supporting them and preventing them from being socially excluded if they become unemployed, but is also a useful tool for the German economy to maneuver because the government always has available funds. In my opinion, the German’s financial system is the key to them being, by large, the strongest country in Europe despite the high immigration rate and tremendous social costs, which would be inconceivable for other countries. I can’t think of a better place to be in Berlin right now!

Aequology: Thanks Alex!

Words: why you should use “sustainability” instead of “CSR”

Alberto Andreu, Chief Reputation Officer & Sustainability Manager with Telefonica, a global Telco MNC, expressed his views about the current Sustainability vs CSR debate in an article for VaultCSR. I know that many people believe that arguing over words is unnecessary and a waste of time, which I can agree with to a certain extent. But, still, using the right terminology is important as we are facing a problem of public perception. I believe that most of the CSR/sustainability leaders and practitioners actually share common values and the issue is not really to agree or disagree on values, strategy or practices but to make sure that a larger audience get the right message about the role that businesses play in building a sustainable future, for themselves, their employees and owners, and for society in general.

Even if it’s mainly a problem of perception, I agree with Alberto Andreu the concept of sustainability describes better the strategy of a company, and its initiatives, that support sustainable development (defined as development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs).

In most companies “CSR initiatives” do include actions that cover the 3 dimensions of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social, but the general public tends to see the third aspect only.

As I said, it’s probably a problem of perception, but for many stakeholders:

Sustainability = future/ CSR = present (or even past) actions.

Sustainability = strategy/ CSR = policy

Sustainability = risk & opportunity management / CSR = compliance

As said in a previous comment, some could argue that sustainability = green but, in my opinion, this perception is less problematic than the other (the one that relates CSR to charity) as companies have demonstrated that there’s a clear business case for sustainability initiatives related to the environment (energy consumption reduction, carbon footprint, water…).

Words matter because they can be an excuse for some companies to do nothing when we all know that they should act now.

MBA in CSR…I mean MBA.

Catherine Chong,  an MBA candidate specialising in corporate social responsibilities (CSR) in one of the top school with sustainability or ESG (environment, social and governance) curriculum in the UK, shared on her blog a “cri du coeur”.
In her post, Why are you laughing at my MBA?, she explains how a member of the academic staff gave her the advice, in private, to take the general MBA title rather than the MBA in CSR, and how she can observe a general cynicism regarding her career option.

Don’t we ever learn? Aren’t B-Schools able to see their responsibility in the trouble we got in the last years? And take the necessary steps to correct their past mistakes, going back to the original premises of their curriculum?

MBAs were originally designed at the end of the 19th century as a “professionalization” instrument to prepare managers of large corporations to lead those for the public’s good, not for short-term gains. Unfortunately, the dominance of economics by the neoclassical school in the 1980’s imposed the idea that managers are free agents who should continually seek their highest incomes with no loyalty to their employers and no social responsibility.

Ignoring or laughing at the teaching of ethics and values-based leadership is the type of thinking that got us into so much trouble today. Will we ever learn?

CSR, Warriors and Peacekeepers

 

“Every soldier should be a warrior first”…

“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”…

Norwegian Peacekeeper during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1992 - 1993, photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.

Before the first peacekeeping mission was launched in 1948, a soldier was often regarded as nothing more than a warrior. With 98,582 uniformed peacekeepers deployed in the world at the end 2010 (United Nations), the military role has shifted from warrior to peacekeeper, and soldiers have been given new tasks involving assisting local populations, training police, restoring governments, supporting rescue efforts or reconstruction.

The “Warrior Ethos” still has supporters though. General Peter Schoomaker, the US army chief of staff, expressed alarm in 2003 that soldiers in Iraq “considered themselves to be support troops — cooks, mechanics and supply staff — rather than fighters”. He’s wrong.

As for the second quote – do I really need to mention the author? – although it’s the title of an article that was initially published in The New York Times Magazine on September 13, 1970, this theory still has some strong supporters too. They’re wrong. The same way the military role has evolved to meet the needs of  the last century, the role of business has changed too.

In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Akhila Vijayaraghavan, a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption wrote an amazing article: “Beyond Business, CSR: Help Pouring in for Japan From Companies.”

UPS, Bayer, Abbott Laboratory, Walt Disney, Microsoft, VISA… the big names, the multinational corporations, the very ones that should be applying without mercy “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” mantra, “are opening out their hearts and their wallets” wrote Akhila.

“Even small businesses are pitching in” she added, writing that “The Extreme Pita restaurant in Riverside (sister city to Sendai) is donating a portion of sales. The Takami Sushi Restaurant in downtown LA is donating 100% of all restaurant profits. In Phoenix, Stingray Sushi has created a Recovery Sushi Roll for $12, all of which will be donated to the American Red Cross.”

Akhila Vijayaraghavan´s article reminds me how wrong my 2 opening quotes are.

 Support the Red Cross.

 

CSR: does size matter?

The BBC reported on Thursday a massive misleading sales in the UK. Nearly 15,000 people who registered with Groupola , a group buying website, to purchase an iPhone 4, “were not told that only eight phones were on sale at the discount price of £99”.

Most people were left disappointed, but the business consequently had thousands more people’s details available to it when sending out daily e-mail alerts. The good news is that the company, run by Marcko Media, has been censured by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT), and consequently had to apologise and said those responsible no longer worked there. The same investigation also revealed that an employee of the group, pretending to be a consumer, had posted on social media positive feedback and comments about the “bargain”.

Markco Media, created in 2006, is a startup company, that apparently doesn’t have the skills, the experience, the idea or more likely the strategic objective to develop responsible business practices. I’ve met many similar companies, especially startup companies. To be fair with them, the problem was not necessarily that they didn’t want to engage in responsible business practices but they simply didn’t know “how to” or failed to see the importance or ROI to do so. Most of them didn’t consider Corporate Social Responsibility a strategic priority, seeing it as a domain reserved to large companies only, that seem to be more under public scrutiny anyway. The recent CSR law in Spain, that makes CSR reporting “mandatory” for companies with more than 1000 employees, sends unfortunately the wrong message. In my opinion, CSR is not just for large corporations. Developing responsible business practices and taking in consideration stakeholder concerns and interests in the overall strategy is essential to any business.

So, what do you think? When it comes about CSR, does size matter?

Anuncian la Publicación de un Nuevo Libro Sobre Liderazgo en Sostenibilidad

Este post de Lavinia Weissman fue publicado originalmente en la revista The Story Of Meaningful Use.

John Wiley Editorial (desde 1807) anuncia la publicación en junio del 2011 del libro de Eric Lowitt, The Future of Value, resultado de su investigación sobre las empresas líderes en el campo de la sostenibilidad.

Según mi experiencia, era necesaria desde hacía mucho tiempo la publicación de un libro sobre el valor que aportan a su compañía los líderes que promueven la Responsabilidad Social de la Empresa. El debate en torno a la Responsabilidad Social de la Empresa demuestra claramente que la semántica utilizada para describir los conceptos de RSE, sostenibilidad o inversión responsable suena a jerga para muchos y disuade a quien intenta acercarse a ellos.

Lowitt propone una definición muy sencilla:

SOS-TE-NI-BI-LI-DAD

Maximizar de manera duradera la creación de valor para los grupos de interés de la empresa.

Conozco a Eric desde hace tiempo, en particular a través de su trabajo de investigación en el Instituto de Alto Rendimiento de Accenture y gracias a una persona que reside en mi zona. Después de un periodo como manager en Deloitte, Eric inició su propio negocio en diciembre del 2010, además de acabar el libro de investigación que se había propuesto escribir.

Eric Lowitt

Eric es una de las personas en mi entorno que me entiende a la perfección cuando hablo de la idea de un “Laboratorio de Investigación-Acción Acelerada”. De hecho, Eric ha participado en proyectos de investigación-acción en todas las empresas que forman parte de la lista de “Global Fortune 500”. Los detalles de su trabajo de investigación, respaldado por entrevistas a más de 25 de esas empresas, consideradas  por Eric como las  “líderes en sostenibilidad del mercado”,  constituyen la base de su libro The Future of Value.

Del trabajo de investigación de Eric ha surgido una pauta de discusión muy interesante. Con el apoyo de Eric, algunos de los ejecutivos que pertenecen a los “líderes en sostenibilidad del mercado”, han adoptado un enfoque común que servirá de base para el próximo volumen de The Future of Value. Su objetivo es identificar y promover buenas prácticas y nuevas soluciones que sustenten un desarrollo sostenible a través del cambio sistémico. Eric será el jefe editorial del próximo libro que coescribirán los ejecutivos que colaboraron en el primer volumen, junto con otros líderes en el campo del capital riesgo, del sector público, de la administración del Estado y de las comunidades territoriales.

De manera regular, iré comentando y anunciando nuevos artículos del blog de Eric o reseñas de proyectos que puedan surgir  de los trabajos  de investigación de los líderes

El proyecto está basado en STEALTH (metodología de intercambio de recursos), lo que ilustra las habilidades de liderazgo de Eric y su capacidad de inspirar a los demás.

El libro se podrá comprar a partir de junio del 2011 a través de Eric Lowitt y de The Story Of Meaningful Use.  Los participantes en nuestra iniciativa de investigación podrán beneficiarse de un descuento por venta anticipada. Se puede contactar con admin@ericlowitt.com para conseguir más información.

Lavinia Weissman