Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is All CSR Golden? - Appraising the Value of What's Important

The buzz of the Olympics is still being discussed as Canadians relish in the all important hockey gold, and play armchair detective wondering what has happened to Sidney Crosby’s missing stick. The world has noted that Canada has embraced a new pride in nationalism, and the London Olympic organizing committee is apparently trying to figure out how to mimic the tremendous tightness of community celebrations that occurred in downtown Vancouver. On the heels of such success, the federal government has agreed to continue funding for the controversial (for some) Own the Podium program and an article in the Globe and Mail indicates that a business consortium named B2Ten has agreed to raise an “audacious amount of money” to ensure that more Canadian athletes taste success on the world stage.

Does corporate contribution to athletes training amount to CSR? And, if it does, is this as valuable as other endeavors of CSR that may focus on housing, education and health care?

B2Ten is a consortium of corporations that according to J.D. Miller the Montreal businessman who helped found the program, wants to do “something really meaningful”. More meaningful one supposes, than the $3 million allocated to 25 athletes. Those athletes who comprised just 9% of Team Canada, had at the time of print of the Globe article earned 40% of the national medal total.
To be clear, Own the Podium is a shared venture between the federal and provincial governments and nine corporate sponsors and allocated $110 million to 100 athletes. With this kind of complexity and bulk comes bureaucracy. With B2Ten however– they can select athletes based on applications and apply just the right amount of support in the right place at the right time. With these picks the return on investment is more calculated and the chance of success if a bit higher – leading to good brand recognition and cache for the sponsoring organization.

The payoff from a community perspective is that young people are inspired to achieve, to believe that they too may be destined for greatness and on a behavioral basis this can translate into more active teens with the commensurate decrease in health problems related to inactivity. Additionally, a sense of connection to the community can theoretically decrease incidences of property crime – all good stuff as any sense of community pride has offshoots to a more civil society.
So, here’s the question. Is there something inherently less valuable in making money off of temporary Olympic glory with all the sexy PR and national fervor associated with it, versus investing in the longer term commitments of health and social programs? Or, should we embrace all socially responsible activities as valid and good?

I think the answer lies in the fact that organizations can and should use CSR as a competitive advantage and differentiator. There is ample “good work” to be done, the method of drawing in customers, increasing market share and the like is equally varied. We can argue that $3m can be spent in a more effective way, but ultimately it is up to the company to determine what is of value to them. CSR activities should not be homogenous but should reflect the values and biases (and market segment) of the organizations that bring resources to the table. The value is in the eyes of the beholder.

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