Leading Expert in Corporate Social Responsibility Elaborates on the New Bottom Line of Business

AmCham Bulgaria and Bulgarian Charities Aid Foundation (BCAF) hosted March 17 a business breakfast entitled “The Role of CSR in Building the Sustainable and Profitable Company “ with a guest speaker Michael Brophy, Chair of Board of Trustees, Capital Community Foundation, London. Michael Brophy has been founder and a Chief Executive of Charities Aid Foundation for 20 years and under his leadership it grew in the UK from £12 million to £ 1.5 Billion. He was also a founder of Bulgaria Charities Aid Foundation in 1995. Presently, Michael is a Chair of The London Community Foundation. In the beginning of 2010 he was awarded Outstanding Leadership Award at the 2009 UK Charity Awards for his multiple contributions and achievements in the UK and globally. Michael has a sense of humour that conquers everybody.

Mr. Brophy introduced and led the discussion about the business case of corporate social responsibility. This was not a discussion on charity but on the new bottom line – about commercial self interest and a about staff motivation, reliability of partners and suppliers. In Mr. Brophy’s words company CSR develops society and every company should get involved in. “CEO-s are those who have to spend time on thinking how much to get involved in CSR campaigns, how to use competencies of the company, how to exercise its social responsibility, but also how to maximize its effect.”

In Mr. Brophy’s words the political context determines how much corporates and individuals become involved in the community. In theory communist states provide everything for everybody; in frontier states like the early USA the citizen and corporates have no option but to club together to create a community. The consensus now is not only to seek a balance between state provision and private initiatives but to construct partnerships which make the whole bigger than the parts.

He invited the audience to think of corporates not just as vehicles grinding out profits for shareholders but as living organisms – good citizens in aggregate. What is good for the community is also good for the company (and its employees) and vice versa. He suggested that companies which recognize this succeed better in the long term because of the effect on the company’s image, and even more so, on the attitude of all the employees who are a part of it.

Assuming this to be the case, how to make it happen and what community projects to support?

Successful CSR programs are always led by the CEO, with support from the board and chair. But the CEO cannot be expected to deliver the detail. He must persuade mainstream managers that it is their duty to deliver excellent CSR. That means the CEO’s patronage and the provision of corporate facilities – money, meeting rooms, endorsement etc. The CSR team then needs to involve every employee to some degree in the program – for it is in the self-interest of each of them, as well as all of them. This takes some doing and some time to achieve. But once everyone is involved almost all will find it rewarding and a source of pride. This begs the question of what to do to help the community.

Sponsorship of the arts or sporting events is good for the company – it creates contacts, brand recognition and employee involvement. But the more profound CSR activity isn’t of this kind; it is using the company’s competency (and of its employees) to help the community, in which it lives. Thus IBM for example not only provides product (computers) but the educative skills of its staff, to schools and higher education. It also encourages staff to become involved in schools as governors or treasurers.

Very realistically, the speaker acknowledged all this is fine in theory, but in a situation like today in Sofia, when the state (the mayor) has limited resources and only a few corporates have big CSR programs, it takes a bold CEO to take the first step. However CEOs are or should be highly intelligent risk takers. Those inclined to take a lead are advised to seek out others and create areas of interest: for example in supporting schools or hospitals in areas where their employees live: a bad school can become an excellent school within five years; and the companies involved directly benefit. Therefore whilst a big and bold company can go for profits alone, CSR by its nature, is not competitive and bigger results are achieved by bigger partnerships.

This is where AmCham, and its CSR Committee, should seize the initiative; it is ideally placed not only to spread the gospel of CSR but to midwife projects, to encourage partnerships, to publish the outcomes of success, to create and publicize the statistical and human CSR activity of its membership. And to forge links with the government of Sofia and the nation. It may well become Am Cham’s most exciting set of activities – certainly AmCham will itself benefit hugely, said Brophy.

Finally, Michael Brophy suggested there is a role for advisors – not in every case but often. This advice can range from suggestions as to what the CSR program should prioritize and which local institutions or groups can best deliver. This is where BCAF has a role to play. For fifteen years it has been providing information and help to corporates within Bulgaria.

According to experts in CSR, the individual success of each Bulgarian company and international company in Bulgaria would push the country up the socio-economic ladder. Bulgaria has people with excellent education and talent and commitment, sufficient to make it one of the leaders in Europe. What is needed is an overarching program which corporate and civil society can buy into.