Let’s be Realistic About Companies Doing Social Good

To give my brain a break, I’ve been reading a lot of adventure stories recently – such as “Blood River,” which tells of a journey trekking through the Congo, and “The Blue Sweater,” which is about how Jacqueline Novogratz (of the Acumen Fund) left her successful international banking career to understand and make a difference in global poverty. Although I’m fortunate to be involved with many social transformative projects, all of this reading has made me ask myself, “What am I doing with my life?!! Am I doing enough???”

So when I recently came across the Forbes article on “Why More and More Companies Are Doing Social Good,” by Brian Rashid, I was curious to understand the rationale. As I reflect on my life’s purpose, I wanted to understand how company’s view their purpose for doing good. Not only was I disappointed, I also flat out disagree with some of the statements made. Keep in mind that, a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not right for every company. I strongly believe this philosophy.

Rashid states that CSR gives the company a sense of purpose beyond turning a profit. Sure, philanthropic efforts do give a business something else on which to focus that is much more “touchy-feely” than P&L statements. But a company’s top priority must be to stay in business and make a profit. If they can’t do that, then they can forget about “giving back” to the community.

Rashid also tries to make a case that businesses have an unwritten social contract with their communities to be philanthropic. This is unfortunate. I do believe that businesses should, first and foremost, stay in business and hire employees from within the community. Companies should invest in their talented teams and offer supportive work incentives. Only when they have taken these steps can businesses then engage their employees and consider philanthropic work.

All that to say: let’s be realistic of what we expect of companies. There are steps and phases they have to go through before they are ready to do social good….and that is totally okay.

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