Is it the fiddler really a rogue?

There are people who believe that to work with a corporate is to dance with the devil. The Salvation Army for example declined the offer of free advertising in the final issue of ‘News of the World’. Barnardo’s on the other hand was happy to accept a donation of more than £900,000 from the profits generated by that final edition.

I suspect their founder would have approved, because he put his service users first. Faced with the horror of London’s cholera-ridden East End he knew that for every child he helped, there were two more on the street equally in need.

At a very personal level, when we are faced with the stark choice between death and compromise, most will recognise that survival at least keeps you in the game. You can fight for principles later. David Arben knows that. He was a child violinist who chose to entertain his concentration camp guards in order to survive. He was then able to spend the next 50 years campaigning to make sure we never see another holocaust.

And so to Big Society and the massive challenges we all face in the struggle to maintain services and support to our most vulnerable citizens. It’s clear that things have to change. Government can no longer afford to pay the third sector to deal conveniently and discretely with our social ills. Everyone has to play a role. We have to re-discover our sense of community and re-connect with the people who live around us.

Barnardo challenged the widely held view in Victorian Britain that the poverty, squalor and disease of London’s East End was the result of laziness. Arben recognised that he could do more by surviving than refusing to entertain his captors. So why are so may folk today happy to throw corporate generosity back in the faces of those striving to make CSR worthwhile? Do we need to see a return to Victorian levels of poverty first?

It would seem obvious to encourage our largest employers to provide the most opportunities for people leaving worklessness. Yet Tesco are criticised for providing 3,000 supervised work experience placements around the UK. I’ve seen some appalling examples of work experience provided by charities; jobs created to keep the service user occupied and income flowing into the organisation.

Yet public opinion suggests that shredding waste paper one sheet at a time is more useful work experience and worthwhile than building a track record with an organisation that employs nearly half a million people in the UK. It appears as much a paradox as the fact that the people who protest about new Tesco store openings are often among the first to shop there when it’s built.

You see for too long now the corporate world has considered the shareholder more influential than the customer. Building shareholder value has been deemed more important than building customer loyalty. When those shareholders are investment funds, they lack any sense of humanity. It’s profit and growth at any cost.

But things are different now. We’re not going to see significant economic growth for years. Shareholders are more concerned about efficiency than expansion. And the social media explosion means that public opinion and consumer behaviour are influenced more by user customer experience than by advertising.

CSR and social enterprise are destined to marry and, in time, it will become an equal partnership. The corporate groom will be well resourced and adaptable. The third sector bride compassionate and able to steer her husband’s endeavours to where they can truly blend social impact with commercial strength.

Just as Wayne Visser, in his book The Age of Responsibility describes a future where CSR becomes effective and has real, lasting social impact. He calls this ‘CSR 2.0’. Can you not see how social enterprise 2.0 is desperately needed? It will only be born out of a union of corporate might and third sector intimacy with social need.

It’s time to listen to the music and stop accusing the fiddler of being a rogue.

  • Read our article on CSR 2.0 here


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