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September 3, 2014 / Ciara Myers, Editor

A Fresh Take

By Lori Vacek
Foundation Manager
Freddie Mac Foundation

When I first heard about the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I was not sure about registering. Like many of us, I’ve attended numerous conferences, most of which have been interesting and provided a chance to network, but I was looking for something different – something fresh, inspiring, and substantive.

I found that in the Institute for CSR, and here’s why:

  • Throughout the year, we have been challenged to develop our own creativity. Dinah Dittman from Kaiser Permanente shared this TED talk and described how she strives to incorporate a sense of creativity into her work. This line of thinking was a nice complement to the more typical strategic perspective discussed at corporate conferences.
  •  From Jon Spector of The Conference Board, we heard that it is not always possible to “prove” the value of CSR with data (which can be compelling), but that it is our responsibility to make the business case for this work. For instance, offering meaningful employee volunteer opportunities supports retention and recruitment goals.
  • James Abruzzo from the Center for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers asked us to consider why a corporation would produce a product for which there was no viable market. A case study describing Merck’s handling of the decision to manufacture and give away a vaccine for river blindness in Africa “for as long as is necessary” was inspiring, and offered a strategic analysis of the decision making process from a senior management perspective.
  • Dane Smith from FSG and Sonal Shal from the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown discussed new frameworks and tools for achieving both business and social goals, including shared value and social impact bonds.
  • Lead faculty member, Tim McClimmon, of the American Express Foundation encouraged us to assume a greater CSR leadership role by, for example, authoring new case studies and creating new resources to strengthen the field.
  • And, most recently we were inspired by Mike Harreld, the head of PNC Bank in the Washington metropolitan region, who spoke clearly about how community involvement is “just what you do,” and described PNC’s role in both early childhood education and sustainability practices.

I’m only able to mention some of the many substantive speakers and discussions the Institute for CSR has offered, but,  overall, it’s provided a chance to step back, reflect, connect with peers (each session is like a day-long round table discussion!), dig deeper into current trends, learn about new resources, and to think anew about long-standing challenges.  I’d recommend it for all CSR practitioners interested in strengthening their programs and striving to “make a difference” for the stakeholders we serve.

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