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Inching Ahead and Falling Behind

We’ve been out talking with companies about the Creating Shared Value article – engaging in wide-ranging conversations with experienced corporate foundation and CSR executives – taking stock of where their thinking is, how the article resonates within their organizations, and discussing how CSV strategies should ultimately get designed and implemented in different industries.

Three observations from our most recent conversations with companies navigating the CSV landscape:

A CSR executive of a well-known Fortune 500 company with a long track record of sustainability investments first pointed out the CSV leadership being shown by other companies and then said, “I feel like we’re inching ahead which means that we’re falling behind.” He was interested in figuring out how the future brand positioning of his company could better reflect a CSV mindset that he believed was necessary for the long-term success of the company. We pointed him towards efforts like IBM’s Smarter Planet, GE’s Healthymagination, and Nestlé who had not only embraced CSV but were actively integrating shared value concepts as part of their corporate brand positioning.

A corporate foundation executive from a technology company told us that the “lines were blurring” between the corporate foundation, traditional CSR activities and the business itself. In her world the foundation was already thinking creatively about engaging the business to identify new business opportunities coming from addressing social issues. But, her challenge was getting the business to expand its thinking and understand how big the implications could be. Her initial entreaties to the business had resulted only in modest philanthropic requests that reflected the most basic understanding of what she thought the promise could and should be in creating shared value. How could she push them to see the full breadth of CSV opportunities? We talked to her about how CSV education and training may be necessary to help business executives identify and act on CSV opportunities.

Finally, we met with another large company in an increasingly competitive industry that had been encountering financial difficulties. They found CSV particularly relevant to their situation because of the orientation around new sources of business value coming from addressing social issues. Given the current performance of their business and the prospects for their industry, they said, any and all ideas were welcome for identifying creative, new sources of value for the business. We talked about how we could work with them to brainstorm a compelling set of industry-specific shared value opportunities in a workshop setting while also engaging and educating key executives in the process.

As we move forward, one of FSG’s mission-driven goals is to deepen the CSV knowledge base. These conversations and the robust give-and-take that come along with them helps orient everyone working on this topic to future research and learning opportunities.

What are the most challenging questions on your mind in your company’s shared value journey?

Justin Bakule

Former Executive Director, Shared Value Initiative