MHCi MONTHLY FEATURE:
HEAVY METTLE: HEROES IN CSR
Director, MHC International Ltd.
We need heroes. They act selflessly in difficult or dangerous situations and make us proud to be human. Heroes are as diverse as the human race and imagination, thumb and they reflect all aspects of our lives. This Monthly Feature looks at Heavy Mettle in CSR and suggests that the heroes of CSR should be given a much more public profile.
1. Substance over style:
This Monthly Feature was in part prompted – unknowingly on his part – by one of my chosen heroes, Peter Rosen, whose self effacing dedication is truly inspirational (see below) and by my ever increasing impatience with our overblown cult of fatuous celebrity, where heroism is measured by the shaping incisions of the plastic surgeon’s knife or the trauma caused by being evicted from Celebrity Big Brother! I fully realise that this should be considered as light entertainment and laughed off as such, but my seething alter ego sees the newsagents’ shelves groaning with celebrity focused magazines, hungrily scanning newspaper pages for some real news other than celebrity pairings / break-ups / reunions, trying to find TV programmes that offer substance over style and understand that Paris Hilton means more to the general public than a nice place to stay in France!
Are there any real heroes out there who can compete with the fatuous A to F listers who slide across our TV screens or who grin in the well thumbed pages of the red tops? If so, where are they and what can we do to get them in the limelight, to trumpet that Good can be Great, too?
2. The Right Stuff
What makes a hero is a tricky thing to define because the word is on the one hand used so loosely and so broadly, and because it is so emotionally charged when real and personal sacrifice is involved. At a recent meeting of local businesses, the guest speaker from a local charity exhorted us all to become heroes. He said that businesses should think “of charity as an opportunity not an obligation” and it was incorrect to suppose that philanthropic donations are where a company’s CSR actions begin and end. We were exhorted to show our social engagement by helping local projects and by getting involved in the community: in this way we could all become heroes. Certainly he was moving in the right direction.
If asked to define a hero we would probably outline characteristics such as bravery and courage, fortitude and strength of will, the ability to take action and determination to see something through to the end. We would probably refer to a specific example of an historic person and we might also reflect on our personal stakeholders or the (mainly) unsung heroes of our daily lives, either those who act in a flash to save a life or avert disaster (as seen in the moving pictures taken in the aftermath of the London bombings) or those who strive long and tirelessly to make a real difference, either by going that extra mile in their work and/or by extraordinary engagement in their private lives. More likely, we might turn to the arenas of sport and endeavours of business for our inspiration.
3. Heroes in sport and business
Sporting celebrities are continually highlighted in the media, often more for the human interest of their glittering lifestyles and personal foibles than for their sporting prowess. So what makes a real sporting hero / heroine? Should they be lauded and admired simply for the use of their natural talents – an extreme case would be Mike Tyson – or should their off-field profile be part of the equation? Olympic athletes at the top of their game put in a long and exceptional effort to burnish their natural talents and hone their skills, often enduring much physical and psychological pain, as well as financial privation (in all but those cases where a national sports’ authority has the funds available to help). Theirs is a hard road and they are very much to be admired. But the rewards for winning are so very high and, for all the talk about participation, who remembers the Putty Medallists, those who come in fourth place? Athletes, too, fall prey to the temptations of performance enhancing drugs or illegal equipment tweaking.
However, in whatever area they excel, once their competitive time is over, exceptional individuals often excel in another areas or devote themselves to coaching and training, to passing on their skills and knowledge to the next generations Athletes who have transcended their natural skill and who dedicate themselves to others are much more than celebrities – they are most frequently our real time heroes and heroines and I would love to see such individuals given a much higher profile.
Business naturally taps into this wonderful resource of talent and excellence and has for years used sports’ personality endorsement – as well as sports’ images – in marketing campaigns for brands or products that are not directly involved in sports. Further, our insatiable interest in outstanding individuals (and money) means that business itself throws up exceptional players who are truly gifted in their management or communication skills, or who have revolutionised product development or management thinking. Business superstars, such as Jack Welch or Richard Branson are practically more famous than the names of the well known companies they head up, and other media savvy entrepreneurs such as Alan Sugar and Donald Trump have moved firmly into the limelight with TV shows or product endorsement, often using their notoriety to boost their ratings. Yet can we regard such successful business people as heroes? An interesting case is Martha Stewart who was imprisoned for lying about stock trading:
Stewart, who is America’s first self-made female billionaire, ranks No. 21 on Fortune’s 2005 Most Powerful Women list. She got to that spot the hard way. But make no mistake: Serious risks persist. A Securities and Exchange Commission insider trading investigation is pending. Her company’s stock, which doubled during her prison stay, is down 47 percent since her release in March, reducing the value of her personal holdings from $1 billion to just over $500 million
This, though, seems not to have halted her irresistible rise and popularity, although one major retail chain her company has supplied in the past is not so keen to stock her products. Is a Midas Touch to be as admired as sporting prowess, and are the absolutely focussed individuals who are driven to win, the kind of role models we want for our society, for ourselves and for our kids?
3. Heavy Mettle
Success in business, as indeed success in any sphere of life, does not have to take place using underhand or even illegal activities, but business has always been stigmatised, mostly unfairly as the few high profile business villains or corporate scandals are used to reinforce the negative and general view . However,
People trust people: People do not trust the business community, just as they increasingly distrust the other large institutions that dominate the skylines of their day-to-day work and play. Yet they neither form nor respond to this distrust by basing their opinions about corporations on a systematic exploration of the facts, as the ‘show’ me’ metaphor about today’s society would have us believe. Instead, they form their views by looking to the attitudes of those people who they trust, believe in or admire.
Therefore, it is high time that more be made of the shining lights in business, of the business heroes who are not afraid to walk the talk that good business, is good business. And here are just a few of my personal choices:
John Elkington, founder and now Chief Entrepreneur of SustainAbilityThe Green Consumer Guide put John Elkington on my personal radar screen in the late 80s and over the following decades, he founded and then led SustainAbility, to my mind the foremost consultancy on corporate responsibility and sustainable development. His environmental credentials are second to none and his thinking and consummate word smithing have made such terms as “The Triple Bottom Line” and “People, Planet, Profit” part of the standard sustainable business vocabulary. Check out the man himself on www.johnelkington.com – you will not be disappointed.
Peter Rosen, Director of Bovince Ltd, a specialist digital printer. From this SME’s web-site, you would never guess that they are one of the foremost exponents of CSR, a beacon company. Peter, a very self effacing but utterly focussed businessman, has been an advisor to Downing St and one of his senior managers was awarded an OBE last year for services to the environment. For Bovince Ltd, CSR is absolutely integrated into the business where it has transformed working practices in reducing their negative environmental impact, effecting cost savings and inspiring devotion in the staff. CSR is so taken for granted that they do not need to flaunt this on their website.
Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. She was an early player in the idea of fair trade, bringing supply chain issues right into the High St. Her mission was “To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change” and having stepped down from a full-time role at The Body Shop in 2002 (she remains a non-executive director), she still holds 18 percent of the stock with her husband and is currently in the process of giving her £51 million fortune away: “I don’t want to die rich. Money does not mean anything to me.” Her blog at www.anitaroddick.com shows her in all of her campaigning zeal “I was a teacher and researcher – and I knew how to tell a story“
Dr Michael Hopkins, MD of MHC International Ltd and Professor of CSR at the University of Middlesex. Michael is one of the unsung heroes of CSR, ahead of his time with the publication a decade ago of The Planetary Bargain: Corporate Social Responsibility Comes of Age and still in the forefront of CSR ideas. He is unusual in mixing academic rigour with entrepreneurial flair and is a born communicator. As a Development Economist with the ILO and the UN, where he worked in some of the poorest places on earth, the move into CSR from a social perspective was unusual and still influences his thinking and writing – indeed he is currently working on a new book on CSR and development. His major thesis is that the UN has failed on development and that corporates are taking up the slack. His view is that his research and ideas should be readily available to all. The MHCi website at www.mhcinternational.com is testament to this.
4. CSR in the limelight
Courage, mental or physical strength and conviction are true for all heroes, mythical or actual, but what characteristics should Heavy Mettlers – like the four heroes I have briefly outlined above – have in addition?
· a strong personal ethic;
· powerful sense of personal responsibility for environmental and social change;
· clear purpose to make a positive difference;
· perseverance and / or resourcefulness;
· a restless intelligence and /or intellectual rigour;
· ability to communicate;
· show passion, allied with personal charisma / force of character
· big hearts
As I mentioned in my intro, I would very much like to see CSR heroes – positive role models doing real and beneficial things – given more limelight, more column inches and more exposure on the airwaves. So what can be done?
· What criteria should be used to determine a CSR hero – is my list strong enough?
· What other CSR heroes are there and what would your personal recommendations be?
· Are there any companies out there who would like to sponsor a CSR Heavy Mettle award?
We have always needed heroes – I think it is about time that we had some really good ‘uns.
[Contributed by Ivor Hopkins / January 2006 / firstname.lastname@example.org]
If asked for specifics, we would probably refer to a well known figure from across broad tracts of human history and endeavour – the list would be a long one and not without controversy e.g. Sir Francis Drake, for example, is regarded as a national hero by the Brits but as a pirate and brigand by the Portuguese:
· Mythical: Ulysses and Penelope;
· Religious: Christ or Buddha;
· Conflict: Douglas Bader or Florence Nightingale;
· Sport: Muhammed Ali or Billie Jean King;
· Endeavour: Ernest Shackleton or Amy Johnson
· Creative / Created: musical virtuosi; authors, poets etc as well as their characters from epic poetry, fiction, films (Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard) or computer games (Lara Croft);
· Public life: Che Guevara or Marie Curie
e.g. Katarina Witt, the most successful figure skater of all time (formerly from East Germany), is used by the German farmers’ association, the CMA, to advertise milk; Kati Wilhelm, double Olympic Gold in the biathlon, advertises natural Ruhr gas.
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