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What is corporate social responsibility?

It’s hard to convince anyone to do more for the community without first showing what ‘good’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) looks like. We use the simple definition:

“Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business practice that ultimately ensures a business fulfils its responsibilities to internal and external stakeholders. It is driven and actioned from within the organisation with the expectation and support of shareholders, and is made up of both internal business practices and external community partnerships.”

CSR is a broad concept and takes on many forms depending on the business. Generally, CSR theory encourages a stakeholder-led approach to CSR. Stakeholders are different in every business, but can be broadly split into two groups:

  • the internal stakeholders (staff, shareholders, suppliers)

  • and the external stakeholders (customers & the community)

Our toolkit looks at five streams within this split, four that sit under internal business practices (accessibility and inclusion, sustainability, cultural engagement, and ethical procurement) and one large category that sits under external stakeholders (community partnerships).

As a rule of thumb, we believe most businesses should have a project or policy that aims to actively improve outcomes in each of these areas. We discuss more on what constitutes good internal and external stakeholder engagement throughout this toolkit.


What makes for good CSR?

One building block of our approach to CSR is the 16 principles. These are designed to help you assess the maturity and effectiveness of a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative without getting too bogged down in the theory. They also provide guidance on what good and bad CSR looks like in practice.

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 The 16 Principles of Great CSR.

These guidelines are just that - guidelines. However, they help focus in on what good CSR practices look like in your workplace.


Is CSR for social enterprises?

Corporate Social Responsibility exists on a spectrum - from companies that do harm (socially irresponsible) to those that demonstrate some CSR commitments, and from there to include social enterprises and B-Corps. Your organisation will be somewhere along this spectrum, but you don’t have to be a social enterprise or a B-corp to demonstrate great CSR.

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The FAQs…

Is it not just a policy that goes in a drawer?

No! That’s up to you and your team. We recommend CSR groups meet at least monthly to spread the risk of the programme collapsing if a key person leaves and to keep the momentum building in your workplace. We also recommend that you report annually on your progress, even if just internally, so it is clear to everyone in your team how much progress your company is making.

Do we have to be a full-blown social enterprise?

No, not at all. CSR primarily targets ordinary, for-profit companies, that make up the vast majority of our economy.

Do we have to identify as a corporate to consider CSR?

No you don’t. It’s a common misconception that CSR is just for listed or large companies, but 97% of New Zealand businesses are SMEs. We explore SME-SR a lot more later in the toolkit.

What if we want to work towards becoming a B-Corp or Social Enterprise? Is this toolkit for us?

If your business is really serious about operating for good, not just for profit, you may consider the B Corp certification which recognises a company that meets high standards around social change, environmental performance, transparency and accountability, or you might consider becoming a social enterprise. Social enterprises don’t yet have a legal definition, but they typically put the majority of their profits towards fulfilling their social purpose.

At Step Changers, we recognise that while both of these models are hugely aspirational, they’re shifts that are also unlikely to occur in the immediate future for the majority of workplaces. That’s why we focus on improving corporate social responsibility, which targets what the ‘ordinary workplace’ can do to improve its internal business practices and community partnerships. But yes, you can use these principles to help you on your journey too. Pick and choose what you need.

Have a look around the toolkit. The next step is Getting CSR on the table.