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  • Social Entrepreneur Index

Taking corporate social responsibility seriously

Chris Simes is the MD of Collingwood Learning; a theatre in education company passionate about helping organisations to make a difference while delivering on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives. Here, he talks to UMi about how (and why) brands can make their CSR activity more than simply a ‘tick box’ exercise.

There are many reasons firms might look to invest in CSR, with the most prevalent being to ensure their business has a positive impact on the community. However, the way you action your CSR commitment usually depends on what each company does – and if there are any perceived negatives to offset.

Whatever your activity, people inside your business – as well as customers and stakeholders – will consider your commitment to CSR when evaluating whether to engage with you or not, so here are five ways to cement that success.

Understand it

People often confuse philanthropy (nothing wrong with that) with social responsibility. Giving is fantastic – it can motivate staff and make a difference – but social responsibility is more about an organisation aligning its core business with a wider mission. And both are inextricably linked.

A crude example might be the difference between an MD of a software company sponsoring an opera concert because they like music and know the performance will be covered in the media, versus the same company championing careers in IT, running education initiatives, offering work experience and apprenticeships. In the latter case, the firm is making a beneficial difference to society, utilising its in-house expertise, aiding recruitment, and rightly benefitting reputationally.

Let the business drive the mission

Don’t crowbar an issue in that you happen to be passionate about. Start with your business and what it does. As yourself:

What is your product or service? How can it be harnessed to make a positive impact on society? Are there any negative impacts of your product or service that you could mitigate against? What are your business needs?Is it recruitment, skills, retention, reputation, quality or efficiency?

Be honest with yourself about the answers here, because it’s a two-way thing. There must be something in it for your organisation in order to motivate change. Remember: CSR can be ethically right and beneficial to a company at the same time.

Be specific

Set an overall bold goal. “By X date, we want to have achieved X”. Set objectives that are targeted, timed, and measurable. It’s easy to go off in many minor directions by trying to appeal to all your stakeholders, but that will water down your impact.

Once you’ve established a goal, develop a strategy based upon how the different functions of the organisation can contribute towards that. Then identify additional external expertise you need, a core target audience – and share any achievements with your other stakeholders.

Get creative

Be different! As the adage goes; “If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.” Collingwood Learning use creativity and the arts to design learning programmes, but creativity in your programme might come from utilising technology, introducing new methodologies, bringing strange bedfellows together, disrupting the ways things are currently done.

Having established the problem you want to solve, talk to a range of people – educators, artists, industry experts, thought-leaders, staff, service users – and get their input and opinion. Don’t pre-judge, instead take the time to listen and let ideas emerge. It’s not about supporting existing activities, its about doing something new that will facilitate change.

Get real

Whatever your objective, ensure that there are genuine interactions with people that helps them in some way – and measure it!

By evidencing the impact you’ve made on individuals, groups, organisations, places, and services, you can review how they have – or can be – constantly improved. A marketing or awareness campaign won’t cut it, you need real action, on the ground, with your people and partners. Only then can you tell those success stories with pride.

For example, in our work in education, we know it’s all too easy for organisations to send resources or videos to schools across the UK and claim they have made an impact. But, were they really used, or are they sat on shelves gathering dust? What did they know afterwards that they didn’t know before? Did it enable improvements in education? All Collingwood’s work involves quantifiable interventions with real, measurable impact, so whatever you do, make it equally tangible!

Collingwood Learning design and deliver social responsibility and education programmes, harnessing the arts and creativity in everything they do. They are the creators of the award-winning Real Safeguarding Stories project ( which tells survivors stories of abuse, and The Smashed Project, ( an international education programme tackling underage drinking in 23 countries globally.



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