6 Impossible Things: What Alice in Wonderland taught me about CSR

It is the Frabjous Day, both the White and Red Queens gather their armies on the battlefield and send forth their chosen champions. Alice is all set in that dorky metal suit; ready to slay the red queen’s champion Jabberwocky. Alice is apprehensive and unsure of her but then gathers some courage and says to the Hatter:

“There are days when I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast”.

She then starts counting the six impossibles to make her believe that anything is possible. This is right before she slays Jabberwocky to pieces. Victory for the white queen and glory is restored to the Underland (yes, it’s not Wonderland, Its Underland)

What does that have to do with CSR? Well when the companies start their journey into CSR and sustainability, there are things they are unsure about, things that seem too good to be true and too awful to give them nightmares.  To make this journey easier, I am giving below six impossible things that I believe in and so should you:

 

  1. CSR can change the world…for better:  We have seen countless examples of how companies through their insatiable greed for profits manage to make life a living hell for communities or cause irreparable damage to the environment. But for every bad example we have one where the companies through their CSR programs designed in line with the needs of the community/ stakeholders manage to enhance the quality of lives substantially.
  2. CSR pays off: Yes it does and in real, quantifiable business numbers that can make your accountant a happy man (or woman). Whether it is a social change program or an environmental campaign, the ROI is most definitely positive whether it is in terms of employee retention or enhanced customer base or entry into new market. The only thing you need to do is to set realistic KPIs, measure them and track them over time. This takes us to the next impossible thing which is….
  3. CSR is measurable and quantifiable: The key is to have a robust monitoring and evaluation system in place BEFORE you launch your programs and then tracking the progress on those KPIs like you would for any other business initiative.
  4. Small companies can do exceptional CSR: This one is the easiest to believe. When I see companies like the ones in this post come up with exceptional programs that are not only effective from a social perspective but are also great for their business and ethical positioning, my belief is reinforced. There are also numerous examples where small companies are actually beating big name corporations in the creativity and innovation aspect of CSR.
  5. Organic CSR is best…with a little help: The conventional wisdom tells us that there is an expert of every area and if you want to venture into CSR, all you have to do is look for an expert who will wave his magic wand and viola…you have a CSR strategy, initiatives and the whole nine yards. The trouble is what happens when the expert leaves? Not many people in the company are familiar or hands-on with the concepts in the consultants’deliverable and the company needs to hire another consultant to implement or the plans just never take off. The best way is to hire someone who can train and engage the company people to think and live CSR over the course of the engagement. So that once he leaves, the company is self sufficient to continue and grow their CSR and sustainability programs.
  6.  YOU WILL BUILD MUCLE OVER TIME: Simply speaking it is OK if you don’t have any CSR budget at the moment. Most companies that I work with have very small amounts set aside for CSR initiatives simply because the business value of CSR has not yet been realized by the leadership. In such cases I remind myself and my clients to “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”. Your budget, your expertise and your will to make a positive change will get stronger over time. I promise!

In the movie, after Alice manages to kill the Jabberwocky, the White Queen banishes the Red Queen to the Outlands, and gives Alice a vial of the Jabberwocky’s blood, which takes her home where she continues to question social norms and conventional wisdom.

What will you do after you kill your Jabberwocky?

 

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