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Information, news and commentary on corporate social responsibility, especially in the New York City area. Linked to website
Maintained by John Tepper Marlin, Principal, CSRNYC.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ashoka Support Network - NYC - Kila Englebrook (Comment)

Kila Englebrook, Ashoka Support Network
Last night I was privileged to attend the first meeting of an experiment that started in New York City with a meeting of about 25 Ashoka "fellows" and kindred spirits. I got to meet  Kila Englebrook, who is one of the organizers of the experiment.

Ashoka is looking forward to continue bringing together the same people with an event of some kind in NYC every month. Similar initiatives are under way in Miami and San Francisco.

Ashoka, of course, was created by Bill Drayton more than 30 years ago to enable "social entrepreneurs", a term he coined. It has invested in an average of 100 of these entrepreneurs every year, giving them the name of "fellows".

They work on projects like road safety in Venezuela, prison reform in Turkey, nutrition in Thailand, housing in Kenya, and gender equality in Egypt. Most of them are working in Asia or Latin America. Ashoka itself is located in the Washington, D.C. area.

The organization spent more than $6 million in its latest year on stipends for fellows to work full-time on a new idea, in economic development, human rights, civic participation, health and education.

Now it wants to bring together its thousands of alumni in certain target communities to make them available to incoming social-entrepreneurship sympathies and interests. It is also adding to the mix business leaders who have signed up with the new Ashoka Support Network.

While Ashoka itself has been operating in 70 countries, the ASN program is so far in only 22 countries. The 350 business leaders who have signed up for ASN are mostly concentrated in Europe so far. Only 10 percent are in the United States. Kila wants to change that! She sees "huge potential" in this country.

I was at the meeting because Alice Tepper Marlin is a Global Fellow at Ashoka - someone who has created a social enterprise that is replicable in other countries.

Kila Englebrook sees a great opportunity for networking - providing a channel for the social aspirations of businesses that are interested in contributing to change in the world as part of running a successful business, and making accessible to social entrepreneurs the wisdom and skills of people who have been making and selling products.

Kila herself earned a BA in African Studies from Boston University, and joined Ashoka in 2007.  Since 2009, she has been working on partnership and resource development, as well as operations, spending much of her time in Nashville, Tenn. before she started her current work on ASN.


At the meeting yesterday, a few people wondered if there were some way to speed up the rate at which Ashoka was contributing to change, because of the great needs in the world for social entrepreneurs to get busy. Ashoka's $40 million budget was not viewed as being enough.

The response from other participants was that change-making is risky and that Ashoka has survived and grown by being cautious, working toward change by evolution rather than revolution.

This is a healthy debate and I think the experiment is proving its worth. Kila has a tiger by the tail.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ten Tips for Asserting the Value of Your CSR Spending

Budget Time Is Pruning Time.
It's hard to pinpoint the return on investment of “social” spending. Yet CSR has become a proxy for social licence to operate and not allocating adequate resources in this area is seen as a risk.

CSR managers often lack the tools, metrics and capacity to assess and describe their program’s performance. As a result, their positions and budgets are vulnerable.

The following ten tips are abbreviated from the fine list in the Guardian this week by Paul Klein, president and founder of Totonto-headquartered Impakt, which helps corporations and civil-society organizations become social-purpose leaders:

1. Assume CSR Acceptance. Start from the position that the person you report to accepts that CSR is necessary but is highly skeptical of its value relative to other parts of the business.

2. Show How Part of CEO Plan. Demonstrate that your initiatives align with the priorities of the CEO. While the resources allocated to CSR are small, few aspects of business have the potential to get the attention and support of the company’s most senior leadership.

3. Secure the Support of Finance. This is the toughest internal stakeholder group and the one whose opinion matters most at this time of year. (See #9.)

4. Indicate the Value of Every Aspect.  Find metrics where your program is quantifiable (eg a successful cause marketing program).

5. Find Out How Your Initiatives Are Working. How does CSR influence the stakeholder group that matters most to your company’s growth? For example, if you are a B2B company you should know whether or not your CSR initiatives are influencing the acquisition of new customers.

6. Show How CSR Costs Are Being Leveraged. This could include providing data or statements from other managers that substantiate the value of CSR initiatives.

7. Stay Away from Generic Metrics.  Executives want to know how value is being delivered specifically in your company.

8. Get People Involved.  Create opportunities for executives to have direct experience with the stakeholders who benefit from CSR.

9. Commit to Delivering More Value. Take a sharp pencil to corporate philanthropy, non-profit partners costs, time and money spent on CSR reports.

10. Innovate. Take your program to the next level.


I think the best example of all this is the workplace innovation of the Rapid Results 100-Day Program. I have written up how that has been working (very successfully) in Brazil. The last tip, taking the program to the next level, has an exact analog in the 100-Day Program.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Transparency Matters

I was just reminded of Shopping for a Better World by a post on the subject of transparency by a Dunstan Allison-Hope of BSR, a fan of the book.

He noted how helpful the book was in making information available about companies and products that were hard to research, especially in the days before there was Grandma Google to consult with.

One of the ways that the book helped extract information about corporate compliance or performance relative to certain criteria in the book was to give companies points for transparency.

It worked. For some reporters the biggest sin became not providing information that was requested. Even if a company's record was bad, they often made the decision that it was better to get a good record for transparency than to stonewall.

There was upside to that decision. After all, a bad record is usually an easy one to improve on.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

CSRNYC Blog Just Passed 30,000 Page Views

Thank you for reading.
The CSRNYC blogpost was started in May 2006, with a break in 2009-2011.

Since May 2006, I have added more than 90 posts on this site. The two most-viewed posts relate to the International Cocoa Verification Board.

Ranked third is a post on Wal-Mart's first initiatives on the CSR front. Fourth-ranked is a comment on the LEED ratings.

Fifth-ranked describes a meeting between the late Milton Friedman and my wife Alice Tepper Marlin.

Your reading this blog is appreciated.

Top Ten Posts Based on Page Views (Since 2007)

Jan 18, 2009   1865

Feb 14, 2008   658

Jan 15, 2008, 3 comments   283

Friday, July 18, 2014

How Brazil Won in 2014 with Social Fingerprint - Rapid Results

Christ the Redeemer Reacts to Brazil's 7-1 Loss to Germany.
I was in São Paolo, Brazil in February. The World Cup was on everyone's mind and Brazilians were supremely confident that they had a shot at winning.

The World Cup didn't turn out so well. The photo at left says it all. But the program that indirectly brought me to Brazil was a huge winner.

Beat Grüninger (L) and John Tepper Marlin in São Paolo,
Brazil. This and most other photos by Alice Tepper Marlin.
Brazil in 2014 has the world's 7th-highest gross product whether measured in nominal or purchasing-power-parity terms. It is growing fast and may soon be #6 or #5 in the world, leaving in the dust the UK or France, or both.

However, the country's rapid growth has sometimes been at the expense of workplace health and safety.

In February I got to talk with some of the participants in a milestone of the innovative Social Fingerprint - Rapid Results (SFRR) program on worker engagement.

Workers are often aware of safety hazards long before management, and one reason that deadly accidents happen so often is that communication channels have been choked off like hardened arteries.

My overall comment is that I am hugely impressed. In the aftermath of major workplace accidents there has been a lot of finger-pointing by those eager to find culprits to punish. This Brazilian program creates a model for actually doing something about workplace safety from the bottom up. To my mind, Brazil's leading in this area is more important than winning the World Cup.

The 100-Day Program: Team, Goal, Process

The idea behind the experimental program is that the way to address challenging problems like workplace health and safety is to engage both workers and managers in generating and putting in place systems that will sustainably ensure compliance.

Jane Hwang of SAI (L) and Tu Rinsche of the Walt Disney
From those who had been through the 100 days of the program, there was a buzz of excitement from the outcomes. I interviewed the key local organizer, Beat Grüninger, and other participants about it.

Each team chose ambitious, measurable goals that the members believed they can accomplish in 100 days.

The teams that met in February were at three different stages. One was starting off. One was at its 50-day mark. The third was at its 100-day mark.
  • Managers and workers at first met separately in the first stage of team-building.  Each half of the teams did some initial work on their own and began to use the SFRR planning tools.  Then they met the rest of the team to pool their different perspectives, work out details of the problems to be addressed, agree on measurable goals to be met, and begin a process for meeting these goals. 
  • The 50-day meetings focus on overcoming obstacles, modifying goals and adjusting the process. Sometimes the initial goal is achieved in even fewer than 100 days and sights are raised. Others have to redouble efforts and dive into more innovation and engagement to meet their goals.
  • The 100-day meetings are given over to celebration of achievements and giving initial thought to setting a second 100-day goal. At the 100-day meeting, the teams are asked whether they want to (1) Proceed to a higher level of the goal at same location or agree on a different goal OR (2) Help other units in a different part of the company or facility achieve the goal they have accomplished.
At the end of every day of the meetings, the SFRR coaches review how the meetings have gone, to see how they can improve the process for the next iteration.

Program Outcome

The pioneering program is engaging workers in Brazil to address root causes of health and safety issues in factories, using mobile technology, internal team building and change management. The program forms worker/manager social performance teams focused on improving health and safety, and makes measurable improvements in one specific health and safety issue in a 100-day Rapid Results project.

Danny Manitsky of Rapid Results Institute (L) and Jane
Hwang of SAI.
The principle of this worker-engagement program is that teams of workers and managers jointly set goals that can be achieved in 100 days.

At each of 18 factories, the SFRR team first obtained the agreement from the chief executive to participate. The CEO selected five managers and workers elected five representatives to participate.

The significant outcome was that of the 20 worker-management teams in 18 participating factories, all attained measurable, ambitious goals within the tight 100-day schedule.

Here is how they did it:

Morning, First Day

On the first morning, workers and managers from each team met separately to begin to decide about their 100-day measurable goal.

Many workers were doubtful that anyone would listen to them. By the end of the morning they were engrossed in identifying hazard risks on the factory floor and rating the degree of danger. Management, on the other hand, got right to work mapping risks in the workplace, and pondering how to obtain resources to make changes.

Some of the Brazil Social Fingerprint Rapid Results project
leaders. Alice Tepper Marlin at left. Front: 100-day project
staff and Tu Rinche of The Walt Disney Company.
Right: Brazil team leaders.
When the two groups met together, they learned some mutual respect. Workers were pleased to be brought into management thinking about the problems, and often had a better understanding of the causes of workplace hazards and a better idea of how best to address them.

Afternoon, First Day

In the afternoon of the first day, all members of each team met together.  They compared their maps of safety risks in the workplace and agreed upon measurable 100-day goals for their team. They set their measurable goals.

Second Day
L to R: Alice Tepper Marlin,
worker in a São Paolo rubber
factory, Beat Grüninger. 

On the second day, the teams use SFRR planning tools, developed over many iterations of the program, to figure out how they will reach their goals.

One of the most popular tools in the program is a series of team-building exercises. Often the most important obstacle to workplace safety is a lack of trust between management and workers.

To build trust and commitment to a common objective, and an understanding of the crucial role of innovation, games can be highly effective.

A Sample of Games for Team-Building

Managers and workers meet in groups
with SFRR coaches to set goals.
Between goal-setting sessions for the incoming groups, and reporting sessions for the more mature groups, much of the work of the coaches had to do with the use of games designed to foster teamwork and collective innovation.

Groups were given a choice of lectures or games. Invariably, they preferred the games. The games were designed to get the teams of managers and workers to work together to set goals and follow a process.

The Folding-a-T-Shirt Game - Each team was taught how to fold T shirts very fast. Object: How to teach effectively.

The Folding-a-T-Shirt Game.
Tennis Ball on Sheet Game - The challenge was to keep the ball in motion without it going off the side.

Passing the Tennis Ball Game - Each team passes a ball around among team members. Object: How to do it very, very fast.

Keys to the Worker Engagement Program

The program worked in phases to reach key outcomes. The elements were:
  1. Listen to workers’ voices.
  2. Establish complaint-management and resolution systems and communication channels needed to sustain the improvement process throughout and after the program’s conclusion.
  3. Generate immediate and sustainable measurable improvements in occupational health and safety.
  4. At each facility, form and empower an Internal Social Performance Team, consisting of workers and managers, to manage future improvement projects.
The Tennis Ball on Sheet Game.
Benefits to Managers and Workers

Managers learn that what workers know, and the respectful inclusion of workers from beginning to end, can be vitally important in getting the job done.

Workers learn management tools and many think of themselves differently, seeing themselves doing management work and able to move up in the hierarchy if they are interested. For workers, especially migrant workers, having a channel to communicate unsafe working conditions is hugely important.

Sample comments of participants from two Brazilian companies:
Abengoa Agricola Manager: "We were able to show to our senior management that our efforts as a team were able to achieve the results even in a time of scarce financial resources. This was for me one of the most rewarding moments."
Worker: "The project was great and provided us, through the trainings in São Paulo, a lot of competence to talk about health and safety to our colleagues." 
Bignardi Manager: "The main difference in this project was everybody's great commitment. We had other projects in the factory which sometimes stopped before being completed, as the staff was not involved and committed to the objectives."
Worker: "The physical effort required in the factory was reduced significantly. This was one of the most rewarding results for me." 
Project Support

The SFRR program was supported by a founding grant from the Walt Disney Company.  The development and testing of this highly successful program was provided at no cost to the participating Brazilian companies. These companies contributed in spirit and by allowing substantial employees time off for the project while they were being compensated.

Applications were sent from Brazilian companies to Social Accountability International (SAI) in November and December 2012. Approximately 50 companies were selected. The program ran in waves in 2013 and 2014.

SFRR partners included:
  • The Rapid Results Institute, which contributed its experience in project facilitation and change management and worked jointly with SAI on design of the program.
  • The LaborLink program of Good World Solutions, involving a mobile technology to survey workers and measure the awareness and impact of the program in an efficient and anonymous manner.
  • The Cahn Group LLC. 
For more information about the Brazil Worker Engagement Program visit, or contact Jane Hwang, Director of Training and Corporate Programs, SAI - email

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Different Are Corporations from 50, 100 Years Ago?

President Dwight Eisenhower in Scotland with golfing
partners (L to R) William Robinson of Coca-Cola
and W. Alton Jones of City Services.
Eduardo Porter, on the front page of Wednesday's NY Times business section ("Motivating Corporations to Do Good"), cites three companies to suggest that "Today, we live in a different world":

- Ford doubled wages in 1914 so employees could buy his cars, and coincidentally there was less for shareholders like the Dodge brothers to use to set up a competitive business.

- Kodak instituted employee-friendly policies in 1929, just in time for the Depression.

Coca-Cola, in the person of its CEO, William Robinson, in a 1959 speech to Fordham University, committed itself to serve workers, customers and the community as well as shareholders.
Porter gives an example of why he thinks today is a "different world":
Energy companies both recognize that climate change is a problem and actively lobby against efforts to combat it.
So how is that different from what prevailed in the first half of the 20th Century? Tobacco companies did research on the effects of tobacco and suppressed the results that would cost them money. General Motors lobbied to dig up trolley car lines to create demand for more cars even though they must have known how efficient trollies were. Bankers talked about careful lending to minimize risk but speculated with the deposits of correspondent banks.

How have the 55 years since 1959 been so "different"? Since the days of the robber barons, shareholders have ruled.  Many of the richest Americans, usually in the latter half of their careers and lives, have contributed - then and now - to solving specific social problems.

But now, as then, voluntary programs by businesses or their executives are not enough. To address community and employee problems that will cost businesses money, laws and regulations are needed. Only a small percentage of businesses are prepared to go much beyond what is required by law to "do good". This is true today and it was true 55 years ago.

Porter digs up Milton Friedman's 44-year-old article in the Sunday NY Times Magazine to the effect that social concerns can't be left to corporate benevolence. Regulations are the job of government. Friedman called them the necessary "rules of the game" of capitalist enterprises.

You can't count on the universal goodwill of businesses to address energy and environmental issues.

That, however, doesn't mean it is silly for businesses to invest in solving social problems. Businesses that are proactive in responding to social issues help create the culture of responsiveness, a commitment to compliance, that helps make regulation work. They may even create a profit center.

It's not an either-or choice. You need corporate leaders to partner with government in addressing social concerns. And you also need governments that are ready to crack down to enforce the most basic social standards for worker safety and environmental protection.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Moulivakkam Building Collapse, Chennai - "Builder Deviated"

Moulivakkam Building after Collapse.
Photo by The Hindu.
“It looks like the builder deviated from the approved design,” said T. S. Sridhar, a disaster-management commissioner in Tamil Nadu State yesterday in a phone interview with the NY Times published today.  “The thickness of pillars was reduced to give more space in the rooms. The length of beams was increased to reduce the number of pillars. It needs detailed investigation to figure out the real cause of the collapse.”

However, The Hindu reports that a local builder currently executing various projects in Chennai (formerly called Madras) said the most likely cause for the Moulivakkam building collapse was a weak foundation.
Re-conducting the soil test and studying the structural design of the building would reveal the facts, he said. Residents living near the construction site too have raised a lot of doubts as to whether the builders had taken the soil conditions there under consideration before taking up construction.
The police in Chennai, capital of the southern-India state of Tamil Nadu, on Sunday arrested six people involved in the construction.

Four people were rescued yesterday from the rubble from one to the two towers of the 12-story building with 42 apartments outside Chennai that collapsed because of "heavy rain" on Saturday. Fortunately, the brand-new building had not been occupied yet. The death toll of 30 so far is mostly from the construction workers who were lining up to be paid for their work. A total of 47 have survived, including four people who escaped the building three days after the collapse.

Other recent building collapses in India include:
  • In January, at least 15 workers were killed when a residential building under construction collapsed in the southern state of Goa. 
  • In September 2013, at least 50 people died when a 33-year-old building collapsed in Mumbai. 
  • In April 2013, at least 72 people were killed when a building under construction collapsed in a suburb of Mumbai.