Leveraging CSR for Partnerships and SDG Achievements

Leveraging CSR for Partnerships and SDG Achievements

Leverage means power. It means advantage, opportunity, edge. It is an idea, a strategy, and it denotes capacity. It is a term that refers to the ability to do more with less; to optimize resources towards an expected outcome.

Side note: leverage, like many other abstract concepts) can be used positively or negatively. We are exploring the positive angle here.

Give me a lever long enough, a fulcrum, and a place to stand and I shall move the world”- Archimedes, the Greek mathematician.

This quote illustrates the essence of leverage. In the context of business and global economic development, CSR (strategy, initiatives, and activities) is a powerful tool with which we can fulfill the SDGs. Using Archimedes’ equation, CSR is a lever, the SDGs are the fulcrum, and partnerships are the solid ground to stand on.

In July, we highlighted how integrating CSR into your business operations can boost your bottom line. Read it here.

SDGs and CSR: a match made in heaven

Heads up, there will be quite a few acronyms in this paper. Can you catch them all?

The SDGs and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) are similar well-known concepts. While CSR is a business management concept that involves the social and environmental activities an organization uses to interact with and add sustainable value to their community, the SDGs are a collection of interlinked global economic development goals/indicators- set by the United Nations- that serves as a practical approach/roadmap to ensuring social, economic, and environmental sustainability globally. If the world was a company, the SDGs would be its OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

So, how are they linked? CSR initiatives are essentially the Strategic Action Plan (SAP) that makes achieving the SDGs a reality: they are the SDG framework on a corporate level. One example that demonstrates this connection is the Indian CSR regulation. India ‘s 2013 Companies Act mandates eligible companies in India to allocate up to 2 percent of their net profit to social and environmental development activities as prescribed by the Act.

Each of the 11 prescribed CSR areas can be linked to multiple SDGs, case in point:

  • CSR area 1 covers activities to eradicate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, and promote preventive healthcare and sanitation. This is inspired by SDG 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing), and 6 (Clean Water & Sanitation);
  • CSR area 3 covers activities to promote gender equality, empower women, and reduce social and economic inequality distribution. This can be directly linked to SDG 1 (No Poverty), 5 (Gender Equality), and 10 (Reduced Inequalities).

Although the SDGs are a national-level agenda, the Indian CSR law example (one of the first of its kind globally) highlights how accomplishing these growth and development goals requires high-level actions and collaborations between the public sector (government), private sector (eligible corporations), and civil society organizations.

Green is the Color of Partnerships

Goal 17 of the SDGs is Partnership for the Goals. As explained by the UN:

Successful sustainable development requires partnerships between governments, the private sector, and civil society (NGOs, MLOs/IGOs- how many acronyms so far?). These inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the center, are needed at the global, regional, national, and local levels”.

Business Strategy 101 teaches that the success of a business depends on its relationship with the external environment: which is made up of regulators, legislators, activists, and potential staff and customers- so-called external stakeholders. Nowadays, the most successful businesses are those that engage these stakeholders effectively and efficiently. The private and public sectors/NGOs have increasingly and rapidly moved from simply being benevolent donors and recipients respectively to forming strategic partnerships and coalitions aimed at the SDGs, and other social challenges.

A good example is CACOVID i.e. Coalition Against COVID-19, the Nigerian private sector-led task force that partnered with the NCDC, the federal government, and the WHO, during the 2019 COVID pandemic, to provide donor and technical assistance to private and public health facilities’ responding to the crisis. This was a strategic CSR effort led by large private sector organizations in the banking, oil, media, healthcare, telecommunications, maritime, and professional services sectors, among others. Similar alliances were formed in other parts of the world, like the AFC-19 in UAE, BSR’s HERproject, and IADB-led PSPCFLAC in Latin America.

The high-impact multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) can take different forms, sometimes depending on which actor/stakeholder leads. They could be Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), Private-NGO/MLO partnerships, Public-NGO/MLO partnerships, or Public-Private-NGO/MLO partnerships. Regardless of which form is taken, one of the following arrangements is central to their operations:

  • Partners leverage or exchange resources. An NGO receives (for example) funding (philanthropic CSR) from a company for a program (most likely SDG-related), the company receives reputational gains (CSR-related benefits); or
  • Partners combine and integrate resources. Multiple partners combine complementary or similar resources (funding, technical assistance, equipment, etc), leveraging critical mass to directly or indirectly deliver traditional development impact, at a relatively larger scale- e.g. CACOVID.
  • Partners deliver systemic transformation. A partnership formed by suppliers, farmers, regulators, and major purchasers to transform a food/value chain making it more bio-friendly, e.g. tobacco crop substitution in Yunnan province China. This effort can be linked to SDG 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Health and Wellbeing), and 13 (Climate Action).

The shared vision and goals that drive these partnerships withstand all challenges as long as these alliances are strategic; harmonized and aligned; effective and sustainable; respectful and reciprocal; organized and accountable; responsible; flexible, resourceful, and innovative; and committed to joint learning.


The Lever, The Fulcrum, and The Solid Ground

Trying to achieve the SDGs without partnerships and corporate level socially responsible efforts is like placing a see-saw on a hill- there is only one expected outcome.

CSR efforts are the SAPs that make achieving SDGs a reality when placed on firm MSPs. A fast-changing world faced with large-scale challenges that disrupt large societies requires well-designed, well-governed, well-implemented, accountable, and impactful initiatives that foster continuous collaborations. It is not rocket science, it is simple (not easy) math (and physics).

“On solid partnerships, we stand, all other grounds are sinking sands


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