Noxious agents threatening social action in companies

By José Angel Moreno. Director. Corporate Social Responsibility. BBVA

16 July 2003

Eight lethal bugs to look out for: they can attack your company’s social agenda.

What is referred to as a firm’s “social action” is merely one of the many facets of corporate social responsibility (CSR) – albeit the most directly linked to the firm’s relationship with society as a whole. It is any form of business activity that aims to satisfy social needs of whatever sort – economic, welfare, cultural, educational, environmental or sporting – without the prime goal being purely lucrative. But despite this, its fundamental characteristic remains the need to generate a perceptible “double utility” – both for society, given the problems it helps ameliorate, and for the company, for its positive effects on reputation, and as a result, competitiveness.

On the other hand, these actions are not exclusively limited to the field of patronage, but can also be performed through many other channels. The most notable possibilities are: commercialization of products and services of special benefit to particularly needy populations; labor integration of disabled or marginalized persons; fostering volunteering among employees or encouraging social action among suppliers and associated companies.

Thus, social action can affect the company on practically every front. Precisely for this reason it is essential that there be proper coordination enabling it to be undertaken in an integral, systematic fashion, within the framework of a corporate approach, consistent with the firm’s overall strategy, coherent with its objectives and managed with maximum efficiency. When performed in this manner, it can be an innovative, driving force for the entire company.


Germs to watch for

Despite being so obvious, this corporate conception of social action – perhaps due to its novelty as an integral concept – continues meeting serious resistance within companies, even in those that wish to carry it out in a rigorous way. It is not difficult to detect numerous pathological agents that attack it virulently. Here are some of the most frequent:

Mercantilism

This is surely the greatest danger for effective social action. Using coercion to achieve immediate practical results for the company, it impedes the long-term perspective needed for it to bear fruit. It provokes the widespread – and grave – affliction of banality, or even stupidity.

Incoherence

This is a high-risk agent. It prevents social action from adapting to the company’s strategy, making it unrecognizable and illogical, thus leading to its ineffectiveness.

Discoordination

A genetic malformation that is widespread on the Iberian Peninsula. It makes reaching agreements on the different lines of social action impossible by fuelling the disparity of criteria, objectives and fields of action between them. It produces chaos extremely swiftly.

Cosmeticism

A virus always ready to strike. It induces people to make promises that are not fulfilled and to announce projects of a purely cosmetic nature, which have nothing to do with the reality of the company. It is lethal in the long term.

Beggarism

Although now in remission, this is also a common parasite: it turns social action into a ramshackle department of “good works,” which grants endowments without rhyme nor reason - not for the benefit of the most needy, but rather for the most skilful sponsorship seekers.

Improvisation

This is a well-known affliction, yet difficult to eradicate. It is congenital in Spain, where it is also known by the local term chapucerismo. It is even found in the best families.

Opacity

A rather insidious bacteria. It takes root easily in conservative companies that are frightened by the risks that social action commonly entails, and prompts them to try and combat them by avoiding any hint of transparency. It is not painful, but is tremendously corrosive.

Dispersion

Highly dangerous. It is difficult to fight, as it is spread via reasonable arguments (example: concentration impedes attending to all the company’s interest groups; result: it is advisable to develop numerous fields of activity). It kills by progressive debilitation: effectiveness is reduced, the image diluted, identity erased, the added value for society becomes minimal and the contribution to reputation… well, it practically disappears.

As you can see, these are extremely toxic elements. But let’s not succumb to despair: there is a universal remedy for all of them. It is called professionalism. It is highly recommendable to season it with a generous dose of common sense. In BBVA, we strive to keep this in the forefront of our minds.

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