Transforming the CSR landscape

Mary Fifield and Sonali George

A new Microsoft fund illustrates how companies can engage with communities where they have operations to help create real change

Recently, Business Roundtable leaders acknowledged that corporations have a responsibility to benefit not just shareholders but all stakeholders and the environment. While the statement signals a new direction, what might this stance look like in practice? Among other things, it will mean moving away from the transactional nature of corporate social responsibility to programmes and processes that build transformational relationships with communities. One such example is Microsoft’s new Community Empowerment Fund1, which combines elements of community-led development and participatory grantmaking to create transformational relationships through shifting and sharing power.

Most corporate social responsibility programmes are transactional by design: they ‘give back’ through volunteer days, employee fundraising drives, sponsorships, capital campaign donations, etc. Though these contributions may provide real benefit to communities, they are usually a response to the short-term needs of groups whose goodwill is important for the company’s business mandate. They are not intended to foster long-term partnerships or support communities in driving their own development.

Providing funding instead of direct programme services devolves more money and therefore more power to local organisations that already work in the community.

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