Late last week, WRAG held the first class for the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility, in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. CSR leaders from our region and far beyond gathered for the first two-day session of the year-long program. Below, The Advisory Board Company’s Graham McLaughlin, a member of the inaugural class, shares thoughts on the first session.
By Graham McLaughlin
Director, Community Impact
The Advisory Board Company
With an incredible slate of speakers, faculty members who could teach both the practicalities of the work as well as big picture concepts, and participants from well-known global and regional companies, the bounce in my step as I walked to Johns Hopkins for day one of the inaugural Institute for CSR wasn’t just from the two cups of coffee I’d needed to fortify myself against the cold.
When I learned during introductions that our classroom had previously been the headquarters of the East German embassy, and therefore, due to their desire for secrecy cell phone signals would be unavailable, my appreciation for this opportunity to now truly take a step back from the day-to-day grew even further.
Below, I’ve listed a few takeaways from our (uninterrupted) focus on “The Business of CSR,” the first of four two-day sessions across the year, but my main takeaway from the session, and why I’m so grateful to have participated, was that while we may not have been able to share cell phone transmissions with the outside world, the openness by my fellow participants to share both their successes and challenges was incredibly valuable.
Rarely do we as CSR leaders get to engage in nuanced, thoughtful discussions on how to build a vision and execution strategy that will yield the greatest social and business impact. Due to lead faculty member Tim McClimon’s brilliant facilitation, high quality speakers who were told to be provocative in order to push our thinking in different areas, and the expertise of fellow participants, we were able to have these types of discussions from basically 9-5 each day, leading me to have some immediate ideas for improving our “Community Impact” program as well as ways I need to alter my thinking to position us to drive greater impact in the medium-long term as well. Below are three highlights relevant for any program:
Where There is No Vision, the People Perish
This biblical quote is courtesy of guest speaker Michael Smith, Director of the Office of Social Innovation, as he pushed our group to “be fearless.” Thinking big and outside of normal paradigms is necessary to drive transformative change in society and your business. It’s also critical to have a clear vision of what success looks like, what it takes to accomplish, and why your firm is uniquely positioned to execute on this transformative vision.
No Man is an Island…and the Same Principle Holds for CSR
CSR must be integrated into the business, and we as leaders are the ones who must make that happen. Guest speaker Dane Smith, head of FSG’s North American consulting practice, emphasized shared value as a way to scale social impact and business outcomes. Jon Spector, President of the Conference Board, outlined how to make the business case for CSR initiatives to your CEO. In both cases, a critical point was that CSR is not a siloed division in the company, but rather an ethos imbued into the decision-making of the organization.
Multiply your Impact through Partnership
Depending on the size and reach of your company, you may be able to create a program that yields significant impact without deep and varied partnerships. However, to fulfill your total potential impact, your company must become a force multiplier for good, not just partnering with organizations. As guest speaker Jennifer Kim Field from the UN Foundation put it, your company must “curate” these partnerships so they go from transactional to transformational. Creating these types of partnerships requires discipline- in selecting partners, in communicating effectively, and in measuring impact- but yields significant reward for the extra work.
In addition to The Advisory Board Company, the Institute’s inaugural class includes representatives from the BP Foundation, Freddie Mac, the Freddie Mac Foundation, the International Monetary Fund, Washington Gas, Bank of America, Pepco, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, Hilton Worldwide, IBM Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Kaiser Permanente, Lincoln Financial Group, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Deloitte, and the Verizon Foundation.