By Vijay Kapur & Enakshi Sengupta
The growth of CSR has not freed it from growing cynicism and deliberate obfuscation of what real CSR is and what it aims to achieve. The term CSR holds different perspective for different practitioners. To a PR manager it is often characterized as reputation protection, for a non- profit organization is all about raising awareness for a cause and for the Government it may be off loading the burden of sustainability to the corporate world. This confusion and lack of a ‘common context’ is seeding ambivalence and is belittling the potential of the concept of CSR shrouding it in a fuzziness of non- committed ad-hoc activities.
CSR as the term signifies has the component of ‘responsibility’ engrained in it. The term responsibility can be a moral maze. It had different context and different dimension to many. To some it may mean legally enshrined obligation and to others it may simply mean commonly held morality arising out of collective interdependence. This responsibility at times can be self imposed through enlightened self interest or due to moral pressure.
Brand as a component also has the concept of ‘responsibility’ inherent in it. “Brand is infact, the prime determinant of relationship responsibility” (Kitchin, 2002). Brand comes with ‘brand promises’ and ‘trust’ between the expectation of a consumer and his ultimate experience. “It is a complex, gradual accretion of a constancy of value, consistency of experience and alignment of values.” (Kitchin, 2002). This is where CSR and brand shares its similarity. CSR like a brand is based on an organization responsibilities and honouring trust to its stakeholders. There lies a creative tension in every corporate arena between stakeholder’s need and the ability of the organization to realize those needs and meet the diverse expectations adequately.
Brands like CSR activities of a firm have the capability of filtering the stakeholder’s needs through brand promises. It has the capacity to emotionally connect with the stakeholders which creates the ‘shared value’ of a firm expressed by its CSR performance. The brand elasticity with the support of a well strategized CSR programme reduces intangible risk by a collaboration with the stakeholders.
Peter Senge in his “The 5th Discipline” had mentioned that, ‘if one wants to affect behaviour one must change thinking (the context) which will affect the connection.” If companies are to build an emotional connect with their stakeholders it should not only deliver true and honest ‘brand promises’ but also craft a proactive CSR strategy to fulfill its moral obligations towards its stakeholders.
Organizations should seize the opportunity to use their brand strength and their proactive CSR role to create fresh meaning for their stakeholders. Systematic CSR enhances relationship and their systemic context towards a ‘shared vision’.