Financial Chaos on Wall Street May Make Corporations Socially Irresponsible

Amid chaos in the financial sectors, the trillion dollar bailouts, and the cannibalizing of historic financial institutions around the world, there is a small stage being set. It is being meticulously prepared by the stage hands of fear, loss, anxiety and turmoil. Upon this stage, a troupe of thespians will play out for us, an audience of nations, their rendition of our true values. The conditions are perfect for this theatrical performance. The audience has been primed. The actors are seasoned, having performed many times before. And the story-line has been gaining widespread interest of late. In fact, it’s a familiar story-line these days. It’s known as Corporate Social Responsibility.

The play concerns our true attitudes towards CSR, especially when threatened by fiscal unpleasantries. Will companies, whether large or small, abandon CSR and community involvement programs as a means to fiduciary prudence? Will the actors play out our worst fears and hypocrisies upon this little stage? And will we discover that much of our grand proclamations of ‘green’, ‘responsible’, and ‘community commitments’ were the easy purchases of overpaid CEOs?

In the multiverse of the blogsphere and the media (offering not one but multiple versions of reality for the reader) there is notable discussion on this topic. Will CSR be one of the first casualties of the unwitting financial terrorists on Wall Street? Douglas Bauer, senior vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, advises nonprofits to prepare for a "triple whammy" as businesses, government and individuals feel the effect of the crisis. He believes that the generosity of Wall Street will most certainly be curtailed. (for the full story)

The New York Times echoes this sentiment, pointing to the tightening credit that is forcing nonprofit hospitals to delay improvements, limit services or worse yet, close. But this isn’t really a blow to CSR, because financial institutions feel little to no responsibility to ensure that these essential institutions remain viable. Rather, it is merely the realities of business, which should never be confused with philanthropy and charitable activities.

Um, wait a minute. Isn’t CSR an all-inclusive approach which merges a corporation’s business activities with it’s social responsibilities? Well, maybe this ideal just doesn’t apply to banks.

On the other hand, in the face of its merger with Wachovia, Wells Fargo renewed its commitment to CSR today. Mergers are always tough. There is always overlap. The ‘merged’ company is usually the one to take the hits. To offset the costs of the merger, the margins of operations are always examined, and the fat is excised.

So, hearing John Sumpf, the CEO of Well Fargo, tell the crowd of Wachovia employees in Charlotte, NC, that he was committed to retaining as many employees as possible was...expected. Hearing him proclaim a commitment to a strong volunteer presence in the community was...well, astounding. In an effort to calm fears about shrinking community commitments through volunteering, Stumpf stated, "We need to give to our communities. We need to invest in social services, the arts. When a community does better, we do better." (for the full story)

Ok, maybe I was a bit too hard on our estimable financial institutions.

But here’s the most amazing part of this little play: audience participation.

Some of the onlookers are yelling out.

The concerns of the crowd of Wachovia employees were not only for their jobs, but also for the continuation of the social contract the financial institution had signed with the community of Charlotte. This is turning out to be a real cliffhanger.

The audience of nations may demand to see a different ending than has been offered in tough economic times previously. Not that individuals, governments and corporations have not maintained a philanthropic posture in previous economic downturns. But this is a relatively new challenge for a business - equating their community responsibility with their responsibility to profit.

Well, if that’s what’s happening, I’m all ears.

I hate re-runs.

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Comment by chris macrae on October 20, 2008 at 7:05

. I am indebted to Sir John Banham, a keynote speaker at the survive annual conference of risk professionals in 2002 for pointing out that it is vital to debate Industry Sector Responsibility. We could for example do trillion dollar audits of the 50 or so global market sectors that exchange more than a trillion dollars of value annually and grade each sector as to whether its main corporates were compounding risk non-transparently about knowledge and actions most specific to their responsibility to human sustainability. This would get over the devil's takes the hindmost trap of CSR where separated corporate system leaders say that they can't individually afford to be the first to be whole truth responsible for future consequences.
In the early 1990s I spent 5 uncomfortable years arguing with my employer Coopers & Lybrand that the Big5 were failing to map goodwill as a compounding system with stochastic future consequences. The good and the bad news today’s is that all of humanity's greatest compound sustainability crises can be resolved if we include the missing maths of goodwill multiplication.

Further good news is that microeconomists gravitating around Muhammad Yunus and his Future Capitalism partnerships map the correct maths of goodwill multiplication around the model that Dr Yunus has for 34 years used to develop organizational systems - social business. Paris is starting formally training SMBA's to unlearn MBA in Spring 2009. I personally believe the greatest human race we have today is to peer to peer train more SMBA's than MBA's in every city. We have started issuing 10000 free dvds so that youth and citizen forums can debate this worldwide. Love to hear from anyone who can host a dvd party with their peers.

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