Beyond CSR


In 1958, Theodore Levitt presented a confrontational discourse against Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), alleging that the business of business is “making money, not sweet music” and that CSR breaks the rules of capitalism and free enterprise. Today, CSR must be brawled not because it undermined free enterprise, but precisely because it largely contributed to its reign with unprecedented empowering mechanisms. While CSR was initially intended to regulate the wild and uncontrolled growth of private corporation, it has (un)predictably nurtured the very foundations of unstoppable-growth-led capitalism. Here are a few arguments why we believe this is dangerous:

  • CSR is short-sighted: As opposed to long-term strategies, CSR actions and programs are often limited in scope and depth. Because they are mostly driven by short-term visibility and results, their impacts on society or the environment remain, at best, superficial: Shallow impact.
  • CSR as an instrument for branding and public relations: When CSR is used as a marketing and sales argument, which has been the case for several large corporations, the underlying operational strategies are developed towards satisfying the central goal of profit maximization. Thus, CSR is exploited as a communication and branding tool, often found under the auspices of the Chief Communication Manager, the goal of which being to simply reinvent the message that serves to sell the same old goods and services made with the same old value chains and production systems: No strategic revamping.
  • CSR as a competitive advantage: One of the most widely advanced arguments for CSR is creating a distinctive competitive advantage. However, unless this advantage is sustained in time, it will add little value, if any, to the firm. For a specific resource to be a source of sustained competitive advantage, it ought to be valuable, rare, inimitable and non-substitutable. CSR programs hastily engendered in corporate meetings are ordained to fail satisfying the four criteria simultaneously, thus questioning the real value to the firm –should that be the goal– of CSR: Not a source of competitive advantage.

CSR looked once attractive to various managerial levels of the firm. Today, the concept is gradually wearing off, calling into question our basic understanding of well-being within and outside business organizations. Some enthusiasts have urged towards thinking in terms of a corporate version of the more inclusive paradigm of sustainable development: Corporate Sustainability. Increasingly more business models and frameworks are being developed in this arena, disrupting everyday the way we think about and approach the social responsibility of business. It is probably hard time we moved beyond CSR.

Growing Social Impact in Africa: Which Solutions?

Image result for growth africaHow may Africa harness the potential of thousands of its young social innovators and social entrepreneurs in an impactful and efficient manner? Which patterns can be envisaged to expand social impact through sound and informed scaling strategies?

These are the questions I investigated during my participation this September 2nd– 4th to the 11th edition of the International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) hosted by the Yunus Center for Social Business and Health in Glasgow.

Image result for isirc 2019 think globalAs much as I wanted my contribution to solidly draw on theoretical strands –ISIRC being recognized as the world’s leading interdisciplinary conference on social innovation research, I had the explicit aim of contributing to this collective wisdom by exploring practical solutions with an eye on the peculiarities and contextual specificities of Africa and its local economies.

Today, the African economy does not create enough wealth to meet the pressing needs of its societies in terms of job creation, education, healthcare and human development. Despite the steady economic growth of the continent over the past decade, African governments have failed to translate this growth into positive social welfare based on inclusive and sustainable development. The weight of poverty and unemployment is prevalent in most countries, compounded by civil wars and political instabilities. UNDP experts argue that not only do inequalities deprive the poor of the positive effects of growth, but they also undermine efforts to reduce poverty. It is clear today that such macroeconomic indicators as GDP growth rate usually used to describe the situation of African countries do not faithfully reflect the social reality of the continent or the conditions of poverty in which most African citizens are being trapped. A paradigm shift has become necessary to overcome these structural problems. Social innovation can play a key role in supporting national social policy and adapting it to the new societal challenges.

A new wave of passionate, visionary and impact-driven individuals are bravely entering the space vacated by the two historical players: the State and the private sector. These intrepid leaders, referred to as social innovators or social entrepreneurs, are transforming, every day, the way we approach solution design to pressing social problems. But how might innovative but isolated solutions benefit to millions of populations in need of these innovations in the absence of well-rounded scale-up strategies? Which scale-up mode is most preferred and why?

I argue that scaling-up social innovation “inspirers” in Africa will multiply social impact down the value chain. Thus, I present a conceptual framework for scalability under two modes: concentrated vs. fragmented. In the concentrated (or conglomerate) mode, inspirers collaborate under the auspices of a few regional mega-inspirers that coordinate development activities including incubation, financing and capacity building for the burgeoning social enterprises. The fragmented scenario represents a pattern of multiple small and geographically scattered players working and growing independently. I construct a system dynamics model that simulates the two scenarios and measures the social impact created under each of them.

Results suggest that while fragmented scale-up generates higher impact in the first few years thanks to agility and adaptability factors, this trend is quickly overtaken by the concentrated scale-up strategy which yields the highest impact in the medium and long terms. This is explained by the positive loop created through synergy and collaboration between players under the conglomerate mode. In other terms, when synergistic capabilities are low (due to institutional, legal, or governance constraints), it is better to adopt a fragmented scaling approach. However, as regional integration is becoming a priority in the geopolitical agenda of most African countries, cooperation, co-creation and synergy must and will be a driving force of the next growth patterns. Under this high-synergy pattern, concentrated scaling maximizes social impact and becomes, thus, the most preferred route for scaling up social innovation impact in Africa.

Photo: World Bank

Lab-Grown Diamonds: A More Ethical Alternative?

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At a time where large manufacturers are being scrutinized for their ethical and socially responsible supply chains, some iconic industries seem to have transcended, so far, this global imperative. Wrapping the product with the magic of scarcity, authenticity and natural beauty of the gems, traditional diamond producers have sold romance alongside stones, to such a point that the romantic cloak concealed the necessary questions consumers ought to ask with respect to sourcing, supply chain and impact.

But today, things could change with alternative production processes: lab-grown diamonds. A California based startup coined the process to make authentic-like gems, selling at one third less price. The stones are created from a tiny cell that goes through a chain of transformation steps to grow into a fine, equally attractive final product. According to the inventors, a jeweler would be unable to distinguish between the naturally produced and the lab-grown gems.

What this means to the industry? Debatable feelings about what the “grown” diamonds mean to their consumers, correct. But most importantly, more clarity about the ethical, social and environmental conditions under which those gems were created. The entirely traceable production process gives now more legitimacy to grown diamonds and will inevitably trigger a serious debate about why we should continue purchasing the unique, scarce, magical…and questionable natural diamonds.

More info >> The Economist

“The Future is Now”

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What will the future look like in five years? ten years? A Davos roundtable this January enlightened our minds on the unmistakable tipping points that will shape human history in the near future. For that, it was necessary to have multiple angle views from artists, activists, business people and politicians. In a nutshell, there are some core issues that will structure the depth and scope of the future. Continue reading ““The Future is Now””

“Sleepwalking” to the dead end?

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« Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis?” This is how the 2019 Global Risk Report starts its summary of the global risks hovering over our planet as seen by chief economists at the World Economic Forum. And this is probably one of the most alarming yet truthful apologies we have ever been confronted with. Yet the stakes are high, at best. The report highlights that 60% of the global risks with both the highest likelihood and the highest impact are related to human-induced climate change. The remaining 40% most likely to hit are technological risks pertaining to cyber-security, data theft and fraud. Failing to mitigate those risks can present an inflection point in mankind’s history. Researchers have set the 2°C threshold for containable damage. Scientists claim that we have trespassed “planetary boundaries” and that we run short of time.

With the acceleration of industry 4.0 and the widening divide it creates between rich and poor countries, global inequality will be on a rise. Migration, poverty and exclusion increase public distrust, pushing for further populism and centroid policies.

But, it seems like there is a way out of this global trouble. And this way is exactly the opposite of what we’re seeing in protectionist regimes. Economists introduced the concept of Globalization 4.0 whereby transnational cooperation for planetary benefit overtakes the narrow view of national interests. In a scheme of an international shared vision, nations are called to join hands in collective action to create fair trade in a safe planet where human beings have equal chances of leading a decent life. Now, theory is good, and even strongly inspirational. But there is a big question which remains unanswered: “who gets their hands in first?” China, who claims its right to mass industrialization after a long era of economic faintness? Europe, who is divided between achieving the sustainability transition and safeguarding economic supremacy? Or the United States where the word ‘climate change’ is taboo in the Oval Office?

In this global geopolitical disorder where economic predation fuels political ambitions, the voices of weak stakeholders can have a weight. When political systems fail, consumers, scientists and business people must act as responsible individuals who owe a debt of gratitude to the planet. For neither false discourses nor disguised handshakes will stop the roar of the chaos ahead.

Corto #1: In Hope We Trust

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Hier, un brillant groupe d’étudiants de différents pays du sélectif Programme Grande Ecole ont pris part à mon cours « Managing sustainably in emerging economies ». Le sujet du cours les intéressait à premier abord dans la mesure où ils apprendraient les concepts et mécanismes liés à la notion du développement durable et sa relation avec le doing business et la croissance économique.

Mais très vite, deux choix ont été faits pour repositionner les cartes et les aider à se faire une opinion :

  • Pour comprendre le présent et orienter le futur, il est indispensable d’analyser le passé. Une vision historique du développement économique mondial est donc nécessaire.
  • L’Afrique, représentant autant de risques que d’opportunités pour un développement planétaire durable est inclusif, est mise en avant-première dans la réflexion.

D’emblée, l’on se retrouve en train de débattre de la géopolitique du développement durable, des enjeux stratégiques nationaux et internationaux, et de l’ultime question « Is sustainable development feasible ? » Les visages s’assombrissent, on pause, on réfléchit, on prend conscience lentement que les enjeux sont complexes, que les conflits d’intérêt sont criants, que le temps joue contre nous.

Et puis, on prend aussi conscience qu’en tant qu’agents du changement, ces jeunes femmes et hommes seront très vite aux commandes de grandes entreprises et multinationales, et qu’ils seront capables de façonner le monde à leurs convictions pour un développement, cette fois, plus équitable, plus innovant car plus soucieux de l’impact écologique et humain qu’il produit.

Les visages défaits, incertains et inquiets ont quitté ce cours avec beaucoup de questions certes, mais aussi avec beaucoup d’espoir et de conviction que le changement est non seulement possible, mais qu’il est aussi entre leurs mains. A suivre…

Enseignement : Un escargot qui regarde un TGV passer


  • Rishab Jain, 13 ans, a remporté le grand prix « Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge » en Octobre dernier. Il a développé un algorithme basé sur l’intelligence artificielle pour mieux localiser et suivre le pancréas au cours de la radiothérapie par imagerie par résonance magnétique.
  • Gabby, Sebatian, Bradon, MO, Amber et d’autres sont des enfants et adolescents entrepreneurs avec des activités génératrices de revenus et de la célébrité en prime. Voir la vidéo

Ces deux exemples (Il y en a de nombreux autres), nous poussent à poser les questions suivantes :