January 30, 2015
Shortly after founding Karousel, in the beginning of 2015, Ásdís and I attended a conference on CSR (Corporate social responsibility) in Harpa, Reykjavík. It was actually quite fitting that the first conference we attend together be on CSR, since our interest in social change is what brought us together in the fall of 2008. (We had both enrolled for a class on Social Entrepreneurship at Copenhagen Business School.) CSR is defined as a company´s voluntary initiatives to improve economic, environmental and social wellbeing in a sustainable manner. As in, initiatives or activities that go beyond the interests of the firm and those that are required by law.
CSR became popular in the United States in the 60s and has since become almost an integral part of the global business environment. The center for CSR in Iceland (FESTA) was founded in October 2011 and has taken the role of integrating good CSR strategies as well as being a catalyst for growth in social improvement.
Since 2011, there has been a considerable upturn within CSR in Iceland, but according to a recent poll, only 48% of Icelandic companies emphasize CSR in comparison to 85% in nearby Denmark, 60% in the United States and 52% in Europe.
But the conference was very well attended. I was very impressed with the presentation from Þórdís Sigurðardóttir from Capacent titled: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” She rightly pointed out that CSR is not exactly a new concept, and talked about fruit trees from the gospel of Matthew. I completely agree with her that CSR is not about trying to look good in society, nor is it a positive image or PR campaign. CSR is all about authentic efforts to better the wellbeing of people, our community and our surroundings.
I also like the presentation from Anna Bjarnadóttir at Expectus when she compared CSR to the use of seat belts in the 70s and today. Hopefully the understanding that our companies are an integral part of our communities and that they should influence people and systems for the better will be as normal as us putting on a seat belt before driving.
Other presenters pinpointed the many unexpected gains from CSR as well as the fundamental trend that growth in CSR takes time, and is usually just as successful as the CEOs vision of it and the ability he or she has to convey it to his or her team and the company as a whole.
Lastly, it´s very important to remember to analyze the results of the CSR efforts and effectively communicate them to the team and company. An Icelandic company that has done this very well is Ölgerðin.