Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2012

Why Every Company Needs a CSR Strategy and How to Build It

by Kash Rangan, Lisa Chase and Sohel Karim

Abstract

The authors argue for a strategic and pragmatic, rather than ideological, approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that contrasts sharply with the prevailing Shared Value framework offered by Porter and Kramer (HBR; Jan.-Feb. 2011). We assert that, despite criticisms of and debate about the value of CSR initiatives to society and to corporate profitability, every company needs a CSR strategy that reflects both its desire to address social, humanitarian and environmental needs, and its core competencies and institutional capacity. Using a "three theatre" CSR framework, the paper demonstrates why the question for corporations is not whether to engage in CSR, but why they need to develop CSR strategies that both enhance CSR practice within each theatre and coordinate the independent efforts from across the three theatres. Our perspective is a marked departure from the Shared Value framework, in that we embrace the inherent value of corporate philanthropy (theatre 1) on one end, as well as transformational business models with potentially limited short-term financial returns at the other (theatre 3). Furthermore, the paper seeks a moratorium on the fruitless debate about CSR definition and societal value, instead providing pragmatic guidance for corporations to significantly improve the social and environmental impact of their CSR initiatives through a holistic and strategic process of continuous CSR auditing, editing and development.

Keywords: Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Corporate Strategy; Values and Beliefs; Profit; Practice;

Citation:

Rangan, Kash, Lisa Chase, and Sohel Karim. "Why Every Company Needs a CSR Strategy and How to Build It." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-088, April 2012.