International Conference Call for Collaborative Approach to CSR

Collaborative Capitalism and Corporate Social Responsibility

Special Address, 8th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility
Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, Adaptation, UK
Hotel ITC Windsor Manor, Bengaluru, India, 17th January 2014

The theme of the 8th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is strategy to leverage CSR for competitive advantage. This conjures up an image of competitive capitalism. But what about collaborative capitalism?

The modern corporation is a network of mutually beneficial relationships. Can we collaborate for mutual advantage as well as compete? Should we collaborate more with customers and other communities of interest, with complementary organisations and with the public sector?

Our conference takes place against the background of new Indian company legislation. A mandatory requirement relating to CSR will apply to some of your companies. What will the impact be? What strategies should Indian and other companies adopt to maximise the beneficial impacts of their CSR activities?

In particular, what should the relationship be between the private sector and the public sector? Should Governments look to businesses to supplement their own activities with local CSR initiatives, or should they be seeking help from businesses in transforming the delivery of public services?

How could the expertise of your companies support the transformation of public services? Is there scope for mutually beneficial collaboration that would enable both private companies and public bodies to better achieve their corporate and social objectives?

Also, if you are seeking greater social impact what about collaboration at city or town level?
Benjamin Barber has suggested that co-operation within and between cities might represent a more pragmatic and less ideological way forward than working with national Governments. Might some mayors and local administrations be easier to deal with and more open to collective action?

While leading an international governance initiative of the Order of St Lazarus I’ve worked with the senior management teams of enterprises such as mines to put together CSR visions and strategies to improve the quality of life of communities that were dependent upon their operations.

Would our CSR initiatives have greater impact if we implemented them in collaboration with municipal and other organisations that have compatible aims and complementary capabilities?

Would we find it easier to attract and engage generations Y and Z – and sustain and build our enterprises – if corporate aspirations could be turned into causes that would energise others?

Lt Gen Ahluwalia has raised the issues of disability, access and inclusion. Would CSR action in this area tap new talents, access additional contributions and create new business and social opportunities?

What is the scope and opportunity for collaborative capitalism? Is there a case for re-thinking the involvement of business in areas that have hitherto been the preserve of the public sector?

There are a range of possibilities from public officials benefiting from the use of private sector approaches, tools and techniques to the privatisation and the contracting out of certain activities. Should more public bodies be commissioners rather than direct providers of services?

My report Transforming Public Services on creating higher performance public organisations highlighted the scope for greater cost-effectiveness in the provision of a range of public services. Given the scale of public services, the budgets available and the scope for transformation, collaboration in this arena could represent a massive business opportunity here in India and elsewhere.

How should Government bodies and businesses work together to transform public services and provide more cost-effective and longer-term solutions to the challenges that confront many countries?

Should we be more ambitious when re-thinking the CSR strategies? Could mutually beneficial collaboration between public and private organisations energize both sectors and benefit the wider public?

Collaboration between local companies, professional firms, the City Council and other public bodies led to Peterborough being selected as one of four UK environment cities and what is now the country’s largest assembly of environment related businesses.

Public services are part funded by corporate taxation. We pay for them. Public services impact directly upon our businesses, customers and employees. Their quality, relevance and cost-effectiveness is an issue in areas ranging from education and health, to transportation infrastructure, the utilities, and the efficient management of waste and the economy.

Governments also impose responsibilities upon our businesses. Those who introduce company legislation are often motivated by the best of intentions. However, Government intervention and business regulation can sometimes be counter-productive.

A minimum or a threshold can become a maximum as some people avoid doing more than is required. In India’s case, will business leaders just focus on the effective use of the 2% of net profit, or will they think about how core corporate capabilities might be best used for both business and social benefit?

One could argue that addressing certain social, educational and health issues at local and national level is primarily the responsibility of Government. Public sector organisations in many countries face financial constraints and/or increases in demand that are outstripping available resources. As expectations rise and new possibilities emerge, many public sector leaders face the challenge of doing more with less.

In Transforming Public Services I show how public sector leaders can work with the people they have and existing budgets to quickly build higher performance organisations that can achieve multiple objectives and provide clear benefits to various stakeholders.

The new leadership I advocate involves changing the emphasis from managing, motivating and leading people to helping them. This includes helping them to take better informed and more sustainable decisions.

Providing better performance support to key work groups and people in front-line jobs – and helping people to help themselves – does not necessarily require any fundamental restructuring or a ‘change of culture’.

When public resources are constrained in relation to challenges faced, local action by companies to plug gaps might be welcomed. But is there a more strategic issue to address for both business and political leaders?

Could more companies benefit themselves and wider society by helping public bodies to more effectively discharge their core responsibilities? Mutually beneficial CSR activities are more likely to secure commitment and be sustained if they contribute to the delivery of multiple objectives.

How will the Indian Companies Act of 2013 impact upon the CSR landscape in India and elsewhere? Are there lessons and implications for directors, policy makers and influencers in other parts of the world?

Will corporate boards do just enough to satisfy the mandatory requirement or will the new legislation lead to a fundamental re-think of CSR strategy? Our international conference provides an ideal opportunity to take stock, share our thoughts and reflect on the way ahead.

Meeting statutory responsibilities can help Indian companies to build relationships with local communities. But, should we raise our sights? Should a socially responsible board of a significant entity also consider how the totality of a company’s physical, financial and intellectual resources might have a beneficial impact at national or international level?

CSR has moved on from well meaning philanthropy and cosmetic initiatives designed to generate images and copy for an annual report. IOD India and many of you here today deserve much credit for this.

CSR can produce tangible, measurable and significant benefits. It can build mutually rewarding relationships with stakeholders. It can deliver returns on investment that match or exceed those achieved in other areas.

Using core corporate capabilities to address pressing issues can enable CSR to become a key element of business strategy. It can further social and organizational objectives.

Strategic responses can deliver multiple benefits for our businesses, our customers, our people and the environment.

Possibilities for collaborative capitalism, public-private partnerships and the transformation of public services represent a historic business, political and social opportunity. Lets work together and grasp it.


Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Transforming Public Services and over 40 other books and reports is chairman of Adaptation and ELMS Global. He holds a portfolio of private, public and voluntary sector appointments and can be contacted via Transforming Public Services and his other recent books and reports can be obtained from


26 Jan 2014
Colin Coulson-Thomas