Enabling your company to be a better corporate citizen used to be about paying taxes, providing jobs and keeping the laws of the land. Not anymore.

This is part three in the series ‘The Rise of the Corporate Citizen.’ Be sure to check out:

Part One – The Rise of the Corporate Citizen 
Part Two – What is Real Corporate Citizenship?
Part Three – Employee Volunteering – Is It Working?

It’s Not Just a Job

Most of the blogs we write are geared toward managers responsible for employee volunteering, workplace giving, and sustainability programs. Our intention is to help you be more successful – whether you engage us formally or not. The work you do is critical to addressing the huge social and environmental issues facing our global society. The role you play in the company you work for is key to humanity’s future.

We are counting on your success.

Enabling your company to be a better corporate citizen used to just be about paying taxes, providing jobs and keeping the laws of the land. These days, it’s about much, much more.

In this final blog of the series, we want to ask: why do companies need to move beyond the traditional markers of corporate citizenship? More importantly, using PepsiCorps as a case study, are they already moving beyond those markers? And if so, how?

A Citizenship of Privilege

Over the past two centuries companies have been evolving within western societies with significant rights and privileges. Many argue that corporations are not ‘citizens’ because they cannot vote; a key definer of what it means to be a citizen. Yet Doug Guthrie, the Dean of the George Washington University School of Business, argues corporations are not only citizens, but, “Today, corporations are much more favored citizens than individuals in American society.” In his article, Corporations: Personhood Conferred; Citizenship Earned, published on the Forbes website in February 2012, Guthrie makes a compelling case:

“Citizenship is broader than CSR because it imagines a world beyond corporate foundations, marketing campaigns and employee outreach. Corporations are broadly favored citizens in our economy, and it is incumbent upon them to think as broadly about their responsibilities as their rewards as citizens.”

A Citizenship by Demand

Stakeholders and private citizens around the world are taking notice of this place of privilege and power. Increasingly, they are demanding that the responsibilities of corporate citizens be proportionate to their privileges.

Consumers expect financially successful companies to improve the welfare of society. Firms do this by engaging in socially responsible activities. Consumers believe that firms with better financial performance are more equipped to act in a socially responsible manner.

Be sure to check out Network for Business Sustainability’s article How to Create and Leverage a Responsible Corporate Image. It is an interesting summary of research comparing the Tylenol fiasco, the Exxon Valedez spill and Johnson & Johnson’s enduring positive reputation – each demonstrating that “a responsible corporate image is hard to build and easy to lose.”

A Citizenship of Potential

There is a growing consensus that it is the corporation – as opposed to national governments – that may be better positioned to address social and environmental problems on a global scale. Hart, a Professor of Management at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, posits four reasons “Why Companies – Not Governments – Will Solve the World’s Biggest Problems.”

  1. Politics: The power of “incumbency” has rendered government a conservative (rather than progressive) force, protecting the interests of those seeking to perpetuate “yesterday’s” solutions.
  2. Scope: Corporations are becoming increasingly global in scope, making them ideally suited to address trans-boundary problems.
  3. Perspective: Corporations may be even better positioned than governments to understand – and respond to – many emerging societal needs. Not the broad and abstract “public interest” trumpeted by enlightenment thinkers, but the on-the-ground “micro” interests of actual individuals, families and communities.
  4. Motive: The profit motive can thus accelerate (not inhibit) the transformation toward global sustainability, with civil society, governments and multilateral agencies all playing crucial roles as collaborators and watchdogs.

Is it Happening?

In October of 2011, eight PepsiCo employees spent a month in Denu, Ghana. They were there as part of PepsiCorps, a month-long project in partnership with CDC Development Solutions. Drawn from around the world and across PepsiCo’s business units, the team had been tasked with two projects: a) developing the Volta Region’s Ketu South District’s future Tourism Strategy, and b) developing the Management Capabilities of two Community Water Boards. (Read the team’s blog here.)

In part two of this series, we suggested that evaluating the effectiveness of a company’s citizenship requires hearing from the employees themselves – rather than hearing about it via a press release or financial statement.

  • What did they see?
  • What did they experience?
  • What did they do?
  • How is the world different? (Is the world a better place because eight PepsiCo employees spent a month in Ghana?)

I encourage you to take a look at the PepsiCorps blog and consider the citizenship of PepsiCo. Did the work PepsiCorps accomplished in four weeks match the company’s powerful standing in society? Is the sum of their actions in Ghana and other parts of the world equal to the “influential rank that sets them above their fellow persons through special legal protections and a unique tax status”? Doug Guthrie suggests that PepsiCo’s “privilege argues that they be values-based institutions accountable to and engaged with the community.” He adds, “At the very least, we should ask as much of corporations as we ask of individual citizens.”

What do you think about PepsiCo’s citizenship?

You can also check out the presentation given by Emily Kiely, the PepsiCorps Co-Founder at CDC Development Solutions’ 3rd Annual International Corporate Volunteerism Conference.

Is it Happening for You?

You don’t just have a “job.” If you are mobilizing the employees of your company to actively participate in the volunteering, workplace giving or sustainability efforts of your company, you are changing the way the world works. You are creating space for transformation. This transformation begins in individuals. It spreads across corporations. It affects neighborhoods and nations. It’s beginnings may be small. It’s potential is limitless.

Here’s a presentation I gave at eBay in San Jose this past Spring. Take a look and ask yourself the question ‘Is this happening for me?’

Is the work I’m doing moving my company towards the kind of citizenship that will change the world?

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