How COVID-19 Is Changing Corporate Social Responsibility

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business in unprecedented ways. Companies are seeing their relationships with stakeholders change drastically and suddenly. Perhaps their priorities, too.

This global crisis is a wake-up call for businesses to reexamine their role in society. Here are 4 concrete strategies for accelerating your corporate social responsibility (CSR).

4 ways to turn the temporary COVID-19 crisis into long-term sustainability

There is much room for long-term good to come out of this temporary crisis – provided businesses are willing to embrace changes for the benefit of all, or at least for most.

For example, organizations can turn the new work from home practices into opportunities to:

  • Attract a more diverse workforce, particularly among people living with disabilities.
  • Improve their carbon footprint because teams that work from home mean fewer cars on the streets and therefore reduced CO2 emissions.
  • Turn telecommuting into long-term efficiencies. Like scheduling a videoconference rather than travelling to see a stakeholder to help reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Increase local investments; maybe it’s time to reconsider your strategy and position yourself as the player of the future. If you are a utility company, you can reduce the impact of fossil energy by encouraging stakeholders to collaborate in a microgrid project. Distributed energy resources are the future for electricity (rooftop solar photovoltaic, wind generator, battery storage, solar farms). This can happen tomorrow, while your other projects are on pause.

Such initiatives demonstrate creativity and sensitivity in protecting stakeholder interests. They also create benefits – provided shareholders are patient enough to let them come to light. This is at the very heart of corporate social responsibility.

The above examples are just some of the ways our clients and other business are turning what is by all accounts a devastating situation into some good. But it doesn’t take a global crisis to find ways to improve your CSR. Here are 4 time-proven strategies that will serve you well – in good times and bad.

4 ways to improve your corporate social responsibility

To serve the interests of stakeholders, however, you first need to build trusted relationships with them. This cannot happen without meaningful engagement. Here are 4 time-proven ways to build trust:

1. Be caring and transparent

In case we’ve forgotten, COVID-19 has been a strong reminder that business is really all about people. You can’t keep all stakeholders happy all of the time, but you can consistently demonstrate efforts to be transparent about potential impacts. Be honest, authentic, and direct with your communications, questions, and requests. Doing what’s right will always be appreciated by stakeholders.

3. Adopt a win-win mentality

We all know that our stakeholders are vital to our success. Cooperate with them to achieve a shared vision that meets both their needs and your own. Go beyond surface-level questions to find out what their real views, understanding and values are. Then use these insights to learn and adapt. Otherwise, future engagements will come across as insincere. Stakeholders expect and deserve meaningful engagement.

2. Communicate often and consistently

Communication is vital for informing, confirming, inquiring, and engaging. But it also needs to be consistent to avoid ambiguities or surprises. Plan your communication strategies carefully based on your priorities and an in-depth stakeholder analysis. Demonstrate a willingness to keep the lines of communication open and flowing both ways.

4. Use AI and data to optimize engagement

If knowledge is power, then using data and AI-driven stakeholder management tools is a hypernova of meaningful insights – insights that will enable you to highly personalize your engagement and prevent unfortunate missteps that commonly occur when working with incomplete or inaccurate data. Using advanced stakeholder management software can vastly shorten the path to securing social acceptance from stakeholders.

New trends in CSR, or a whole new focus?

The entire world was just settling into 2020 when the COVID-19 crisis took hold of the globe. Suddenly, all this talk about CSR as a business strategy came into clear focus – most painfully among companies that have only been giving it lip service up to now. But unlike the previous emphasis on environmental sustainability, social sustainability is now the main focus.

Shareholders no longer come first

In the past, corporations focused primarily on keeping their shareholders happy. But now, they’re likely to be just as answerable to other stakeholders – employees, customers, government regulators, etc. This shift is the real reason behind the rise in corporate social responsibility, which advocates that business decisions should consider the interests of all stakeholders, not just those of shareholders.

In August 2019, before COVID-19 was even on the radar, nearly 200 CEOs in the Business Roundtable agreed that creating value for all stakeholders now superseded shareholders primacy.

Just a couple of months into this global pandemic and we’re already seeing that businesses that focus on demonstrating solidarity with stakeholders over protecting their own economic interests are more likely to ride out this economic storm.

“CSR investments can help companies when they perhaps need it most—that is, during sharp downturns when overall trust in companies and markets declines.”

Research suggests that companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility are also more likely to weather crises because of the trust they’ve built with stakeholders. Over the long run, stakeholder trust can be a better lifeline than any government crisis subsidy. Earning this trust, however, takes time.

Doing what’s needed

In these difficult times, sustainable businesses are no longer focusing solely on profit; they are examining how they can best contribute to society. Rest assured that stakeholders will appreciate your efforts to protect their interests.

Some businesses not included in the list of essential services have made the conscious decision to remain open for business in the best interests of their communities. In some cases, by quickly changing tack to help fight COVID-19.

    • Whisky makers are producing hand sanitizers.
    • Hockey equipment manufacturers are turning their hockey helmet visors into face shields for healthcare workers.
    • Luxury hotels are becoming quarantine centers.
    • Automotive companies are exploring ways to produce urgently needed medical devices such as ventilators.

Borealis clients are doing what’s right to help out in this fight:

In response to government calls for help, Canadian mining company Agnico Eagle Mines Limited is providing more than 1,200 N95 masks to local healthcare centers. It’s also collaborating with its regional partners to explore other ways of assisting healthcare services and other local businesses in the regions where its mines are located.

As companies look for creative ways to meet the needs of all stakeholders – not just shareholders – they are coming up with ideas that most likely would have been dismissed out of hand in the past. It’s also proof that when there’s a will and a clear need, there’s always a way.

Talk to an expert

See how Borealis stakeholder engagement software can help you collect, centralize and analyze stakeholder data so you can better anticipate and meet their needs.

Managing CSR during a crisis

Keeping stakeholders out of the loop is never a smart move – even in the best of times. During a crisis, a little communication goes an extremely long way to reassuring stakeholders and protecting your business interests. Again, it’s vital that this communication be meaningful to your stakeholders, not just to you.

Businesses need to have clear processes and methods in place to effectively manage CSR and plan their communications strategies during a crisis, as Airbnb just discovered:

On March 31st, Airbnb apologized for mangling communication to hosts about its refund policy amid the coronavirus outbreak. It also announced that it would pay $250M to hosts to help cover the cost of coronavirus-related cancelations. It is creating another $10 million relief fund to help superhosts.

Need help with corporate social responsibility?

Borealis software is the world’s most widely used software for managing stakeholder relations and corporate social responsibility. Our team has been helping businesses achieve corporate social responsibility for over 15 years. Talk to our team to see how we can provide full software configuration, training and support during the COVID-19 crisis, or request a demo of Borealis software.

Get started with
Borealis stakeholder engagement software today!