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Our Approach to CSR

The Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative seeks to study and enhance the effectiveness of corporate social responsibility. It is a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder effort dedicated to:

•  Research conducted by Harvard faculty, fellows, and students, in collaboration with external practitioner experts and organizations;
•  Dialogues and workshops that convene leaders from business, government, civil society, academia, and the media around emerging trends and critical dilemmas in corporate social responsibility;
•  Education that builds relevant skills among the next generation of public and private sector leaders;
•  Outreach that shares research findings and conclusions from dialogues with policymakers, business leaders, academics, investors, and the media.

Defining Corporate Social Responsibility

We define corporate social responsibility strategically. Corporate social responsibility encompasses not only what companies do with their profits, but also how they make them. It goes beyond philanthropy and compliance and addresses how companies manage their economic, social, and environmental impacts, as well as their relationships in all key spheres of influence: the workplace, the marketplace, the supply chain, the community, and the public policy realm.

The term "corporate social responsibility" is often used interchangeably with corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, social enterprise, sustainability, sustainable development, triple-bottom line, corporate ethics, and in some cases corporate governance. Though these terms are different, they all point in the same direction: throughout the industrialized world and in many developing countries there has been a sharp escalation in the social roles corporations are expected to play. Companies are facing new demands to engage in public-private partnerships and are under growing pressure to be accountable not only to shareholders, but also to stakeholders such as employees, consumers, suppliers, local communities, policymakers, and society-at-large.

Laggard firms and governments can sometimes use the existence of corporate social responsibility programs to shirk their roles. Government ultimately bears the responsibility for leveling the playing field and ensuring public welfare. In order for corporate social responsibility programs to work, government and the private sector must construct a new understanding of the balance of public and private responsibility and develop new governance and business models for creating social value.