Smarter, Faster, Stronger (and Sometimes Even More Fun): Tech for CSR

June 22, 2009

By Andrew Mack, Principal of AMGlobal Consulting. "CSR+Tech" is AMGlobal's monthly column on BCLCblog.

If someone asks you “what’s next” in CSR around the world, there are many potential answers, but nearly all of them have one thing in common – an increased focus on technology.

Companies that want to have a truly powerful (and sustainable) impact are increasingly using technology as a multiplier and a way to address traditional CSR bottlenecks, such as cost and skilled personnel.  

Where in the past, distance and cost truly limited firms’ ability to build sustainable programs – especially in smaller markets – today companies can bring “best practice” and specialized expertise to projects anywhere.  Basic technologies like Skype and Facebook make it possible for specialist staff to mentor and support on-the-ground teams, as the AMGlobal team has done for years on a joint Chevron-World Bank-Government Road Safety initiative in Nigeria. 

Using templates generated in the field, technology also permits expert teams to quickly replicate successful models throughout a corporate network, as with Chevron’s global Arrive Alive program.

 

At the same time, the new focus on technology enables firms to quickly establish supporters’ networks with huge potential for impact.  This summer our firm helped a client win a $50,000 grant from Pepsi as part of its “Refresh the Gulf” initiative, getting thousands of “votes” and in the process building a cadre of supporters from around the country.  

A technology + CSR approach can also help firms mobilize and organize partners and individuals to address a crisis – pairing employee action and corporate giving with other community volunteers.  Think of it as a kind of “flash mob for good.”

And consider the experience of the game design firm Zynga.  In just days the firm was able to design new limited edition virtual goods for its popular games like FarmVille and FrontierVille.  By purchasing these goods, game players created an “instant supporters’ network” so powerful it was able to raise literally millions of dollars, first for earthquake-affected Haiti, and later for the victims of Japan’s tragic earthquake and tsunami.  It was the ultimate tech + CSR project – simple, connected to the firm’s core skills and customer base, quick to implement and effective.

A focus on technology can also create a dynamic feedback loop in CSR projects, an interactive dialogue with communities modeled off of the ongoing relationship companies maintain with their customers.  Where many projects are built off of the chassis of a more typical donor project, complete with significant M&E (monitoring and evaluation) budgets, SMS and other real-time technologies can be – and increasingly are being – used to help firms calibrate their approaches to community interaction.

Finally, firms are increasingly realizing that tech itself is a viable – perhaps the most viable – CSR destination, and are investing in tech-oriented projects.  Vodafone as just one example, supports contests and forums aimed at promoting innovative tech based solutions in development like the Wireless Innovation Project.  And they are not alone.  Firms around the world are recognizing that CSR projects grounded in ICT can address key community concerns – like sustainability and job creation – that simply building a clinic cannot.

Whether your company sells petroleum or writes programs, the trends are clear.  Expect more focus on technology in your future CSR projects.