The CSR Moral of the Story is ……

Aesop’s 650 fables remain a popular choice for lessons in moral education.  In fact, last week I shared The Ant & the Grasshopper with my five year old son, in an effort to teach him the value of hard work and perseverance and it got me thinking – does the world of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), so steeped in matters of moral and ethical significance, have anything to learn from Aesop?

I think it does.

Take, for instance, The Boy who Cried Wolf.  We all know the story – the attention-seeking lad who contrives a scenario of danger to elicit concern.  After many bogus cries for help, the boy finds that he is indeed in jeopardy, and when he cries, nobody comes.  This story is all about authenticity and trustworthiness, the cornerstone of any effective CSR strategy.  If a company is heralding CSR or sustainability as a priority, but its claims ring hollow, nobody will pay attention if and when there is a genuine shift in business practices.  KFC may encounter this very problem should it decide to adopt a new CSR or cause alignment platform in the future.

Aesop’s story about the North Wind and the Sun also offers an important CSR message.  In a competition to determine who is stronger, each element must cause a passer-by to remove his coat, and whoever does it first wins.  The North Wind blows and blows and with each gust, the passing man pulls his coat tighter to protect himself.  The sun, however, just shines brightly until finally, the man removes his coat from the heat.  The lesson, of course, is that persuasion is better than force, a lesson that Timberland might well be learning in the wake of their recent smoking ban (http://blogs.forbes.com/csr/2010/06/03/timberlands-smoking-ban-good-corporate-citizenship-or-overkill/).  CSR overkill can be counterproductive.

Perhaps the Aesop fable with the most important message for anyone interested in CSR is that of The Lion and the Mouse. In a gesture of goodwill, the Lion takes pity on the lowly mouse, granting him life and freedom.  The grateful mouse promises to repay this benevolent gesture, but the lion is altogether cynical of the tiny mouse’s capacity to help him.  Sure enough, the scales tip and the mouse saves the day by freeing the lion from captors.  The lesson, you ask?  While business may have more muscle than community causes – while the corporate world wields more power – there is much to be gained from a relationship with those in need.

Aesop may well have been the world’s first CSR consultant!

Passion Points:

  • Don’t cry wolf.  Make sure your CSR practices are genuine and legitimate.
  • No need to force people into compliance.  A softer approach, laid out strategically over time may have bigger impact.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of CSR.  Even the strongest, wealthiest companies have much to gain through strategic partnerships with those in need.
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