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What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

stock_student2One of the most marked characteristics of Generation Y—or the “Millenials,” those born between 1977-1994—is the spirit of volunteerism.

According to a 2006 study by Cone Inc. and AMP Insights, 61% of 13- to 25-year-olds feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world. Experts cite the experiences of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Internet (with its vast information and organizing capabilities) as some of the reasons for this generation’s social consciousness.

While many Millennials are choosing careers in nonprofit organizations and public service to express their passion for such issues as education, poverty, and the environment, they are also flocking to corporate America.

But isn’t business just about making a profit?

Corporations are taking Responsibility for their Actions

Yes and no. Today, many large corporations are finding that you can do well by doing good, and they are embracing the discipline of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the concept that organizations have an obligation to consider the interests of their customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and the environment in their operations. CSR is closely linked with the principle of Sustainable Development, which argues that companies should make decisions based not only on financial factors, but also on the social and environmental consequences of their activities.

The move toward social responsibility is growing. According to an October 2006 article in CFO magazine, more than 1,000 companies in 60 countries have published sustainability reports proclaiming their concern for the environment, their employees, and their local communities.

“Corporate social responsibility is not only the right thing for companies to do, but it also benefits our business,” says Chris Shea, senior vice president, External Relations and president of the General Mills Foundation. “General Mills is honest and ethical in representing our products, our brands, and our businesses. We recognize that a brand’s relationship with consumers, and the company’s relationship with its employees and shareholders is founded on integrity and trust.”

All of this is great news for concerned young people who want to express their passion for social causes as part of their careers. Many career options exist within the field of CSR, ranging from working in a corporation’s charitable foundation, to researching alternative energy practices, to investing in local community development, to creating marketing campaigns around these issues.

According to Nicole Campbell, assistant vice president of the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, “At Deutsche Bank, CSR is becoming more of the way the bank does business. It is a division of the business, but part of the work is leveraging everything in the bank to make sure we are socially responsible.”

Within the foundation where Campbell works, opportunities exist to be a program officer focusing on content areas such as community development, education, and the arts.  “There is not one track,” explains Campbell. “We have a microfinance team, an education team, and marketing people. For me, I focus on improving communities. What’s exciting about being part of CSR is that you get exposed to so much, and exposed in a meaningful way.”

Her advice to students interested in pursuing a career in CSR is to develop an expertise in whatever their passion is. People build CSR careers around knowledge and experience with a particular topic area (such as early childhood education, renewable energy, AIDS awareness) or a specific skill base (marketing, finance, etc.).

One area that is particularly prominent in CSR is the environment. This year Deutsche Bank is hosting a summit on climate change. Goldman Sachs, another company leading the way in CSR, has established the Center for Environmental Markets, which researches public policy options for establishing effective markets around climate change, biodiversity, conservation, and ecosystem services. According to spokesperson Gia Morón, “The firm believes it is important to take the environmental impacts and practices of our clients and potential clients into consideration as we make business selection decisions.”

The MBA Equips Professionals to Launch Socially Responsible Careers

Business schools are also embracing CSR. According to Julie Strong, senior associate director of MBA Admissions at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, “There is a buzz about corporate social responsibility; everyone is talking about it. We first started noticing the trend in admissions, and then we saw action on campus. There is a new CSR club on campus, and students have set up a nonprofit fund to subsidize students who go into nonprofit summer internships. The faculty also recently launched a whole new course called Sustainability Lab.”

How can an MBA degree help people who are interested in socially responsible careers? Strong says, “The greatest thing about an MBA is the ‘tool box’ it provides: the core competencies in accounting, finance, general management, marketing, etc. The MBA is a very flexible degree, so MBAs can take their skills and talents to work on their passion and help improve the world.”

She recommends that students interested in MBAs and Corporate Social Responsibility visit individual business schools and ask about their programs: Is sustainability part of the curriculum? Are there club activities? Do they offer CSR-related internships?

Kara Penn, Forté Foundation Scholar and MIT Sloan Class of 2007 student, shares this advice with prospective students: “If you are interested in social responsibility, social enterprise, or working for a non-profit, business school has a great deal to offer in terms of skill sets, networks, and courses. Most business schools are increasing their offerings around these areas. Additionally, visiting schools is a pretty important aspect to making a selection. The feel of the student body was a very important deciding factor for me.”

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