The cover of Wayne Visser’s new book ‘ The Age of Responsibility – CSR 2.0 and the new DNA of Business’ carries a quote of the famous Philip Kotler, saying: ‘ deserves to become an instant classic’. Clearly, such words by one of the marketing gurus raise both expectations and fears. For those of us who have been working in the CSR field in companies and advocating organizations for many years, such a book title and praise is normally heavily scrutinized, given the many contributions that haven’t delivered on what they promised before. In Visser’s case readers can be satisfied: this book is tremendously well researched and the main message is crystal clear: Corporate Social Responsibility as we know it has failed, but there is also no other way than to further develop CSR if we want to succeed as human race (therein business) on this planet, he calls it ‘ CSR 2.0’ . The book guides us to a set of principles and ingredients for change that should help develop the new DNA.
I have to admit that the book resonates very well with me because I am advocating for systemic change in the same way as Wayne Visser does, mainly saying that CSR as we know it hasn’t lead to the level of acceptance it deserves as a concept, basically due to the way it was managed, and therefore remained as a special add-on for those multinationals who felt scratched by some of their stakeholders. It will never be successful without being seen from a systemic, worldwide, integrated, transparent, collaborative and holistic perspective, in fact my idea of the necessary basics that allow a S.W.I.T.C.H. to a sustainable economy (developed and described on http://www.aheadahead.wordpress.com).
The first part of Wayne’s book describes the five ages and stages of CSR (the age of greed, the age of philanthropy, the age of marketing, the age of management, and finally the age of responsibility). All five stages are well described with examples and a lot of extra information that helps to understand the background and rationale of why and how these stages emerged. Only the last stage, the age of responsibility, opens the gate towards CSR 2.0 and the development of the new DNA. Honestly, I prefer the word stages above the word ages since all stages are still existing globally, depending on what part of the world one looks at, whereas ages tend to point to the past. We are for example still far away of having reached the ‘age of management’ globally, as one could imagine after more than 20 years of global conferences on sustainability. Furthermore we need to also bury the idea that CSR is top of the agenda of world leaders, politically and/or at corporate level. We are still on a slow death path, with only 2 % of the global multinationals that openly describe their moves in CSR reports and more than 2.000 companies that got delisted form the UN Global Compact earlier this year due to a complete failure to deliver a Communication on Progress. No more proof needed I guess.
Interwoven in the these chapters is the criticism around the financial crisis and the unchanging behavior of the financial market players, the externalities discussion, the effects of the standardization movement and the ever missing political will. Personally I would have hoped for a concise chapter that puts together all the macroeconomic malfunctioning that leads to failures on the micro-level, missing incentives and the slowed down motivation for company captains to move upfront in their respective industries. This would e.g. also include unsustainable taxation regimes, the politics around subsidies and world trade schemes, the failure on enforced anti-corruption measures, the missing moves in educational systems, missed opportunities to mandate transparent reporting, etc.. While there is a lot of logic in the 5 chapters describing the 5 stages and some of the macroeconomic failure, the micro/macro-link remains a bit loose.
The second part of the book describes the 5 principles of CSR 2.0, namely creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity. They all work very well in my mental ‘S.W.I.T.C.H. structure of future readiness’. These principles and the many examples that Wayne Visser is already able to present to the reader show what immense pressure and cry for help already exists by the growing wave of concerned advocates towards sustainable change. Individuals, (web-)communities, and to a certain degree the proactive companies have given up to wait for the political world to set the new boundaries, which is maybe also a reaction that they do not believe in organized change by a new design of the macroeconomics (even though there signals that this problem is at least understood, see e.g. the French initiative commissioned by Sarkozy and lead by Stiglitz and Sen, or the new German enquete commission dealing with the same issue) . The examples also show that there are always only a few multinationals in an industry sector that dare to take a leading role. The effect for those that will not implement the new DNA of sustainability is simply ‘no mercy’ from drastically changing future markets, the ‘ blessed unrest’ (as Paul Hawken describes) has lead to social entrepreneurship that will more and more compete with the shareholder driven business model (one of the reasons why management gurus like Michael Porter now advocate ‘ shared value’ creation as the new paradigm for business).
The last chapters of the book tackle our ability to change, in which Wayne Visser presents a ‘ matrix of change’ and the sort of change that is needed to succeed. While these chapters pull together some of the theory and newer literature of change management (no wonder you find Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer here), my feeling was that it all comes down to charismatic leaders (archetypes are presented actually in the last chapter of the book) and a new belief that there is – as they say at M&S – no plan B. Will we be able to reach a Malcom Gladwell sort of tipping point that the financial crisis was just the kick-off for a change in belief? Wayne Visser of course wasn’t able to foresee the Arabic spring and Wikileaks when he finalized the script, but he surely hoped for these indications of ongoing change!
I strongly recommend reading ‘ The Age of Responsibility’ to assess and complete your knowledge about WHY change towards a sustainable economy is needed and to understand HOW we might get there. Wayne lifted the curtain for us, let’s all take a look, and then take a leading role in believing that we are doing the right thing, something our children will be proud of when they look back in 20 years.