4 lessons in pursuing my version of CSR—a Career of Sustainability and Responsibility

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity in trying many things in terms of internships and jobs, spanning from my college years up to this day where I am finishing my Master in Business Administration degree.  I have tried working for multinational companies, nonprofit organizations, a startup, and currently as a member of the higher education academic community.

 

Viewed in the traditional perspective, this smorgasbord of experiences may raise red flags from seasoned HR practitioners.  They might say this is typical Gen Y or Millienial mentality—fickle, selfish, and to some extent disloyal to an organization.  However, the overarching theme emerging from these career decisions revolve around picking the best aspects of each stint and reconciling them with my goal of living a holistic career, imbued with money, mission, and passion harmonizing with the way I think life should be lived.  I believe that the key to living a career featuring sustainability and responsibility is how a person is able to reconcile these aspects with minimal tradeoffs.  Below are four initial lessons or reflections I would like to share.

 

Point 1: Desire for flexibility

 

I acknowledge that I do not have the most concrete ideas on what the ideal “CSR” career will look like.  Hence, I have this great desire for flexibility that allows for inflection points and shaping my vision as it emerges.

 

This is what I found challenging in highly structured organizations with concrete goals and visions, usually prevalent in multinational corporations.  There are set goals to be met – quotas, number of projects, maintaining clients, etc.  Your performance and rewards are basically measured by how well you execute these mandated goals, and if one executes and even exceeds these targets, usually big rewards await.

 

However, the flipside is critical: one must be fully dedicated to the company goals or else he cannot maximize his productivity and will be stuck in a conundrum of always second guessing one’s self.  Ideally, one’s personal vision should be tightly aligned with the company goals.  If one should pursue a CSR career in highly structured organizations, it is vital to integrate your personal CSR goals with the company’s mechanisms.

 

In my personal experience, this is hard.  A corporate career with great personal flexibility is like capturing a lightning in a bottle.  It will take tremendous alignment between your immediate stakeholders to make things work.  Hence, I found it beneficial for me right now to work in an organization that allows me to be a kind of “intrapreneur”—leveraging resources of the organization while aligning it with my personal and emerging visions of what an ideal personal CSR could be.

 

Point 2: Maximizing opportunities

 

The environment or context we live in is very dynamic and eternally changing in a very fast pace.  As a result of this, I think gone are the days where personal and organizational visions should be fixed; rather, they must be agile enough to maximize whatever opportunities may arise along the way.

 

Since personal CSR is somewhat relative and can be changed, it is vital for person to somewhat design his life that exposes him to many opportunities that allow for tinkering money, mission, and passion.  In my personal experience, after I attained my undergraduate degree, I was fixated on being very deliberate with my choices.  A leads to B leads to C leads to D. I failed to recognize that truly, only change is constant, and the happenings in my surroundings will undoubtedly influence my options.

 

Hence, I am now biased for positions and roles which allow many kinds of opportunities arising.  I am still not very comfortable with uncertainty, but I take peace in the fact that with uncertainty comes opportunity—steps that allow for better designing of a career that truly reconciles money, mission, and passion.

 

Point 3: Sticking to my key strengths

 

The challenge in trying many things is the danger of confusing one’s self in terms of answering the question: “Where am I good at?  What do I want to be known as great at?”  I have tried managing an organization’s social media, executing marketing activations, implementing various projects and events, designing paraphernalia, and improving operations and processes.  The fear was real – I did not want to be a jack of all trades, master of none.  At best, I wanted to be a jack of all trades, master of one or even some (because mastering everything is difficult, if not impossible).

 

And that pursuit of mastery of one, for me, turned to be writing.  Sometimes creative writing, in forms of simple songs, poetry, and blogging; sometimes technical writing, in forms of documents, formal letters, and scholarly research articles.  I wished to be competent in many areas concerning management of organizations, but I know that I am in my element when my activities involve writing.  I am not yet the best creative or technical writer I could be; and that is okay.  I will continue to grow and I can confidently improve because I know what my key strength is.

 

For this, I am grateful for my high school English mentor and my current research mentors.  Through them, I was able to affirm something that I know I have the potential at, and this allows me to frame sustainability and social responsibility in terms of my key strength.

 

 

Point 4: Staying loyal to my personal values and purpose – “personal legend”

 

Currently, what I really value is the ability to reconcile idealism and being practical, mission and money, dreams of what could be grounded on what can really be.  It seems that in all my previous stints in various organizations, I always challenge myself to think in terms of proving idealism need not be mere naivete, rather, it allows for ideas that help us make reality a much better place to live in.

 

Have I crafted already that ideal career that integrates money and mission, sustainability and social responsibility?  Not yet.  I dare say I am still far from it.  That is where faith comes in – a belief that every struggle is every knock that persistently opens that door.  “Knock and the door will be opened.”  And by all means, let us knock hard, bang hard, because the career we desire will not be given; it shall be earned.  And though God loves us, He will not open the doors just because He pities us.  He knows we deserve better than that.

 

We will knock.  We will shout.  Once He deems us as deserving, then the door will be opened to us.

At the Convergence of Dualistic Natures

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This blog post is directly lifted from one of my reflections on a paper I have read.

Perhaps the insight that struck me the most is that managers, whether under business, academe, public, or any organizations, have complex motivations, goals, and objectives.  After all, managers are human beings with different wants and needs.

Stripping down the titles and labels, human beings at their core already have complex and conflicting desires.  When at their lowest and the need for survival is imminent, we recognize the mentality of the needy called “kapit sa patalim”, wherein they will do almost, if not, everything for themselves and the betterment of their family, even at the expense of others.  Ironically, when people are at their highest and as you quoted in your paper, people with power tend to be corrupted.  Maybe these people’s characteristics revolve more on self-preservation at all costs.

There are also human beings, such as genuine public servants and social entrepreneurs who truly practice the Christian “servant leadership”.  Perhaps these people value selflessness more and giving value to society.

I have always pondered on the complexity of human behavior, particularly on the dualistic natures that exist in us.  To cite a few examples, idealism vs pragmatism, helping society vs making profits, subjective vs objective.  The easy way for these things is to isolate a half, and use them as exclusive lenses in viewing the world.  We create assumptions that disregard the other half of the “dualistic nature”.  This has advantages and disadvantages, but I’d like to focus on the disadvantages.

By constricting ourselves too much within one frame of mind or assumption, we commit the error of disregarding the whole truth – dualistic natures need NOT be mutually exclusive; there are plenty of overlaps.  I remember my Unilever internship wherein my supervisor told us in the culminating presentation that ethics IS black and white; but until now I respectfully disagree.  There are always gray areas, and there will always be because human beings are innately relative, innately subjective.

Tying all of these thoughts to your paper, I can sense multiple hats in you that compelled you to do action – both as a “rational” and “irrational” manager, and as a compassionate human being.

Rational, in the sense that a manager or chair must do what is best to reach the bottom-line (in this case, to serve students at the least cost possible), compelled you to act perhaps due to the fact that the inefficiencies of the predicament of secretaries affected faculty workflow and serving the needs of the students.  If I may rightfully borrow economics thinking, solving this problem is the logical thing to do to smoothen out inefficiencies and help the department “serve its customers better”.  You eliminated the “cost” of inefficiencies by acting on this manner.  Moreover, this stayed true to the dept’s thrust of “Bridging Faith and Management Practice”.

However, in an “irrational” perspective, if I may again take the liberty to use these terms, the ff insights may surface.  It is “irrational” to “waste” time solving this problem when you could have stay put and focused on doing research and preparing lesson plans.  It is “irrational” to hire secretaries as full-time vs contractual as they add cost, in a purely economic perspective.  But still, you acted “irrationally” and had the initiative to care for your fellow even though it will cost you precious time and energy.

To conclude my reflections and synthesizing what I have realized in your example, managers and human beings are better moved to do things that are mutually beneficial for themselves and others when placed in the gray areas, where dualistic natures converge.  Perhaps there must be motivations from both an “idealistic” and “pragmatic” side that are compelling enough to move beyond the boundaries of rational thinking, beyond the boundaries of our preset defaults.

Pro-Poor and Social Entrepreneurship Bills (Reaction on Sen. Bam Aquino’s Filing)

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There has been news from Senator Bam Aquino’s Facebook account that he has ” filed seven bills that aim to empower the poor through jobs and livelihood opportunities”.

Disclaimer: I am not proclaiming this to advertise Sen. Aquino’s initiatives and endeavors – this is merely to give insights, reactions, and comments on what he endeavors to do.  After all, these are the advocacies that are indeed close to my heart as an aspiring entrepreneur, educator, and as a current researcher on the said field.

I know that as a fresh graduate from DLSU, I still have much to learn when it comes to CSR, social entrepreneurship, and the policies that may or may not help these movements achieve their intended benefit: progress and solving society’s most pressing problems.

Although some people in the web and even in media doubt Sen. Aquino’s intentions for running in office as Senator (some stating that this may just be a ploy to extend the “Aquino dynasty”), I support Bam because of his track record as a practitioner of social entrepreneurship.  This is why seeing news from Facebook that he has filed pro-poor bills instigated somewhat a kind of relief in me; that this man perhaps indeed has a plan to bring the synthesis of his social entrepreneurial experience into influencing policy-making.

I am hopeful that this is not just a ningas-kugon attempt; only time will tell.  Let time be the one to test Sen. Bam’s resolve in influencing social entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation through policies.

Onto my humble insights.

I want to zero in on two  particular bills that Sen. Bam filed below:

2.     The Fair Competition Bill, which aims to “protect consumer welfare, advance domestic and international trade and sustained economic development by… regulating monopolies, anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant power, and anti-competitive measures.” It also establishes the Philippine Fair Competition Commission;

7.     An expansion of the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship Bill (PRESENT), filed in the 15th Congress, which supports the creation of social enterprises and offers incentives and benefits to business that genuinely help the poor.

 

First, let me acknowledge my practical limitations as I admit that I still have a lack of experience in terms of doing actual social entrepreneurship work.  However, I am an avid learner of the field and have read researches and books that may perhaps arm me with enough tidbits to utilize in making comments or insights.  Should readers agree or disagree, feel free to discuss via the comments section below this post.

First bill

Personally I believe that the two bills are benevolent in spirit.  On the first bill, I would just like to raise Muhammad Yunus’s insights on social entrepreneurship, which he wrote in his book “Building Social Business” (2010).  Yunus propagates that since social enterprises are true businesses, then ideally, there should be minimal incentives or support from policy – social enterprises should let market forces or the “invisible hand” of competition determine whether a social business idea is viable or not.

I have two conflicting opinions on this one.  On one vantage point, Yunus’s claims are meritorious; a social business enterprise must be viable and should not have to rely on incentives to be truly viable.  If a social business enterprise needs to rely on incentives, then what happens if the law is changed for whatever reasons?  What if political factors crush the incentives?  Then the social business enterprise loses its crutch… then becomes crippled?  These are indeed valid points of view and my recommendation to Sen. Bam is to not “baby” social business enterprises too much that should a law be ramified or lose its implementation, the business would invariably suffer and need to close.  This view emphasizes the need of true sustainability, meaning the capacity of a business to be at an on-going concern without the need to rely on policies as crutches.

On another vantage point, since social enterprises chase not one but two bottomlines (even three, if they pursue financial profits, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability), it is only fitting that there should be separate incentives that can aid their growth.  Social business enterprises can be different species if compared to traditional corporations; and perhaps different rules and policies must govern these enterprises.

Seventh bill

I wholeheartedly support social enterprises as vehicles towards poverty and even environmental problems alleviation.  However, my only concern is the measurement of how a business “genuinely helps the poor”.  In light of the sickening pork barrel scam that used bogus NGOs as puppets of politicians’ puppets, there is indeed a concern on implementation.  What is the meaning of “genuinely helping the poor”?  Will it include multinational or traditional corporations with CSR programs?  Will philanthropy be considered?

I am coming from the point-of-view that there is no universal social entrepreneurship definition as of the moment.  Some entities may use this bill to put a facade of authentic social entrepreneurship wherein they’re indeed traditional profit-maximizing entities with social responsibility on the side.  I believe the spirit of this bill is not on traditional businesses, but more on actual for-profit social enterprises that have a hard time balancing financial and social objectives.

My recommendation to Sen. Bam is to develop transparent measures that will decipher whether an existing enterprise is truly a social enterprise.  We do not want incentives, funds, etc to go to greedy businesses that will utilize this bill and wear on superficial masks.  There must be a strict way of determining whether a social enterprise qualifies for benefits under this bill.

Final words

I hope my humble thoughts can help people recognize the value of social entrepreneurship and how policy can influence their existence.  This blog post is written in the spirit of pursuing the Common Good, in the name of practice, continuous learning and education, and research.

Lack of Policies or Lack of Execution?

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Another corruption and graft related issue has surfaced in the Philippines.  According to Inquirer.net, there are officials who allegedly directed their pork barrel funds to bogus NGOs so as to pocket their assets.

This is a bit frustrating, especially since this gives NGOs more negative publicity.  Yes, perhaps there may be some organizations who are merely tax shields or are indeed “ghosts” that suck the funds out of the tax-funded pork barrels for the personal gain of those in power.  But the true NGOs suffer from this as well; those who pursue social good with integrity and sacrifice.  Perhaps social enterprises may suffer from these kinds of things as well as this may destroy reputations of organizations that pursue the common good.

On to the topic of this blog post, is it about the lack of policies or the lack of execution?

According to my professors in DLSU, the Philippines have good laws related to preventing corruption.  However, there is indeed a lack of implementation – a lack of execution.

I think it is time that the public be the one to execute the law through public demand, or public pressure.  If we can find a way to utilize, harness, organize or even systematize the People Power phenomenon, then we can be the watchdogs of corruption.  The dawn of this digital era amplified with smartphones capable of using social media, cameras and digital recorders can serve as the country’s CCTV in looking out for undesirable actions from those in power.

Perhaps there should be pressure for every organization to be transparent.  If we can harness the all-seeing eye of this becoming increasingly digital world, then we can demand transparency from all kinds of organizations.  This will make covering the tracks of corruption harder.  This will put pressure to those in power to really invest in projects that contribute to the common good.

Let the mass media news always show a regular update on transparency reports from officials.  Let social media news websites raise discussions and fora related to these kinds of issues.

For far too long we have been searching for the medium by which we can amplify our eyes.  We have wished for Superman-like x-ray vision to determine proofs of corruption looming behind those promises of those in power.  Let us use the power of our digital era and be the ones to execute our policies.

CSR Series: Baptism

Sometimes, baptism can be harsh.  Purification can be painful.

All the things that happened may be a harsh spanking from Mother Nature to remember to take care of her.  Perhaps we should have a change in lifestyle?

But still, after half a week of rainfall, the sun shines.  The aftermath of a purification, a symbol of hope.

As my favorite OPM artist, Bamboo, would now sing:

“Tuloy ang ikot ng mundo!”

 

CSR Series: YFC Reflections – Stop Myopia

Faith.

How do you define faith?

For me, faith involves trusting the unknown, the uncertain.

Faith involves looking at the future.

One of the aspects that our YFC Shared Learning experience taught me is, really, to have faith.  To not be blinded by things that are in front of us now, but to anticipate.  To have foresight.

The problem with us people, even the corporations?  Too much myopia.  Too much nearsightedness.  We only try to see what is in the present, not its effects on our future.

Relating this to our thesis, this is not supposed to be the case.

For Dr. Young and Dr. Tilley, an enterprise which truly integrates sustainability must always take note of its actions’ consequences to the future generations.  The concept of futurity.

Let us look beyond what the naked eyes can see.

Maybe, with just a little touch of foresight, we can tremendously change our future and direct it to a brighter tomorrow.

 

 

CSR Series: YFC – Prayers and Spirituality III

Mr. Anonymous offered a very interesting scenario featuring a dilemma, written below:

What if you’re placed in this dilemma:

Your successful company that you have taken care for years is about to face bankruptcy, turmoil, or whatever the worst you can think of. You’ve cut down the number of your employees already to the minimum, you’ve cut their salary, you’ve done everything you can to save it. I’m no business person so I’m not familiar with the terms and techniques, but you get it: you’ve done everything ethically, morally and legally possible. Still, it seems inevitable. Then suddenly a light of hope was shown to you and it involves manipulating people through religion and spirituality. Nothing’s illegal in terms of papers, permits, etc. but the only catch is that you’ll have to use religion to manipulate people such as your investors, or even your employees. In other words: “mang-uto ng ibang tao gamit ang salita ng Diyos/Relihiyon” to save your most beloved company. Your company is your life, your passion. You did almost everything for it and if you’re not going to do this “manipulation”, everything you have will be lost. What will you choose?


Manipulation is such a strong word.

In this very challenging situation, I would not use religion and spirituality to manipulate.  And really, if I did have a strong sense of spirituality and religious belief, I believe in the 2nd Commandment wherein one should not use God’s name in vain; and believing in Karma, whatever you do will have repercussions.

First of all, I were to establish a company, given my current frame of mind and worldview, it will have social and/or environmental value generation motive embedded in it.  I believe it will be at least a social enterprise or a sustainability enterprise – addressing more than the profit motive.  Therefore, spiritual values must be integral to its culture.

Spirituality will not be used to manipulate, but rather its benevolent values are what the company will be fighting for.  So to reframe your scenario, it’s not “mang-uto ng iba gamit ang salita ng Diyos”, but rather, “draw support from others through the Word of God that our very company stands for.”

Maybe we can get support through donations?  Or by partnering and collaborating with other social enterprises?  Asking for loans?  I do not know.  But the great thing about social enterprises is that it thrives in the dynamic of collaboration, not competition.  Somehow, there will be bigger socially-driven institutions that can offer help for my company to survive.

If I were to be a successful entrepreneur, then there WILL always be a creative solution.  If I was able to provide a creative solution for others, why not exhaust all creative solutions for the company as well?

Collaboration with other social enterprises or institutions with the same values will help me get over this very challenging dilemma.  Hindi naman pang-uuto kung talagang bahagi na ng buhay at negosyo mo ang Salita ng Diyos, diba? 🙂

So to directly answer your question, I will not use religion to manipulate, but rather, make it a source of strength and keep the faith.  Because I know that institutions who share the same spiritual values as my company can help me get over this lump.

I do not consider myself YET as an excellent social entrepreneur.  But if I am to become one and own a social enterprise instead of working for one, then that means I must have been capable of finding plenty of creative solutions.  And besides, I know that I am not alone.  There will be fellow social entrepreneurs that will be willing to sustainably collaborate with me to get over this.

I hope that I answered your question. 🙂

CSR Series: YFC – Prayers and Spirituality II

In one of my CSR Series post that featured the topic of Prayers and Spirituality, an anonymous commenter offered a very enriching insight written below:

“Hi sir, nice blog post you have. I hope you don’t mind if I post a “what if” here. What if businesses are gearing towards spirit-driven consumption, just because the businesses recognize the power of religion, faith, or whatever that is synonymous to that, can further be used to boost their respective business? I mean, what if it is the focus of businesses lately because people are easily lured into manipulation when it comes to the name of whoever is their Higher Being?

I just want to share one of my experiences. I have been into one of worship centers by a certain Catholic group. The flow is plain and simple:

1. Start with a 1 hour mass
2. 30 minutes worth of worship songs, sharing of experiences by some worship leaders, telling people to lift their hands, do this do that.
3. The main speaker/worship leader arrives at the stage, delivering a very inspiring and educating seminar. It could be about finance, love, life, social responsibility. Anything that matches the season of the year or their chosen theme for the month.
4. They go back to a 15 minute worship, glorifying the Higher Being.
5. There goes the donation part. For the group’s financial projects so they can “spread the word, spread the good news”. And they will ask you to join the group, or join their elite donors who give 100k a month voluntarily.
6. Please return next Friday! You may go out now 😛

So in this flow, the people are driven by their religion, praising first, then will be inspired to donate, to “give more to others”. What if this flow is just to manipulate people to give money? What if the money they receive is 50% for themselves, 40% for their projects, 10% for charity?

What if religion, and faith in itself is just another business strategy, no longer a driving force to inspire and do our true purpose?

What if spirituality became an integral part of any organization in order to ease the pressure in making employees, or other people do what the organization wants to achieve, regardless of the intention?

What if religion, faith and/or spirituality is just a tool to earn money nowadays?

I just want to hear your insight on this one, nothing really personal. I’ve read some of your posts before and I find them very interesting. If I am out of the topic here, please pardon me. It just came into my interest to try and hear your opinion regarding this. Thank you and have a nice day :)”

This was my reply:

Sadly, there are indeed instances wherein some abuse the concept of religion and spirituality, and turn them into manipulative tools to lure people into what they want. Indeed, we cannot deny the fact that these kinds of things build reputation, and who wouldn’t want to build one’s reputation?

My key insight in the scenario you wrote is that the “audience” should be vigilant – though it is hard, one must look past superficial things and determine whether “spirituality” is authentic or just for show. I know that what I am writing is easier said than done, but that’s the way it is.

Kudos to the organizations that will indeed practice good governance, benevolent spirituality in the workplace, and spearhead sustainability-oriented activities not just because of reputation management, but because they indeed want to make positive change.

If I may refer to writings from the Bible, it is said there that even evil beings can quote from the Scriptures – even the malevolent can deceive by doing superficial good.

As such, from the Bible as well, we must be wise as serpents but harmless as doves. In my interpretation, this means being able to see things with open eyes, but not indulging in the dirt thus becoming harmless doves.

So in summary, what I want to say is this: we have eyes, we should just open them. We have the power to determine lies from truths. However hard it is, it does not mean that it is not possible. We should keep open eyes and minds, and remember that though the essence of spirituality and religion are good, malevolent people have the power to distort it in a way that will benefit the latter’s personal desires.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where even the seemingly most benevolent activities have malevolent ulterior motives.  It is a challenge for us to be aware.  Equipped with the Internet and free from the possible manipulations of biased mass media, we have the responsibility to question what we see, even if it is as fundamental as what we believe in.  Because in the long run, this strengthens our faith, our core values. 

CSR Series: Recycle? How About “Reincarnate?

I’ll first let the Naked Juice ad below do the talking through its amazing kinetic typography advertisement.

Wow, I was amazed.  This is beyond the recycling green advocacy.  The concept of “reincarnating” is great, in the aspect of bottles, is great because plenty of drinks and packaging use it.  Especially in the Philippines, it is one of the major garbage found in bodies of waters and in the streets.

But then, continuous “reincarnation” of bottles to be used for eternity will greatly reduce waste.

Bottomline: this is a prime example of what it means to go beyond “responsibility” and become an embodiment of “sustainability”.

CSR Series: Embodying Your Beliefs

It is hard.  Trying to go against the current of the status quo.  Witnessing everyone around me taking the relatively safer road, the one tried and tested, while I am contemplating what I will do in the future.

This term made me ask questions.  To start pursuing corporate or start with a socially/sustainability-oriented career?  Corporate life promises the allure of comfortable money-filled life.  The other one, less travelled, promises self-actualization that my idealistic desires want to materialize.

Idealism.

I want to achieve monetary and soul-nourishing things.  I do not want to be a martyr; what I want is to achieve the best for me and the best for those around me.

Some would say I do not have a duty to serve those below me, but why is my conscience telling me otherwise?

The reason why I wanted to look at a social entrepreneurship career or working for an institution that includes social or sustainability entrepreneurship motives is that I wanted to be doing what is beyond right, yet I know I can sustain it.

Living a dream life while pushing others upward in the process.  Who would not want that?

I believe that CSR, in its current form now, is not enough.  There are even some that use it for the sake of reputation, not out of the drive to help.

I want to be part of an institution where these kinds of things are integrated in its processes, in its core business model perhaps.  I don’t want these things to be just “sidelines”.  I want this integrated in my career.

Yet I also want a relatively lucrative career.  Those promised in the corporate lifestyle, but instead of just increasing profits, there is social value generated.

For my last internship term, I will be going at the Foundation again.  I will believe and fight for the belief that social entrepreneurs, or those involved in a similar career, do not have to be martyrs just to serve.

Socially-oriented career takers should be able to live the dream, while letting others have the capacity to realistically dream as well.

It is hard to embody these beliefs, but these are beliefs worth fighting for.