“The State of Corporate Social Responsibility & Key Trends” with Carolyn Berkowitz

ACCP Staff

ACCP President and CEO Carolyn Berkowitz recently presented to a group of internal CSR stakeholders across Comcast NBCUniversal on “The State of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) & Key Trends.”

As part of the company’s Impact & Inclusion Community of Practice, CSR leadership brings together resources and subject matter experts to educate and empower team members on the evolving landscape in corporate social responsibility, further develop effectiveness and empathy when partnering with nonprofits, and create a true community of practice across Comcast. 

In this two-part blog series, ACCP will share excerpts of the “fireside chat” between Carolyn and Dan Kamins, Comcast’s Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships on the Impact & Inclusion team. Comcast focuses its work on advancing digital equity through Project UP, the company’s $1 billion commitment to reach millions of people with the tools, resources, and skills needed to succeed in a digital world.

In part one, we’ll look at Carolyn’s career, what’s ahead for the corporate social impact field, and what corporate social impact professionals can do to create impact.

Can you share more about ACCP and how your career journey led you there?

I am proud to be the President and CEO of ACCP, whose mission is to advance the effectiveness of corporate social impact professionals by sharing knowledge, fostering solutions, and cultivating inclusive peer communities.

ACCP is an organization of 240+ companies, and the employees who work in their social impact groups. We help professionals create greater impact in their businesses and communities through peer-to-peer learning, access to current information and education, research on trending issues, and advocacy on behalf of the committed professionals engaging in this work.

I came to CSR through the nonprofit route, which many do. When I made the move from nonprofit to corporate, it was at a time when companies had a lot of leverage in creating change – government funding for nonprofits was at an all-time low and the corporate social impact movement was coming into its own. 

In terms of creating impact, the commitment to and belief in wrap-around support has been a thread running through all my work – nonprofit and corporate. The notion that one single type of intervention is going to “fix” a difficult social problem is unrealistic. Humans live in and respond to complex (and broken) systems. It is difficult to educate children when their lives at home are unsafe or when they are hungry, and therefore successful learning outcomes require more than good schools. The same is true for organizations and systems. Recognizing and adopting this approach to my work from the vantage point of either sector has consistently helped me develop more comprehensive solutions.

You have been in the CSR/nonprofit space for many years and have seen the industry grow and evolve from many different vantage points – both as a large corporate funder and from the nonprofit perspective. Can you briefly share with us some of the positive advancements you have seen in CSR and the opportunities yet to be addressed?

The field has changed enormously since I’ve been in it, and mostly for the good. The last 3 years have seen more change than any period I can think of. Remember, CSR is still a young field, so it has always been growing and changing. But the most important and positive change I’ve witnessed is the ever-increasing alignment of CSR to the business and business strategy. 

Another huge change is the orientation to stakeholders. Corporations are thinking about now about a range of stakeholders, and not just their stockholders. Through the adoption of ESG goals and reporting, stakeholder accountability is changing the game for every company.  Know that your work substantively contributes to meeting stakeholder needs.

The one stakeholder that is at the front and center of companies today is the employee, as every dimension of talent management is challenged. Your CSR strategy directly impacts the company’s ability to address current and future talent needs. Employees seek meaning in their work. The impact your company makes in communities, with employees at the center, is a competitive advantage for attracting and retaining talent at every level.

Broadly engaging the entire company in the creation and execution of community strategies, is another positive change. Embraced both by the lines of business and among all corporate functions, CSR is no longer an add-on on the side; it is embedded in every corner of the business. 

Finally, the field has shifted from one of good intentions to one of measurable outcomes. The discipline of measurement and the focus on data-driven strategies is increasing our impact and our relevance.

However, these advances are creating challenges, as the demand for our work is growing, and the roles are becoming more demanding. While the volume of activity and engagement continues to grow, too often the expectation is to do more with less. I’m worried about burnout in our field. It is a real thing.

Given your expertise and the research ACCP conducts, what does the future of CSR look like? How can we as CSR professionals and advocates continue to innovate in our roles?

  • First, we all need to pay attention to the trends I outlined – serving a broader group of stakeholders, adopting practices that advance racial equity, and attracting, retaining, and progressing diverse talent.
  • Second, moving forward we must collectively address the climate crisis in meaningful ways, both as a defining issue of our time and as a matter of public health and social justice.
  • Third, we must align our work with our values, and do so authentically and transparently. Gone are the days when community work deliberately offsets concurrent actions that negatively impact stakeholders. The right hand and the left hand must be aligned for stakeholders to trust your company.
  • Finally, when it comes to innovation and advocacy, here are a couple of considerations. 
    • Understand the nature of the problem – really well. Lead with curiosity about the Business Problem you might address and the Community Issues you work on. That’s when you can connect the dots, bridge the needs and resources, and innovate.
    • Always have the business case for community engagement in your pocket. Why are we doing this work? What are a few stats that could help you communicate your impact when you are talking with leaders who may ask – Why are we doing this and why should I invest resources? When leaders understand “the why” it gives you the permission and flexibility to innovate.

For more information about ACCP, please visit our website. We’ll be publishing part 2 of this fireside chat – with a focus on racial equity and how language matters – in the coming weeks.

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