An Argument Against Trying to Save the World

Feb 6, 2013
graham mclaughlin

Today's post is written by Graham McLaughlin, a Corporate Institute Leadership Faculty Member and the Director of Community Impact at The Advisory Board Company, a global research, consulting, and technology firm partnering with 125,000 leaders in 3,200 organizations across health care and higher education.

There are many good arguments for going global with your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. For example, resources go further in developing nations, global CSR enables more favorable market expansion conditions and large-scale initiatives are a way to broaden impact while enhancing a company’s reputation as a thought leader.

This rationale is why even the smallest of companies consider taking their CSR program global, either through a singular project in the developing world or a large-scale, company-wide, initiative.

But does a global CSR strategy truly yield the most external social good and internal business benefit?  Or should a company also consider how to make a meaningful difference in its own backyard?

I believe that regardless of a company’s size or type, an effective CSR strategy is grounded in creating positive systemic changes at the local level.  A strategy that is focused on utilizing an employee’s key skills sets in order to enhance the work of effective local partners will yield the largest positive results for society and business.

Local is Inclusive, Cost Effective, and Longer-Lasting

Global projects are an amazing opportunity which yield a significant bump in engagement, retention and professional skill development for employees.  However, due to cost and logistical constraints participation is typically limited to only a fortunate few.  Local impact work enables any interested employee to participate (at minimal to no cost) and allows them to give back in a way that fits into their schedule. Therefore, local projects give the same benefit, but at a lower cost and potentially in a context that has greater staying power.

Local is Actionable and Meaningful

Massive, organization-wide projects take time, money and resources, can be difficult for an individual to understand how to participate, and have a lower chance of success.  Companies can create meaningful and impactful pro bono work by leveraging their employee’s expertise to solve problems. I’ve seen a local focus build a greater spirit of generosity and an ethos of compassion in employees because they are able to see, the impact of their work rather than read about it or see it through pictures and presentations.

Local is a Building Block

In my experience, both in developing our firm’s CSR program as well as reviewing the programs of others, big, headquarter-led, company-wide global initiatives typically have a high resource cost and limited success, while focused local initiatives empower employees.  The best individual ideas can spread organically throughout the company, building into global initiatives with local contextualization.

Developing a localized CSR framework puts every employee in a position to maximize their passion and skill set, ensuring a program that delivers the most social good in the most cost effective, business enhancing way.   For this reason, rather than immediately thinking big, I encourage you to think small, and to focus on your communities in order to save the world.