6 Questions About Corporate Social Responsibility with John Kim

1. What is CSR and why does it matter?

CSR stands for corporate social responsibility and stems from the idea that corporations and businesses have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens, and not just maximize profits for shareholders.  CSR includes environmental stewardship, community investment, employee engagement, and other areas. In general, my brand of CSR revolves around the idea that the private sector/businesses and the non-profit sector can have mutually beneficial relationships to address societal/community problems.

2. Who are you and how did you get interested in this?

I’m John Kim, a mix of do-gooder, brand strategist, bicyclist, and soccer fan.  I first got interested in the idea of businesses and non-profits partnering to do some good in the world when I worked at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, DC.  Foodbanks are a really wonderful (and successful) illustration of how businesses and non profits can have a mutually beneficial relationship in service of a cause; hunger alleviation in this case.  Foodbanks depend on the donations of the the food industry (manufacturers, grocers, etc.) to distribute to organizations in need.  And foodbanks provide food manufacturers 2 things: 1. an outlet for perfectly edible food that they would’ve had to pay to get destroyed  and 2. a feedback loop that tells the business where areas of inefficiency were; what product lines didn’t sell well, etc. It’s beautiful.  And while foodbanks won’t solve the problem of food insecurity it certainly fills a crucial niche.

3. Why does CSR matter at the World Cup?

The FIFA World Cup is the most viewed sporting event in the world; it’s estimated that more than 26 billion pairs of eyes (not all at once) will watch the month long event at some point.  It is also a huge money making and spending operation; it’s estimated that the television rights to broadcast the games were well into the $3-4 billion range.  It’s also a hugely sponsored event with many of the world’s largest companies shelling out large sums to sponsor the games and subsequently get their names/logos associated with the event; those 26 billions eyes are captive audiences for advertisers.  It matters, particularly this time around because the World Cup, starting in June 2010, is being hosted in Africa for the first time in its history. And awarding the World Cup to South Africa was not only about sport but also about using the event to contribute to the continued growth of the country and the region.  The contributions of corporations (monetarily, knowledge-capital, etc.) will be a huge part of the legacy of the games.

4. Who does it Corporate Responsibility right?

I don’t know if there’s a right way to do it but I think there are ways to do it better.  I think the best examples are of companies that have initiatives or efforts that align with their brand and their core business.  For example, IBM is in the knowledge capital and technology business.  A core part of their CSR effort is their Corporate Service Corps, which takes IBM staff from around the world and sends them to a country to work on a  project that could benefit from their brain power, consulting, and technical know how to help solve their problem. For IBM this is a great way to extend the IBM brand to new markets while doing some good.  As an outsider, this makes complete sense for IBM to be doing and makes me a bigger fan of their work (look I’m writing about them now and am certainly NOT being paid to do so).

5. Who does it wrong?  What’s the wrong way to approach corporate responsibility?

On the flip side, companies that don’t do CSR well are those that don’t do things that stem from their core business and subsequently are not authentic to the company’s values or beliefs.  I don’t want to name names, but I think we can generally say that the extractives industry (mining, oil & gas, etc.) are generally not the greatest corporate neighbors.  They don’t have the greatest environmental track records nor do they have the best history of treating the communities in which they operate the greatest.

6. What can I do to support good work, and encourage the companies I already support to get involved?

Firstly, we can vote with our feet and dollars by supporting businesses and buying products that match our values.  Secondly, we can educate ourselves on what different companies are doing (or not) around CSR so that we make better informed decisions as consumers.  Lastly (though, there is probably a lot more to do), we could write letters, emails, facebook messages, etc. to companies we support to tell them that we, as consumers (potential or current) care about what they do for the environment and our communities.

Some good resources to learn more about csr are www.csrwire.com, www.netimpact.org, and http://goodness500.org/.

About the Author: John Kim has his master’s in public policy from Georgetown University and has worked in Morocco, South Africa, and Malawi.  He blogs about the World Cup and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at www.WorldCupCSR.wordpress.com and you can follow him on Twitter @WorldCupCSR.

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7 Responses to “6 Questions About Corporate Social Responsibility with John Kim”
  1. Colleen says:

    Thanks for the food for thought. I work in the digital music business, and have noticed a trend among artists and bands toward Carbon Neutral Touring (U2, Chrissie Hynde,etc). Can you expand on the difference between CSR and Cause Marketing?

    • John says:


      Great question! I think cause marketing can often fit under the umbrella of CSR but it depends again on how the marketing promotion aligns with the companies overall brand or business strategy. For example, if Danon yogurt is doing a promotion where they donate $ to a cancer charity for every lid mailed in, this would be purely cause marketing. But if they make the case that yogurt consumption is related to better overall health which is related to cancer prevention AND that they intend to support cancer charities in general…then that could be more of a CSR initiative.

      But overall the main difference for me is that cause marketing is generally associated with a time-sensitive (e.g. 8-12 month campaign) promotion for a particular cause and product/service. While CSR is more related to aligning good corporate practices (i.e. reduction of packaging materials, developing relationships with indigenous communities to sustainably harvest beauty supply ingredients (Aveda), etc.) with the overall brand and business strategies and subsequent activities.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think cause marketing is wonderful and there have been hugely successful examples for both selling a product and raising awareness for a cause e.g. LiveStrong – but the danger is that if the cause marketing promotion is not aligned with the business then there’s the danger of it getting put to the wayside during tougher economic times, changes in leadership, etc…

      Hope this helps! Happy to discuss more…!


  2. Colleen says:

    Very cogent answer, John, appreciate that you took the time.

  3. Colleen says:

    I’m in Digital Music Marketing at VerveLife. http://vervelife.com We’re eco-friendly in a sense, because we replace plastic premiums with digital ones. Right now I’m finishing up a trend presentation on Millennials and Music.

    • John Kim says:

      Colleen – that’s great about the the replacement of plastic with digital. And I’d be interested to learn more about your presentation when you’re finished!



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