• ClaireLouise

Corporate Social Responsibility vs Social Value – what’s the difference really?

Most people will be aware of Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR). Even if you don’t know much about it, somewhere in the dusty recesses of memory will be an understanding that it’s about businesses doing good stuff, generally around donating money to worthy charitable and community causes.

So, is Social Value just the latest term for doing ‘good stuff’? Yes and No.

At its most fundamental, Social Value is just another way of business doing good stuff. But in practice it’s very different from CSR. It is important, given the way that government is now talking about Social Value, that we understand the difference between the two.

CSR has always been an add on for a business. You run your company well, and it makes money. You then choose to donate some of that money to support good stuff. But it’s not integral to your business operations - it’s a feel good activity which involves staff, improves your reputation and makes a difference to the causes you support - but it’s not fundamental to the way you do business.

Social Value is about the way you do business. It embeds certain operational behaviours into your business practices and as such becomes integral to the way you work. It’s still about ‘good stuff’ but it also has a clearly defined commercial element - these social value operational practices will be required within contract delivery for public sector led supply chain.

Another important differentiator between CSR and Social Value is around cause and effect.

CSR traditionally responds to need, because it’s reactive (i.e. the company is responding to a request for help) and generally ad hoc, a one off donations of money or in kind support.

Done properly, Social Value addresses causality – it helps create systems which break down social inequality.

The example I often use is that of food poverty. A popular business CSR response is to donate to food banks. This is a really valid response – children are going hungry NOW, and we need to support this need NOW. But donating to a food bank isn’t solving the cause of food poverty. It’s not doing anything to address the fundamental issue that a significant percentage of the UK population is so poor that adults can’t afford to feed themselves or their children.

Social Value tackles the causality of this situation. Employing people on secure living wage contracts supports people to move from the cycle of poverty. A well thought out company response to the issue of Food Poverty (for note this is also Sustainable Development Goal 2 Zero Hunger, so pretty high profile stuff) will match operational processes around inclusive recruitment and decent employment (Social Value) combined with a CSR response which supports immediate need for your local communities.

A structured process to understand local social need, the causality behind this need and then assessing our own working practices to see how we can make most impact, underpins Social Value.

There will always be a place for CSR, but a canny and forward-thinking organization now needs to be juggling both.

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