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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

What profit can't solve

Although promising, corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn't a blunt instrument; we won't smash our countless social problems by heaving it in one, devastating, oafish wallop. In theory, CSR recognizes that businesses have an obligation to the world greater than the profit that can be extracted from it. Using this model, increasing numbers of businesses incorporate current social issues, such as reducing global warming, into their business plans. Market mechanisms now present a new, innovative piece to the larger puzzle of achieving social justice.

Yet, we must recognize the market is limited in its capacity to improve societal problems. CSR, and other market mechanisms, reduce social issues to a matter of profitability. But what happens when addressing social issues is no longer seen as profitable? And what of other social issues that seemingly defy market solutions: drug abuse, domestic violence, racial profiling, and gender discrimination? The current framework of CSR appears to leave these questions unanswered.

Thus, pitting corporate philanthropy against corporate social responsibility is misleading; it cannot be an either/or proposition. Corporate philanthropy, and its extensive support of the non-profit community, helps fill-in the gaps left by market mechanisms. The non-profit community targets issues that aren't as profitable or sexy as the greening of our society, yet make a significant impact nonetheless. Addressing racism, homelessness, and child abuse are necessary, regardless of their economic viability. Leaving issues of social justice solely to the responsibility of the market is simply irresponsible. -- Lanre Akinsiku

Thief or philanthropist?

Philanthropy is, and will continue to be, relevant as part of the corporate business model. With greater emphasis on social responsibility, most notably in the environmental movement, philanthropy becomes a means to separate one company from its counterparts.

Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston, in their recent book Green to Gold, illustrate that not only is the environmental movement supported by market mechanisms, it is good business practice because it is popular with customers. Social responsibility and philanthropy are one and the same; they both feed an expectation from consumers hoping to support companies that have motivations outside of the bottom line.

While the Industrial Revolution is over, the days of robber barons can easily return through neglect of social responsibility. Executive pay continues to be an issue at the forefront of American business practices, so much so that the Obama Administration created the position of 'pay czar'. Corporate philanthropy will, at minimum, ensure that the business elite will be perceived as philanthropists rather than thieves. We can only hope support comes from the desire to help the greater good. -- Parsa Sobhani

Corporate Robin Hoods

Philanthropy is always relevant, regardless of where it comes from. However, modern corporate philanthropy doesn't seem to exist. Instead of demonstrating a "love of humankind" (the Greek root of philanthropy), corporations are seeking to be a 21st century Robin Hood: stealing, lying, and cheating money away from the nation's wealth only to give it back through charitable donations. ACORN, one of the nation's largest housing organizations of low-and moderate-income families, apparently tried to do this in 2001, when it reportedly received 40% of its funds from the government and sent more than a million dollars to an affiliate, Citizens Consulting. Examples like these aren't considered philanthropy, they're fraud....or sheer stupidity. Someone should have told AIG, Freddie Mac, ACORN, and Martha Stewart that Robin Hood was indeed fictional. -- Ashley Nesby

By Coro Fellows

 |  November 17, 2009; 7:02 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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America Leader In Exports

The business plan of American companies to export American jobs overseas began in 2002 and over 2 millions jobs have now been exported.

No other country in the world comes close to our lead in this area of exporting.

With every job in America that involves sitting in an office and using a computer and a telephone as a candidate for export overseas, America will remain a leader for many years in this new area of exporting.

Nothing will stop this new American leadership and dominance in the global economy.

Posted by: bsallamack | November 18, 2009 6:48 PM
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Lanre, Parsa and Ashley - Your question "What happens when addressing social issues is no longer seen as profitable?" and your conclusions: "Leaving issues of social justice solely to the responsibility of the market is simply irresponsible" and "We can only hope support comes from the desire to help the greater good": sure sounds like you consider corporate philantropy to be a contridiction in terms.

Remember: The love of money is the root of all evil.

Posted by: shadowmagician | November 18, 2009 9:27 AM
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Wow! Corporate social responsibility? It appears that corporations have been harvesting the crops AND gleaning the fields for generations. Not only have companies help create the social injustice, but have profited immensely from it.
Corporate philanthropy is in large part a marketing ploy. It’s a way to generate more sales through image building. Terms like “green” and carbon footprint appear to be smoke screens and not sustentative.
Corporations that are serious about CSR, build partnerships with inner city schools, create internships, and adopt communities/neighborhoods.
Let’s not be fooled by buzzwords and advertisement.

Posted by: bearingthecross | November 17, 2009 7:09 PM
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Ashley - if philanthropy is "always relevant, regardless of where it comes from," what does it matter if the money corporations inject back into society comes from the "stealing, lying, and cheating" that you say it originates from?

How could corporations possibly use philanthropy to transform the public stigma of big business that's come up recently?

Posted by: neetaso | November 17, 2009 3:58 PM
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