Social Responsibility is doomed if smaller companies aren’t on board

If smaller businesses around the world don’t get actively get involved in “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) then we are moving backwards in addressing society’s greatest problems.

The notion persists that CSR is primarily for companies that can afford it. Not true. While larger companies can do well and be seen to be doing well, smaller companies have an opportunity to make a huge impact.

Industry Canada defines small-medium sized enterprises as a business with fewer than 500 employees. As a result, 99% of all companies are small businesses—and their involvement in socially responsibility initiatives is critical to their respective communities. I will use the term “smaller” businesses.

CSR needs to be embedded in the actions of the firm, regardless of its size, as part of a deliberate company strategy. In fact, small businesses have many advantages when it comes to the practice of social responsibility—they can respond quickly to opportunities and not be buried in bureaucracy.

One example of a local business engaged in social responsibility is Domain7 Solutions, which provides of web-based solutions for companies in BC and internationally. Domain7 is contributing to several interesting initiatives. First, there is “One Laptop for Every Child.” In efforts to empower developing countries with the tools of technology, Domain7 was excited to begin supporting “One Laptop Per Child” in November 2007. The mission of the organization is to provide one connected laptop to every school-aged child in the developing world, in order to help make education a priority and not just a privilege.

The bright green “XO laptops” were designed with the real world in mind, considering everything from extreme environmental conditions such as high heat and humidity, to technological issues such as local-language support. As a result, the XO laptop is extremely durable, brilliantly functional, energy-efficient, responsive, and fun. There’s one here at the Domain7 office. It is incredible that a donation of $200 will pay for and deliver one XO laptop to a child in a developing nation.

In another initiative, Domain7 was excited to partner with Run for Water for their 1st annual half marathon, held in Abbotsford, BC. Domain7 donated $10,000 worth of web work to help Run for Water get their start on the web. The event was a huge success, with over 600 participants and $15,000 raised to build a well to provide clean water in the Ethiopian village of Amedo.

Shawn Neumann, Founder of Domain7, explains that, “As a team at Domain7, we all have a strong desire to give back in a way that could be both meaningful and have a direct impact. We recognize the gap between rich and poor continues to grow and is imperative to address; this is no where more evident than in Africa. Both the One Laptop per Child, and the Run for Water seek to work towards helping narrow that gap – one at the most basic level of water, and the other at the rapidly diverging level of technology.”

The individuals behind these non-profits appreciate the support of the business community. Stan Wiebe, Co-Director, Run for Water Society, commented that, “As a non-profit society, we have greatly appreciated Domain7’s level of commitment and enthusiasm. Our organization is trying to make a difference in the lives of some of the world’s poor, and Domain7 has shared that vision with us while helping us accomplish our goals. We couldn’t do it without them!”

Getting involved in CSR has the spin-off benefit of having a positive impact on employees. Neumann explains that, “We don’t want to get involved with causes “just because we must” or even because it helps rally the team, however if the endeavours are meaningful and worthwhile, it does unite us around that cause. As a team, we feel honoured to be able to give back as a group. It sets a good tone.”

Getting involved in positive initiatives is also a way of contributing to the community in which a company operates. Neumann explains that, “There is a responsibility that comes with having the “ability” to help. Publicity around items we’re involved in is fine – there is value in telling people what we’re passionate about – but ultimately it’s not an option to do nothing if we can have an impact.”

The bottom line is that small business throughout Canada can contribute greatly to social causes. While often lower profile than larger firms, the cumulative impact of the involvement of smaller businesses, like Domain 7, has a huge impact across the nation.