In this month’s SVP member interview series we feature Leeora Black, Managing Director of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR), on her unique individual experiences with shared value.
Leeora discusses what shared value means for ACCSR as a specialised consulting and training company, leadership internally within the organisation, and how shared value relates to CSR and social impact functions more broadly.
What does shared value mean to you?
Shared value is a pathway to address social problems at scale using business ingenuity. It is another answer to the decades-old question: what should be the relationship between business and society? We have seen many answers to that question, including versions of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. Shared value is in the tradition of the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ concept that seeks economic empowerment of the poorest.
The shared value framework is especially exciting because it draws on business language and thinking to address social problems at scale. To me, shared value is another tool for helping organisations to adapt to changing societal needs and expectations. Business exists for society and in society, businesses that don’t recognise that don’t last.
What lead you individually to the shared value idea? How did you come across it?
When I first read the article in HBR outlining the idea of shared value I thought it was a very good article about corporate social responsibility. One of the debates in CSR has been about the ‘separation thesis’ – the idea that profits and principles can’t go together, that business and morality are separate. Of course, I disagree strongly with the separation thesis. I saw Porter and Kramer’s article as finally putting down the separation thesis, and I was pleased, as they are such influential thinkers.
As someone who has intensively studied the history of CSR, I followed the criticisms of the shared value concept very closely; that it is not original, that it creates islands of win-win, that it ignores some of the complexities of business. All this may be true, but it does not diminish the power of the shared value concept to galvanise business attention to social problems, and provide a practical pathway for developing solutions.
How is shared value playing a role within ACCSR and where are you at on the journey?
As a specialised consulting and training company, we are excited about the opportunities for our clients even more than for ourselves. We can see how a shared value approach can be part of a corporate responsibility or sustainability approach, and help to redefine a business around social goals. We are very excited to offer training programs and advisory services in shared value.
We have long been focused on the role of innovation in CSR, as both an outcome and a driver. We studied the role of innovation in CSR in our 2012 Annual Review of the State of CSR in Australia and revisited that question in our 2015 Annual Review. The shared value concept adds in the question of scale.
We believe that new approaches are required to address social problems at scale. Approaches like social impact investing have much to contribute here. Social impact investing, and its corollary, social impact assessment, are emerging fields in Australia. We see shared value, social impact investing and social impact assessment as three inter-dependent approaches, and as important arenas for ACCSR in our work with clients.
What is your role individually within ACCSR to support the organisation along its shared value journey?
The opportunity to make a positive difference to the impact of business on society is at the heart of my passion for our work at ACCSR. I aspire to the qualities of ‘servant leadership’ in my work with clients and my team. This means providing training opportunities for my team and helping them to realise their own career aspirations through their work at ACCSR. The team is very engaged with the concept of shared value and is applying shared value thinking to our client work.
How has practicing shared value helped you individually in your role or career more generally?
I enjoy participating in the development of new ideas, challenging them, and seeking novel ways to apply them in my work. The practice of a shared value approach is completely consistent with my personal values and management approach. I enjoy it.
What do you think are some pertinent issues in Australia that could be solved through creating shared value?
There are many opportunities. Employment, housing, poverty, indigenous issues, disability services, emergency service and natural disaster response, energy efficiency, health, social and economic inclusion, and education are just a few of the areas that can benefit from a shared value approach.