Achieving Corporate Citizenship

Sep 5 2008

Not long after Warren Buffett’s impressive $30 billion gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other charities, a particularly hard-nosed CEO, in an uncharacteristically re‡ective moment, declared to me that he wanted his corporation to be “more socially responsible.” I must admit, it sounded soft to me. Not because it lacked substance, but because I knew he underestimated how difficult it would be to genuinely shift his business÷s priorities and values to a more principled approach.

To be honest, most interpretations of “corporate social responsibility” or “corporate citizenship” strike me as a bit fluffy, overemphasizing the “doing good” part of the “doing well and doing good” total formula. Few integrate the whole picture or see the interdependencies. In reality, our “brute capitalism,” as Stephen Young of the Caux Roundtable put it, masks Adam Smith’s principle of “self-interest considered upon the whole.”

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