Conscious Commerce: Business and Social Innovation Trends for 2011

Despite a difficult economic environment and companies cutting costs throughout their businesses, corporate responsibility (CR) remained a priority in 2010, and in fact, corporations are expanding their commitments - especially aligning business with social innovation in emerging markets around the world.

CR is continuing to add a new dimension to the business strategy providing market, product and community growth opportunities. CEOs and boardrooms are recognizing the benefits of being a responsible citizen including enhanced reputation, stakeholder engagement, business performance, as well as restoring trust.

However, there's a need for a more holistic approach toward mitigating pressing issues, such as, inclusive partnership development that further aligns and mobilizes action among businesses, governments and civil society - for deeper community impact.

Topline trends and considerations for 2011...

CR spending on the rise: According to a poll conducted by Business for Social Responsibility among 377 professionals among BSR member companies, nearly all (94 percent) of the respondents said that their companies plan to maintain or increase their budgets for CSR/sustainability programs 2011.Source: "BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Poll 2010"

Top social concerns: Top issues include disaster relief, agriculture and food security, workers rights, healthcare, nutrition and climate change. Women and youth are a key focus. A couple of interesting initiatives include:

  • 1000 Days: Change a Life, Change the Future supports international experts and advocates working to improve early nutrition. Each year, 3.5 million mothers and children under five die as a result of malnutrition. Several organizations have come together to ensure that children and families get a healthy start to life including InterAction, Bread of the World, Concern, Save the Children, World Vision and the Hunger Project. For more information -
  • International Year of the Youth: In an effort to harness the energy and initiative of our next generation in overcoming the challenges facing humankind, the United Nations proclaimed an International Year of Youth which started on 12 August 2010. Under the theme 'Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,' the Year aims to encourage understanding across generations and promote the ideals of peace and respect for human rights. For more information:

Emerging markets spotlight: There is increasing investor interest in Africa, one of the world's largest emerging markets with one billion consumers. Consumer spending rose at a compounded annual rate of 16% to 2008 from 2005, according to McKinsey & Co. The firm estimates that about 220 million Africans will join the middle class as consumers within five years. Business-driven partnerships are addressing Africa's development challenges in new and innovative ways.

Inclusive partnerships: Forge deeper partnerships with non-profit social and environmental actors - NGOs, (UN Agencies, development agencies and civil society organizations). Proper evaluation, alignment and collaboration within the NGO community is critical for business and social impact, and represents considerable benefits for both parties. These include building quality programs and capacity, access to new markets/talent, donor acquisition and product innovation. For a vetted list of NGOs that adhere to a set of ethics and compliance standards, check out -

Employee volunteering: Employee volunteer programs continue to be on the rise and represent significant benefits for corporations.  In addition to providing financial donations and in-kind support, employee volunteer programs enable companies to motivate employees and cultivate more personal associations to communities. For further information about opportunities in Haiti and The Gulf, please contact Sam at

Demonstration and accountability: Measurement is becoming increasingly important to corporate boards and shareholders who expect to be educated about the value of CSR in advancing ROI. Corporations need to share more information about their initiatives to key stakeholders and demonstrate impact. A growing roster of companies are participating in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Social Accountability International (SAI), and other networks with accountability and transparency standards.

Corporations have the opportunity to 'Turn it up a notch' by continuing to align business strategy for future development and growth - creating solutions that benefit communities and corporate bottom lines. In conclusion, it is critical to:

  • Ensure that social issues are embedded into the business strategy and throughout the supply chain
  • Understand the marketplace context, customs, culture and social issues
  • Properly identify and align with competent non-profits/NGOs that specialize in key sectors such as healthcare, education and nutrition
  • Develop grass-roots programs in their local communities
  • Further retain and attract talent via development of employee engagement and volunteering programs
  • Mobilize action among businesses, government and civil society
  • Report and demonstrate social progress

By Sam Taylor