CSR for SMEs – A Report from Berlin
Six years ago we didn’t think we’d see 100 CSR for SME experts in one room any time soon. It was worth the wait.
Coethica narrowly missed out on hosting the EU Commission’s European ‘Better CSR Advice for SMEs’ networking event, possibly in part because we wanted to tie it into the incredibly successful Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2012 – which was only 12 or so weeks after the announcement of the successful bidder. Our MD, David Connor has something of a reputation for thriving under last minute pressure of which I’m certain the EU wouldn’t have been in a position to appreciate from our application!
The ‘Better CSR Advice for SMEs’ event held in Berlin last week was to follow a Bar Camp / Open Space Technology type format to provide the attendees with a greater say in the content discussed and delivered (which was refreshingly stipulated in the original EU tender document). The invitees were intended to be advisers to SMEs, not the smaller business themselves, although many advisers in fact worked for SMEs. David also jumped at the invitation to co-host a workshop on ‘CSR / sustainability Communications’. The guests travelled from across Europe with the majority of participants from Northern and Western countries but strong representation from Eastern Europe too.
“We need to improve the reward for responsible business.”
Iris Kroning, EU Commission
Over 24 hours the aim was to network, share best practice and to source new materials for guidance documents to be created. The networking was pretty much informal with a short and weak attempt at speed-networking with a gong heard in the background every couple of minutes but largely ignored by a cautious and shy crowd. The best networking as ever was over meals and refreshments and an impromptu whistle-stop guided tour of Berlin via the Brandenburg Gate, The Riechstag and Checkpoint Charlie.
The main workshop element of the event was determined by attendee submissions and votes cast following a short sales pitch by each group of hosts. Those selected to be discussed included:
CSR / Sustainability communications; supply chain management; sustainable business models and competitive advantage; CSR Reporting & GRI; human rights; ISO 26000; innovations in Financing CSR Advice; Responsible Business Standard for small business; building and using networks, and national CSR comparisons.
As facilitators of the communications workshop David and his co-host Amanda Ortega (www.lavola.com from Spain) encouraged lively debate only scraping the surface of the communications questions suggested but did manage to hit key areas and mine specific good practice to share.
The feedback from a couple of the other workshops gave the impression those hosting may not have understood they were in fact facilitating peer sharing not providing introductions to less experienced audiences. The event organisers provided an excellent environment for each workshop and notes from each were taken fastidiously and will hopefully be made available to share soon!
Key emerging themes included:
- Avoid the term CSR and all other jargon - It may be useful shorthand term for practitioners but it confuses the SME audience – they’re not corporates so they don’t think is applies to them!
- Show them the money! – The sales pitch to gain trust needs to include a strong business case AND an a relevant moral case too.
- Right message to the right audience – Each stakeholder group requires a different communication methodology i.e. terminology, format, data and amount of sexiness!
- SMEs are a very varied group – From pre-start ups, through micros, minis, family owned and social enterprises, to pseudo corporates and richly geographically and culturally diverse.
- Formal CSR reporting is not the only communications channel – Reporting is important but it has to be appropriate to each business. Actions are more important than words.
- Innovation is vital but not in isolation – SMEs can be a hotbed of creativity but many need to understand and master the basics too.
- Decision makers need to lead – Owner / managers need to see the opportunities and drive the ethos but engaged grassroots employees are vital to embedded approach.
- Businesses trust other businesses / peers – Consultants and agencies have an essential supporting role to play but we should facilitate not preach or dictate.
- There is no shortage of enthusiasm to further develop the CSR for SME support infrastructure - Everybody would have preferred longer to share stories and best practice! This is only a stepping-stone!
We will share any more feedback we receive and also the guidance materials as soon as they are made available.