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LOOK FOR THE MARK ON THE SELVEDGE - CSR and Sustainability Consultancy

Posted: Friday 2 March 12, 1.17pm GMT

10 years ago, little or almost nothing was spoken regarding CSR in Argentina. And, even if we had, by then, made progress with respect to the concept and practise of Private Social Investment, we were far from what is now the most updated understanding of CSR: a management style that considers and manages all business impacts on the social, environmental, cultural and economic spheres.

In the same way, as little was spoken, little was known, and even less was done. It was necessary to entirely devote IARSE activities to the learning of the conceptual development, and at the same time, to the development of publications and CSR management tools. This is how the first CSR indicators in Spanish were born, adapted to the laws and culture of Argentina. Argentine businessmen had already travelled twice to participate in conferences organised by the Ethos Institute in San Pablo, when the Ethos-IARSE Indicators saw the light in their first edition, in 2003.

In almost 10 years, more than 300 editions of the first e-newsletter in Argentina were created and distributed. Today, more than 65,000 Spanish speaking people interested in CSR get our e-newsletter fortnightly.

In order to set a IARSE CSR agenda in Argentina 10 years ago, a real “supply subsidy” was necessary, which meant managing and receiving the invaluable support of Kellogg and Avina Foundations. Today, we have more than 120 member companies “supporting the cause” of promoting CSR. Many things have happened in between, though. Among these, we can mention: more than 15 meetings for managers and leaders of CSR and Sustainability departments, several Inclusive Business specific publications, several editions of CSR indicators for SMEs, and two Editions of Ethos-IARSE- PLARSE Indicators, that are used in a comparable way in eight countries of the region. There have also been more than 7 series of CSR Intensive Training Programmes, thanks to which, many of the people who “graduated” are now working with competence in important positions in prominent companies that are more and more professionally heading towards CSR and Sustainable Management. Two International Conferences have already been organised and numerous talks, conferences and workshops have been given throughout the country. These have allowed the concept and practise of CSR to become more widespread, and to be firmly installed in the public and private agendas of Argentina. An important number of CSR teachers have been trained, and they are now training new generations in the field, completing in this way a part of the necessary virtuous circle that learning a new subject demands. CSR concept was introduced into the context and syllabus of many universities in the country and the region.

Well, a lot has changed in the last 10 years, and we expect that in terms of the concept and practise of CSR and Sustainability, it has been in favour of the society and the environment to become fairer, more dignified and more sustainable. This change required a lot of effort, as CSR did not always have the support, adherence and interest of people that is has now. The effort was worth it, and this is why we trust this process will continue to increase.

Along with the development and growth of CSR, and as result, we expected new supplies of training, technical assistance, communication and CSR and Sustainability consultancy to arise. A great deal of the abundant and increasing supply that is available in Argentina today is a result of the development, training and commitment of experts, businessmen, teachers and professionals. Without the essential commitment to “learn to know” (irreplaceable investment in all personal and social development process) such part of the fine supply that is available would not be real. But it is also noticeable, though, that during the last couple of years, a lot of organisations, consultants and even freelance professionals are now “working” on CSR and Sustainability, when not very long ago they were real specialists in other areas related to business or NGO administration. These areas may be somehow related to CSR and Sustainability, but that are not necessarily similar. Organisations with global operations, that less than ten years ago were not even talking CSR or participating in this great effort in the country, are now offering a range of services that include “strategic thinking” in CSR and Sustainability. It seems unbelievable, yes: un-believable, that someone who did not see, did not evaluate, and therefore, did not participate or get involved, and even less invested on a subject that was, is and will be key for the future of business, is today capable of advising others on how to do things right. Thus, we believe it is possible to confirm a sort of “accelerated reorganisation” towards CSR and Sustainability has taken place. Such phenomenon in itself is neither good or bad. In many cases it means that the subject has acquired visibility, and that thanks to this public recognition, it is becoming common place, due to what we can refer to as the social appropriation of cultural changes. If the world has changed, we must change. This seems to be the reasoning behind these cases. For others, it may only be a new exercise of reflexes to take advantage of a demand that allows an increase in revenues without asking who that is for, how that is understood and addressed; always ready to go for any new available opportunity out there. If status quo is what they want, we are the specialist, and that is what we sell; and if change is what they want, we are the specialists and we sell change. This seems to be what defines those who are at the other side of the spectrum.

The assessment that has to be done now, is always related to the traditional dimensions of comparison: personal and collective development, contribution to the sector or to the subject, conceptual development capacity, leadership commitment in the subject, generosity in the development and sharing of ideas and contents, and a constant pursuit of quality that results in an improvement of the whole.

This is the reason why we repeat that old slogan, in this case, when thinking in terms of CSR and Sustainability: “Look for the mark on the selvedge”. A lot of good people, their principles, their professional activities, their experience and their organisations, have now available a great deal of contents, material and proposals to offer and to help your company to integrally improve its performance in the multiple creation of results. Others, under a new name, have just put together an “ad-hoc” team of people who have never been involved in the subject. Shop around. If you do, you will not make mistakes.

Lic. Luis Ulla – Executive Director of the Argentine Institute of Corporate Social Responsibility – IARSE

Translator’s note: the title of this article in Spanish is “Busque la marca en el orillo”, translated as “Look for the mark on the selvedge”, and it makes reference to an old slogan used in an advertisement selling textile products. The mark on the selvedge would show the good quality of the fabric. Such mark is not evidently at first sight, but rather something that should be looked for, and that defines the quality of the product. Nowadays, and in this same sense, the slogan is frequently used in everyday language.

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