As part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) interview series, we recently asked Paula Baker a few questions about corporate responsibility at IBM. Paula is IBMs Vice President of Global
Community Initiatives, as well as Vice President of the IBM International Foundation
. Thanks again to Paula for taking the time to share her thoughts with us. This interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with CSR executives.
1. What has driven the increased C-level focus on CSR initiatives in today's business world?
Paula Baker: The primary drivers of C-level focus on CSR initiatives are changing customer attitudes and buying preferences involving environmental, societal and governance issues. For some client segments and industry categories, CSR issues are top 5 considerations. As CSR issues get magnified through the value chain, pressure on IBM to strengthen our CSR initiatives and assist partners with theirs increases.
The most important criterion for an integrated corporate citizenship strategy starts with support from the CEO and board, backed by a strong management system. IBM employs a corporate citizenship working group to manage every aspect of corporate citizenship. The group includes representatives from eight functional areas: governance and financial accountability, corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, environmental affairs and product safety, employee well-being, human resources, supply chain, governmental programs and university relations.
By embedding expertise from around IBM into one cross-functional team, the group can approach corporate citizenship with an eye to IBM's core business strategy, an understanding of key markets, business partner ecosystems and high growth opportunities, and local needs.
Secondary drivers include the battle for talent recruitment and retention, which increasingly evaluate an employer's CSR as part of their job selection decisions, and a dynamic regulatory environment that is showing signs of trying to legislate elements of CSR.
2. What are the top three challenges facing you as a CSR executive over the next 12-18 months and why?
Paula Baker: The most significant challenge involves the successful execution of global programs with key social and public sector partners. IBM's CSR portfolio targets the world's most challenging societal programs such as education, small business development, literacy, arts and culture, language and humanitarian research with state-of-the-art technology solutions which are very challenging to develop and implement.
Another significant challenge is maintaining consistent support across IBM for CSR. CSR is gaining in prominence and importance, but the breadth of IBM's business (350,000+ employees, over 170 countries and $90B annual revenue) means there are always areas where IBM's CSR performance is not adequately understood.
As CSR experiences dramatic growth and importance within IBM, another challenge is prioritization. IBM's CSR organization is global in reach and we have a cross-functional CSR management system, but the internal and external issues and topics where we are asked to participate are very extensive and, at times challenging, given the ongoing priorities of the business for all the units involved in CSR.
3. With the explosion in sustainability reports and "green" projects, how can customers distinguish between genuine CSR initiatives and those that are more words than action?
Paula Baker: It is very difficult for customers to distinguish between genuine CSR and those that are marketing or PR in disguise. CSR, as an evolving functional area in business, has not reached a level of maturity where there are consistent "apples to apples" measurement criteria for comparing CSR performance. Societal and environmental ROI are not calculated by most companies practicing CSR.
Customers should demand both qualitative and quantitative quantifiable performance data around CSR program investment, results, and impact.
4. What role, if any, do you see corporations playing in poverty alleviation in the developing world? Any specific examples at IBM?
Paula Baker: IBM sees significant CSR opportunity in developing world poverty alleviation. Given our core competency in information technology we have prioritized education, skill development and literacy as the key tools for lifting people out of poverty.
In 2007, IBM expanded a three year old stakeholder engagement program called the Global Innovation Outlook
to include Africa. The Africa program involved African entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, academics, government officials, disease management and prevention experts, NGOs/think tanks, CPG manufacturers, B2B suppliers, infrastructure companies and select donor organizations to identify strategies to enable African participation in the global economy. Outcomes and program commitments will be made at a December 4th "Africa: Open for Business" meeting in New York City.
Notable CSR programs include:
, an early childhood education learning program available in 59 countries and 9 languages, with nearly 40,000 computer systems deployed internationally.
, the first web-based voice recognition technology to help children and adults learn how to read.
The SME Toolkit
, a partnership with the World Bank's International Finance Corporate, which provides free tools and training for entrepreneurs and small businesses in 28 underserved and emerging markets. The Toolkit is translated into 14 languages.
5. What recent CSR initiative or project are you most proud of, and why? How have you measured its success?
Paula Baker: In July 2007, IBM announced the Global Citizen's Portfolio
, which is a collection of programs and policies to address the challenges of globalization and the opportunities for global integration.
The Portfolio currently consists of three programs focused on the relationship between IBM and the individual:
Matching Accounts for Learning: Will augment IBM's existing learning portfolio by providing employees with an opportunity to contribute up to $1,000 per year to an account earmarked for education. IBM will march 50% of the employee's contribution. This money will grow in an interest bearing account until the employee is ready to use it for professional education.
Corporate Service Corps: IBM will team with NGOs to place small groups of employees from different countries and business units together outside of the office structure, for a short term leadership development and community service experience. These employees will build relationships and work on some of the world's toughest problems, such as global economic opportunity, environmental challenges, and access to education resources.
Transitions: Will create bridges for IBM employees to opportunities in government, non-profits, educations institutions, and economic development organizations. Building on the success of IBM's Transition to Teaching program, this new program will create public / private and civil / private partnerships.
6. Has your CSR department's responsibility and accountability lessened, grown or stayed the same over the past few years? How has it changed, if at all?
Paula Baker: IBM's Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs organization's responsibility and accountability has grown with the growing importance of CSR globally. In addition to managing IBM's corporate community relations program globally, it also includes leadership of the cross functional corporate citizenship team that focuses on the handling of all external and internal CSR requests and analyses, coordinating IBM's corporate citizenship messages across the company, preparing the company's annual corporate responsibility report and interacting with SRI analysts. In April, 2007 our corporate citizenship organization expanded to include IBM's Corporate Affairs function, with responsibility for external relationships with key NGO's and opinion leaders.
In addition, requests to contribute to client bids, especially in public sector deals, have increased dramatically in all geographies. Requests for CSR performance information from external organizations continually increases, taking more time and resource; thus requiring a need to be selective. Internally, employees want to know about and participate in CSR programs. All of these contribute to increase the challenges, but also the reach and impact of corporate citizenship both internally and externally.
7. Any additional thoughts?
Paula Baker: Corporate citizenship is not separate or distinct from IBM's core business strategy. IBM has been a leader in corporate responsibility practices from being the first to develop and equal opportunity statement, to environmental policies dating to the 1970s, to extensive philanthropic efforts that put IBM's skills and technology to work in the community. Today, corporate citizenship represents a source of innovation, opportunity, and growth.