Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"A Rallying Cry for CSR" - The CSR Journal

Here is my summary from our "Top Risks" event last month at Carnegie Council, published in The CSR Journal (Volume 5), which is edited by Michael Levine, co-chair of the ABA's CSR Committee. It is republished here with kind permission.

A Rallying Cry for CSR?

By Devin Stewart

One day after Google's bold decision last month to stop censoring its Chinese search engine and possibly quit its operations in China, Carnegie Council held its annual "Top Risks and Ethical Decisions" panel for 2010. Google's announcement and the earthquake that hit Haiti, two unexpected events with moral consequences, guided much of the panel's discussion.

The salience of the Google announcement was heightened by the foresight of Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer who had placed U.S.-China relations as the 2010's top risk in terms of likelihood of change. It also highlighted the ethical challenges of doing business in China and globally as well as the positive leadership role businesses can play. Bremmer told me before he presented his full list of risks that he predicted Google would indeed pull out of China given the company's wide range of appeal—from technologists to free marketers to human rights activists—and the Communist country's inability to credibly guarantee security from further cyber-attacks. Google, along with at least 20 other companies, had been hacked in December, and it is widely believed the attacks were in coordination with a Chinese government agency that was attempting to gather information on dissidents. If personal information were compromised, peoples’ lives would be at stake. Business ethics are a very practical matter.

Bremmer wondered whether Google's moral stand might serve as a rallying cry for other companies to follow suit in China. Since Google's announcement, the company has been lauded, and the U.S. government has had to reverse its direction by stepping up its rhetorical pressure on China. In U.S.-China relations, the news came against a backdrop of tensions over possible UN sanctions on Iran, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and a Chinese test of a missile interceptor. It also occurs amid the longer-term trends Bremmer sees, specifically the acceleration of divisions between the world's developing and developed countries; free market economies and state capitalist economies; and the U.S.-led and multipolar worlds. Bremmer sees U.S.-China relations as the biggest risk for the year because "U.S. and Chinese economic systems are fundamentally incompatible. Compromise is a possibility but let's not obscure the question." He also noted that it isn't clear how the world will square China's global responsibilities given its limitations and societal pressures.

The Google episode in China also underscores the gap between short-term profit-seeking and longer-term ethical concerns for companies and countries alike. Without an expansion of rights and freedoms in China, the government risks hindering economic development. Without free press, for example, China simply cannot stem corruption. Above all, Google's move has expanded the options and the debate on the Chinese market. Carnegie Council's approach toward exploring international issues has been precisely that: to expand the scope of options and to encourage people to ask ethical questions. In line with Andrew Carnegie's vision, the Council aims to create and disseminate knowledge and understanding in order to facilitate societal transformation toward world peace. The "Top Risks" event is part of an ongoing series that brings companies and civil society together to examine business ethics issues, such as human rights policies, the role of the media, trust in the financial system, green job creation, and the fight against corruption.

Michele Wucker, head of the World Policy Institute, posed one of these potentially transformational questions. Considering the ecological limits of the planet, how much consumption is enough? China has just become the largest automobile market in the world, but do we really believe that every person in China can own a car? If the United States moves away from naked consumerism, what will take its place? And, how do we avoid policy solutions that hurt the poor? Wucker also pointed to the extreme poverty in Haiti, which exacerbated the devastation from the recent earthquake, highlighting the fact that risk is often increased when more than one factor is in play. Wucker predicted that finding sustainable levels of consumption and a balance between short-term and long-term gains would be the most pressing moral questions facing businesses for the foreseeable future.

A major obstacle to finding this balance, however, relates to the very nature of individuals and institutions, something that strategy+business editor Art Kleiner has been following for years. He identified at least three "meta risks" for 2010. The first is that although the stakes are higher than ever, it is unclear whether governments possess the management capacity to deal with the riskiest challenges, such as climate change and terrorism. The second is what he called "the risk of transitional capability," meaning that not only are changes in the global business environment occurring more rapidly than ever, it is also uncertain whether organizations can adopt the best practices in time to keep up with the changes. Moreover, transition implies unintended consequences and thus more uncertainty. Finally, bringing it to the personal level, there is a plausible scenario in which the world addresses these problems, but it will require individuals to change their behavior. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to lead a "normal life," so what do you do? Kleiner asked. "To the extent that human survival requires individuals to change, will enough people be willing to do it? Maybe," he said.

"Integration" has already become the buzzword in business and policy circles this year. In applying this concept, Georg Kell, head of the UN Global Compact, explained that integration means companies must be best in class in their products and services but that isn't enough. Companies must also be able to deal with non-financial risk, such as environmental, social, and governance risks. Ethics is the floor or baseline for international business because "going global means going local," and globalization has therefore become a test case for the question, "Can we live with one another?"

Kell was optimistic about humanity's prospects because he believed the 2008 financial crisis brought ethics back into business decisions in at least three ways. First, it highlighted the need to move from short-term to long-term value creation. Second, it showed the importance of bringing non-financial issues into decision-making. Finally, he saw a general shared sense of ethics as underpinning these trends. His research has shown that there is a universal sense of fairness and justice around the world that can also be observed in religious traditions, philosophies, and law. Kell concluded by advocating for the "traditional values," such as cooperation, that made the free market work in the first place.

The panel seemed to agree that only human innovation can pave the path toward global salvation in the face of ecological, security, social, and economic risks. Thomas Stewart, Booz & Company’s chief knowledge officer, somewhat darkly concluded by encouraging people to find the courage to muddle through. He jokingly asked whether it is possible to avoid the future all together. Kleiner quipped, "There is always a way through by the skin of our teeth." The event also highlighted the large moral questions for the upcoming year, thus framing the fourth year of Carnegie Council's Workshops for Ethics in Business series programming, which is currently being expanded into a full-blown corporate membership program. If ethics matter to you and your organization, please contact us to get involved with this unique program.

Stewart is program director and senior fellow at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and can be reached at

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

#DontForgetHaiti, How Social Media Can Help the Restoration

I attended a great Social Media Week panel on the future of Haiti yesterday at the New York Times. While the majority of the discussion analyzed social media and citizen journalism in crisis zones, several Haiti-specific lessons also emerged. Here's video; below are my highlights from the panel.


Jason Cone, communications director for Médécins sans Frontières (aka MSF or Doctors without Borders), said that the Haiti earthquake had really been a "game-changer" for his organization. Subscribers to their social media platforms multiplied rapidly and he said that going forward social media would likely be the "most important place we interact with the public," outstripping their main website and the traditional press release model. Their Twitter feed pretty much speaks for itself.

MSF had staff already working in Haiti when the quake hit, so first priority was to make sure their people were alright. The staff mobilized for disaster relief but found that they were "rapidly blazing through emergency supplies," which was compounded by their relief planes not being allowed to land in Port-au-Prince. The control tower was down at the airport and the U.S. Air Force had taken over to direct traffic, but coordination was difficult and MSF planes were diverted to the Dominican Republic multiple times.

This prompted MSF to engage the U.S. Air Force on its Twitter page, with an assist from NBC journalist Ann Curry. Saying to herself, "Lives are at stake," Ann decided to reach out through personal channels to Adm. Mike Mullen to lobby on behalf of MSF and secure access for its relief supplies, including an inflatable hospital. She had seen MSF doctors working literally at gunpoint in other conflict zones and had admiration for the organization's effectiveness. Eventually her networking plus MSF's use of traditional contacts to coordinate flights paid off, but Cone said it was a "firestarter to have this conversation online."


Moderator Andrew Rasiej of Personal Democracy Forum asked Rob Mackey of the New York Times Lede blog how they filter social media to find relevant information when a major event floods the web with status updates. Mackey indicated that live blogging the 2008 Mumbai attack was nearly impossible, but that techniques have improved since then. The location feature can be useful, but it is still necessary to investigate and verify a person's details. For example, as we saw with the Iran election, Twitter users were encouraged to change their locations to Tehran in "I am Spartacus" solidarity with the protesters, to make it harder for authorities to track and persecute people.

One method is to find a nodal person on the ground such as a photographer and build a filter based on their contacts. Ann Curry did something similar with Luke Renner, a humanitarian worker based in Cap-Haïtien prior to the quake. He reached out to her via Twitter and gave her his phone number. She put him in touch with NBC Nightly News, they vetted him, and the next day she was interviewing him live as cohost of the Today Show.

Later that day her team was en route to Haiti and trying to figure out how to connect with Luke once there, as most of the communications channels were down or unreliable. Through a mix of Blackberries, Twitter, satellite phones, and Skype they eventually managed to coordinate a rendezvous at the airport. Ann's experience of watching Luke start to double as a humanitarian and a citizen journalist drove home the message that "Twitter is teaching people the power of information."

Rasiej asked whether citizen journalism and Haiti have changed our relationship with traditional media. Mackey responded that the change began during the Iran election when hundreds of YouTube videos were uploaded daily. He said that when you're relying on anonymous sources from the web you have to have a transparent discussion with your audience about that fact. Rasiej noted that in some cases the veracity of video clips has even been crowd-sourced, with viewers pointing out continuity mistakes in the shadows of different scenes.

Curry described an emerging ethos where people with useful info express a "real wish to serve" and a desire to "be part of a force for good" by passing that info to the right people or simply retweeting it to their networks. But the buck stops with the reputation of the journalist when it comes to responsibility for vetting the info. If you let yourself be misled you will end up misleading. She mentioned that a lot of biased info came out of Iran, specifically regarding torture, and it was "never backed up."

Cone noted that it is easier to preserve neutrality in a humanitarian situation like Haiti than in a political crisis like Iran. In the case of MSF, their effectiveness depends on depoliticization. He said that in Haiti they turned to traditional radio interviews to debunk rumors that going to a hospital meant certain amputation.


After seeing the horrible human devastation of the earthquake, Curry feels that a lot of humanitarian workers and Haitian citizens alike will need post-traumatic stress counseling. Cone agreed, noting that they have already started to rotate out some of their original response staff, debriefing them in the Dominican Republic. Curry says that seeing bodies everywhere and looking into the eyes of people you know are going to die provokes a lot of survivor's guilt. Psychological restoration in Haiti will be an important component of long-term stability.

On that note, Andrew Rasiej asked whether social media could be used to keep attention focused on Haiti. Cone said MSF will continue its social media efforts despite reconstruction stories being less dramatic than the original event. Ann Curry noted the media's tendency to lapse into disaster fatigue, citing the bloody and drawn-out conflict in Congo, which Nick Kristof revisited again in a recent column. She said network coverage of Haiti started to fade while the topic was still trending high on Twitter. This prompted her to go to her boss and ask if they should cover it more. [Used in this way, there can be self-reinforcing feedback with trend metrics, as people tend to tweet what they're exposed to—a new media Ouroboros.]

Curry also predicted that social media would continue to nourish niche knowledge, speculating that disasters will leave in their wake a "tough core group that continues to be informed," which pretty much sums up the HaitiRewired mission. Rasiej cited stats about mobile phone penetration worldwide, saying we might see global consciousness before we know it, even in places like Congo.


Several elements emerge from this picture as key focal points for the HaitiRewired community: Fund-raising, Distributed energy, Mobile phones, and Psychological restoration.

It's clear that the success of text-message donations in this crisis means that we'll see a proliferation of organizations using such services the next time disaster strikes somewhere. In this vein, it may also be relevant to explore microfinancing and peer-to-peer donations as a source of sustainable development income.

Communication on the ground is crucial in emergencies, making mobile phone service a priority in Haiti. Of course, the phones and other relief services need power that can't be knocked out easily, which is why a distributed network of energy sources is necessary for resilience.

Finally, the psychosocial restoration of Haiti must be taken into account when exploring design options for urban infrastructure. Of course, the greatest stress relief for the Haitian people would be an end to their crushing poverty.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Georgia Popplewell (CC).]