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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Age of Responsibility

The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the NEW DNA of Business

By Wayne Visser

Published by John Wiley and Sons.

ISBN: 978-0-470-68857-1

This review was first published on on 15th June 2011


In this landmark book, Wayne Visser shows how the old model of Corporate Sustainability &; Responsibility (CSR) is being replaced by a 2nd generation movement. This generation goes beyond the outmoded approach of CSR as philanthropy or public relations (widely criticised as 'greenwashing') to a more interactive, stakeholder-driven model.


The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business is possibly Wayne Visser's greatest work yet. It is deeply reflective of the state of the world, society, business and people who change our lives. It is as much an intimately personal account of Wayne's evolving relationship with Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility as it is a guide to the way these concepts have emerged to drive practices - which have in some ways made a positive difference in the world, but failed spectacularly in other ways to harness the power of capitalism into a force for positive impact.

In many ways Wayne's view of the state of CSR today is rather depressing. Wayne writes: "At worst, CSR in its most primitive form may be a smokescreen covering up systematically irresponsible behaviour. At best, even the most evolved CSR practices might be just a band-aid applied to a gaping wound that is haemorrhaging the lifeblood of the economy, society and the planet." At another level, it is quite uplifting: "We are on the brink of the post-industrial revolution and we need to decide whether we will be accomplices in slowing that transition, or catalysts in speeding us towards a better future." The core message, however, is that CSR as we know it has failed to create a demonstrable improvement in the quality of social, economic and ecological life. For CSR to succeed, it needs to transform itself into something new, CSR 2.0.

Wayne Visser's 9th book on CSR, The Age of Responsibility, is cleverly structured walking us through the "Ages and Stages" of the CSR movement. There are five ages according to the author:

1.The Age of Greed: characterized by "bigger is better" and shareholder rule in which unfettered growth is fueled by the concept that "greed is good" and that corporations who make more money (for shareholders) actually benefit society.
2.The Age of Philanthropy: characterized by the concept that business should give back to society, personified by John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and categorized by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green as "philanthrocapitalism."
3.The Age of Marketing: characterized by the concept that reputation and brand matter most, leading to CSR for PR gains, with a good measure of greenwashing thrown in.
4.The Age of Management: characterized by the alignment of CSR with business strategy and adoption of voluntary codes and industry standards. Embedding CSR is the name of the game.
5.The Age of Responsibility: characterized by what Wayne Visser calls "CSR 2.0, or Systemic CSR, based on a new set of principles." The Age of Responsibility has been heralded by iconic leaders such as Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, Ray Anderson of Interface and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. CSR 2.0 also makes use of the new social media era as business begins to "redefine its role in society."

CSR 2.0 is based on five principles - creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity. Each principle is explained in turn and a host of examples are provided to ensure we understand it can be done. Vodafone's M-PESA service for mobile-phone banking in Africa is an example of creativity. Tata's Nano car and Wal-Mart's conversion to organic cotton are scalable initiatives; while GSK, the pharma giant, showed responsiveness by creating a patent pool for developing drugs for neglected diseases. Glocality is about ensuring the right local solutions, such as the experience of SC Johnson in Kenya who reformulated cleaning products to adapt to local consumer conditions. Circularity takes us in the direction of cradle-to-cradle and examples can be seen from Patagonia, Nike and Timberland, as well as Tesco's promise to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Getting to CSR 2.0 requires inspired, committed and capable people who understand their role in leading change to make the new promise of CSR 2.0 a reality. The final part of The Age of Responsibility is a lesson on change and includes a Change Matrix which plots the many change agents who have emerged to date to advance CSR and several change models that can assist our thinking as we aspire to make it happen.

Wayne Visser distils four types of CSR change agents within the community of CSR professionals: the Expert (whose motivators are projects, systems and technical excellence); the Facilitator (who shares knowledge and creates opportunities); the Catalyst (who initiates change and gives strategic direction) and the Activist (whose motivation is related to broader social and environmental issues in the world). The point is that motivation for change in business organizations comes in different forms and driving change successfully requires recognition of individual motivators and organizational context. At the heart of it all are individuals and their actions.

What is rather unique and appealing about this book is that it is not simply an erudite chronicle of the evolution of CSR together with a nicely packaged solution to all CSR's inadequacies. The appeal is the sense you are actually working through the dilemmas and challenges at each step of the way with the author, who ultimately asks whether working in Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility is a good answer to his life's question: Is advancing CSR truly a worthy enough cause for us to devote our energies to? Or is it a hollow shell that provides capitalism with a softer face but doesn't make any substantive difference to the way businesses work?

From Wayne's early beginnings as a strategy analyst with Cap Gemini, through leadership with KPMG's Sustainability Services in South Africa and then back to academia to pursue a Ph.D., Visser has grappled with the manifestations of the ages and stages of CSR in a way that reflects his deep sense of personal responsibility to make a difference. This journey has led him to develop a vision of a new CSR, which is more holistic and "judged by its success in improvements in the overall socio-cultural, economic and ecological system." In the forward to the book, the Age of Responsibility protagonist Jeffrey Hollender writes: "The hour may be late and the clock loudly ticking, but the story of responsible business is not over yet. There's still room for a happy ending. And the time has come to write it for ourselves."

We should all read this book. We are all potential change agents. We are all part of the problem and part of the solution. We are all living in World 2.0, where CSR 2.0 can become a reality. We are all likely catalysts in the Age of Responsibility.

PS Thanks to Wayne for a mention of ME on page 259 :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Whistleblower

By Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn

Published by Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN: 978-0-230-10802-8


When Nebraska police officer and divorced mother of three Kathryn Bolkovac saw a recruiting announcement for private military contractor DynCorp International, she applied and was hired. Good money, world travel, and the chance to help rebuild a war-torn country sounded like the perfect job. She was soon shipped to Bosnia, where DynCorp had been contracted to support the UN peacekeeping mission. She was assigned as a human rights investigator, heading the gender affairs unit. The lack of proper training provided to her sounded an alarm bell, but once she arrived in Sarajevo, she found out that things were a lot worse than she imagined. At great risk to herself, Kathy began to unravel the ugly truth about officers involved in human trafficking and forced prostitution, and their connections to private mercenary contractors, the UN, and the U.S. State Department. Soon, she was demoted, then fired. Feeling threatened with bodily harm, she fled the country, bringing the incriminating documents with her. Thanks to the evidence she had collected, Kathy won a lawsuit against DynCorp, finally exposing what they had done. Here, Kathy warns of the inherent danger when we contract out our wars and that it is our responsibility to protect the weak and disenfranchised in times of peace. Both gripping and inspiring, this amazing true story of courage and honour in the face of insurmountable odds shows that just one voice can make a difference.


Now an award-winning movie taglined "a drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal," The Whistleblower is much more than that. It's an exposure of the worst kind of corruption, human rights abuse, vile self-interest, lies, fabrications and corporate cover-ups present at the intersection of the United Nations, the U.S. Government and military contractors who exploit tax-payers' money by complying with human rights crimes in the name of peace. It is also the compelling story of a woman who refused to remain silent about these abuses in the face of significant personal danger. It's a lesson for everyone involved in allocation of national budgets and procurement about the controls necessary to administer contractors and the way they fulfill their responsibilities. It's also a drama, a love-story, an action-packed thriller and a fascinating read. For anyone involved in corporate responsibility, it's a case study about ethics, human rights and the need to protect those who speak out about corrupt practices in business. Finally, it's a wake-up call to shake all those in positions of authority out of complacency and complicity and urge them to clean up the system.

Kathy Bolkovac's story begins when she applies for a role in the International Police Task Force (ITPF) in Bosnia in 1998. The organization providing these "rent-a-cop" services is DynCorp International, "a global government services provider in support of U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives, delivering support solutions for defense, diplomacy, and international development." In this case, the contract was in the framework of the UN mandated IPTF in Bosnia and Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia) following the Serbian attack on Sarajevo and the ensuing war for which Slobodan Milosevic was later charged with genocide. The ITPF is composed of UN member countries' national police force representatives. The U.S., not having a national police force, would play its role through providing the services of private contractors. Enter Dyncorp and their recruitment drive, which propelled Kathy Bolkovac to a role as a Human Rights Investigator.

It doesn't take the smart, conscientious and rather outspoken Kathy Bolkovac long to realized that all is not kosher in Sarajevo. She quickly starts to fight for the protection of female victims of domestic violence, winning a breakthrough court ruling which would serve as a base to advance programs addressing violence against women in the region, while unraveling the grim details of the involvement of DynCorp personnel in the trafficking of young girls across East European borders, detention of women for prostitution, visits to brothels and holding women captive for all of the above. After facing many setbacks (disappearing files, delaying tactics, intimidation, etc.) in trying to bring these issues to light, in 2000, Kathy sent a desperate email to 50 personnel involved in the Bosnia mission, entitled "don't read this if you have a weak stomach or a guilty conscience." The email detailed the difference between prostitutes and trafficking victims and the stages of how women end up as prostitutes and sexual slaves, imploring all involved in the mission to ensure they serve and protect people rather than playing a role in facilitating and engaging in human abuses and crime. Her boss immediately informed her that her email was "not a good idea" and Kathy was subsequently dismissed, ostensibly for falsification of work records, a claim which was entirely fabricated.

Bravely battling against all the corporate muscle DynCorp could muster, Kathy had her day in court (taking home a settlement of a mere $175,000) winning her case for unfair dismissal while exposing the illegal, unethical and irresponsible practices of DynCorp International and their poorly trained, inadequately managed and ineffectively deployed personnel. Kathy ends her account of her own story by making some recommendations on policies for police officers recruited for international missions. Kathy writes: "I have spent many sleepless nights… wondering why these blatantly illegal behaviors were simply allowed to be swept under the rug. And yet reports of immoral and illegal behavior among DynCorp's civilian peacekeepers …continue to make front page news with alarming regularity." You can get a sense of this from Corpwatch's Dyncorp page.

Beyond the personal story of heroine Kathy Bolkovac and the horrors of how she was treated for simply doing her job, as well as anger about the plight of defenseless women caught up in immoral exploitation, this book is an eye-opener about the inner workings of a highly profitable industry which should be head and shoulders above the rest in terms of protecting human rights, revealing it to be a hotbed of the worst kind of intrigue, politics and abuse. Questions about the responsibility of the U.S. government in monitoring the activities of its contracted service providers as well as the integrity of this multi-billion dollar corporation remain in your mind. Despite DynCorp's Code of Ethics, complete with Q and A's, The Whistleblower leaves you with a sense of despair that so much is yet to be done while few people are prepared to speak out and be accountable. The Whistleblower is a sobering, important read with all the romance, tension and intrigue of a bestseller title in the crime fiction category. Regrettably, this one is actually true. Oh, and I can't wait to see the movie.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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