2019 CSR Reflections To Make You Optimistic For The Future

As we close out 2019 and head into a new decade, it’s time to reflect on what happened this year in the field of corporate social responsibility.


We invited nine experts to look back at the events impacting corporate social responsibility and share their reflections for 2019 and what we might see in the year ahead. Here’s what they found notable and game-changing.

2019 was a year for awakening.

    “Corporate leaders are stepping forward, in ways that we haven’t seen before in my lifetime. In 2019, we’ve seen CEOs of Fortune 500 companies advocate for policies to address climate change, gun control, marriage equality, living wages, and an expanded purpose for the corporation. In doing so, they reinforce company values and use their influence and business capabilities to create value for greater numbers. This is a critical step toward rethinking how we create opportunity for all people. This trend makes me optimistic about our future.”

    — Katherine Smith, Executive Director, Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship

    “It feels like 2019 was a year for awakening. By and large, we see corporate and governmental leaders of the world turning wrongs into rights with more urgency. This year was the metaphorical ember that will ignite the fire in the 2020s, by which we will move forward to a just and sustainable society.”

    — Marissa Rosen, Founder, Climate Social

2019 made it clear there’s an urgent need to take action.

    “With only a decade left to achieve the ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goal agenda, it’s clear that the organizations accelerating progress are those that have moved beyond stated commitments to pilot, prove, and proliferate solutions to critical global challenges like climate change and inequality. In the private sector, leading companies are making difficult management decisions in the present to evolve business models that will unlock long-term value for people and planet—and the bottom line (think: Iceland’s #TooCoolForPlastic initiative). In the social sector, pioneering organizations are collaborative approaches and innovative financing to scale what works (think: The Nature Conservancy’s NatureVest investing unit).

    — Kate Olsen, Purpose Champion and Communications Strategist

    “In 2019, we saw purpose shift from passive to active. Driven by the urgency of our climate crisis, the increasingly vocal and concerned Gen Z, and political turmoil globally, brands are rising to the challenge, stepping up to leverage their considerable resources to innovate for a healthier and more just world. We will continue to see the companies that operate both ‘for profit’ and ‘for good’ strengthen their market positions.”

    — Annie Longsworth, Executive Managing Director of Social Impact and Sustainability, RF|Binder

2019 invited a rethinking of the current economic system.

    “For me, 2019 was the year the world began meaningfully rethinking the current economic system. With increased urgency around climate change and social justice has come a mainstreaming of the idea that capitalism is in desperate need of a reset. We’ve seen this idea spread, from bestselling books to business lobbying group purpose statements to US presidential candidate stump speeches. We’re seeing this idea seep into the way companies view CSR, particularly around topics like responsible taxation, corporate lobbying, and business models that prioritize growth over humanity. As companies come out with big 2025 strategies, I’ll be waiting to see which are bold enough to take meaningful action.”

    — Jessica Marati Radparvar, Founder, Reconsidered

    “2019 has been the year of stakeholder trust. Mainstream business leaders are finally shaping and embracing new forms of capitalism that are rooted in public, employee, and customer trust. Value is being considered differently, and there is a new understanding that companies must benefit society, not just shareholders.”

    — Alison Taylor, Executive Director, Ethical Systems, and Senior Advisor, BSR

    “In 2019, more than 8,500 Amazon employees made headlines by boldly signing an open letter urging their company’s leaders to take action on the climate crisis. They represent a new class of workers, employee activists, who hop over the long-held line separating the private sector from responsibility for society’s most pressing issues. These caring rebels consider pride in their employer’s good deeds a coveted workplace perk and work that matters as important to well-being as exercise. Employee activists barely existed a few years ago and are still a minority of workers, but in 2019 they left an imprint on capitalism.”

    — Bea Boccalandro, President, VeraWorks

2019 was a tipping point, especially for the climate crisis.

    “I believe we’ll look back in time at 2019 as the year everything changed, a fulcrum year of tipping points: the Business Roundtable adopting social purpose and stakeholder benefit above shareholders; impact investing passing $500 billion globally and more importantly—proactively exerting influence to change corporate behavior; and Greta Thunberg: Greta, Greta, Greta!—inspiring individuals and businesses everywhere to take up the fight against climate change.”

    — Russ Stoddard, President and Founder, Oliver Russell

    “The use of the term ESG—for environmental, social, and governance—continued to gain traction in 2019. Environmentally, businesses thumbed their noses at the Trump White House pullout from the Paris climate agreement by adopting science-based targets for greenhouse gas reductions. Brands pledged to cut single-use plastic, while fires in the Amazon prompted Apple to pledge financial assistance and VF Corporation to ban leather from Brazil. Socially, topics as diverse as the treatment of child refugees and support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong tested the mettle of big brands. Nearly 300 companies signed their support for an act to guarantee workplace fairness for LGBTQ employees. Governance initiatives remained mostly voluntary in the US, despite a growth in compulsory regulations abroad.”

    — Dave Armon, CEO, 3BL Media

Learn more about GlobalGiving’s corporate social responsibility services as you prepare for the next decade of action.

Featured Photo: HeroTREEs carbon offsetting in Tanzania by APOPO

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