The Two Faces of Social Responsibility

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

In his July post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asked about the relevance of social responsibility. Although I already posted my initial thoughts, I’ve been thinking more about this question:

 “Have those that know quality raised their voices to explain to organizations that being socially responsible is not about philanthropy (giving money for social good), but about [doing well by doing good]?”

Based on my experience working with the development of the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility a few years ago, and the various articles I’ve read and discussions I’ve had with people about this concept over time, I think the thrust of social responsibility boils down to the following two points:

  • Are we operating ethically and responsibly?
  • Are we making the world a better (or “less bad”) place?

Although many discussions and perceptions of social responsibility are anchored in the second question, most of the guidance in ISO 26000 focuses on the first question! Only two of the ISO 26000 core subjects (human rights & the environment) really align with the philanthropic “corporate treehugger” mentality (discussed by Tim Mohin recently in Fast Company), and all of the core principles reflect shared values that pertain as much to the quality of life within the organization as outside of it.

Also, WORLD can mean a multitude of different things, and any definition you adopt should be perfectly OK. The ISO 26000 core subject of “community development” means that we can do well by doing good in any community – whether our own, or ones in general. You don’t have to make everyone’s world a better place, just someone’s world.

The Mohin article also notes that one goal of social responsibility initiatives in an organization is to “bring a conscience to the corporate structure” – so even if an organization is doing no philanthropy, as long as they are engaged in continually improving the well-being of a community (even if that community is within the organization) – they are still contributing to social responsibility.

At the same time, it’s possible for the most philanthropic, non-profit organization that’s doing AWESOME things to make the world a better place — to not be socially responsible at all by not adhering to ethical and responsible business practices.

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