Do corporations really care or is CSR just another marketing gimmick designed to ease the conscience of the consumer? Student Projects Manager, Diane Gill, discusses key arguments raised at our recent panel event on this topic.

Where do you even begin? This is my first reaction upon taking my seat for a thought-provoking event, where professionals from the private, public and academic arenas were invited to give their inputs into the topic ‘Should Business Fight Global Poverty?’

The joint event on 26 September, between the Business School (UEBS) and the School of Social and Political Science (SSPS), brought together people of very different backgrounds. We were working across boundaries within the University to discuss an issue which has collaboration at the heart of it.

Now, I am no expert on the topic and my reflections are superficial to say the least, however, here are some points from the debate which really struck a chord with me.

Salvation comes from the entrepreneurs
Michael Groves, Codbod Technologies

Whether you’re talking about ‘Africapitalism’ or running a soup shop in Edinburgh, entrepreneurs are drivers of economic and aspirational value and that can drive us away from poverty.

What is Business? And what is Poverty?
Dr Kenneth Amaeshi, Sustainable Business Initiative, UEBS

Should there be a distinction between big multinationals and local SMEs? And isn’t a more important question ‘How is Business fighting Poverty?’ Is providing children with meals simply propping up the problem? When should businesses step away and allow the government to take control? Surely, business can be change agents by working with NGOs and positively influencing governments.

Consumers want to be ethical.
JP Campbell, One Feeds Two Foundation

Is it exploitation if a successful business is built around a brand that exploits the desire of the developed world to be more ethical? Surely that’s okay, if you are actually doing good? In my opinion, such businesses should be entirely encouraged. As Stewart Langdon (Leapfrog Investments) succinctly put it: The question isn’t whether business should fight poverty, but why”

However, amongst all this thought provoking material, there is no escaping that we were only scratching the surface. Speaking to students after the event, the general consensus seemed to be that it should have been a whole day event and even that would not be enough time to begin unpacking some of many complex issues in this arena. To give you some examples:

  • In some cases, is Business causing poverty by negatively influencing governments (look at the banks)?
  • What about the role of women? We had a panel of men and statistics show most entrepreneurs are male.
  • Businesses doing good should be encouraged, but how do we report this and how can we demonstrate the impact?
  • As a University how do we create an intellectual footprint and nurture socially responsible graduates?

Clearly, there are many topics which could form the basis of another debate and given the enthusiasm of the audience, I hope we can organise a follow up in Semester two. It’s also clear that in terms of research in this area, there is so much that can be done. The Business School and SSPS are hoping to do what we can and will be encouraging collaborative student projects with external organisations. Anyone with an interest please ”Go forth” and get involved.

The event ‘Should Business Fight Global Poverty’ took place on 26 September 2013. It was chaired by Susan Deacon and the panellists were: Michael Groves (Codbod technologies), JP Campbell (One Feeds Two Foundation), Stuart Langdon (Leapfrog Investments) and Kenneth Amaeshi (Sustainable Business Initiative, UEBS). To find out more about our events, visit our events page on the main School site.