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Can your startup afford to ignore social responsibility?

Alex Robbio


April 18th, 2018

In my recent visit to the Silicon Valley I had the pleasure of hearing directly from Marketo’s former CEO and co-founder Phil Fernandez about some of the things we would do different if he were to do it again. One of the things that he mentioned he regretted was not making Corporate Social Responsibility in general and philanthropy in particular a more central part of the company’s culture from the get-go.

With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to discuss what is the scope of corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Should startups dispense with it until they have grown enough to execute it? Is CSR only one more aspect of an organization or should it be at the center of what it does?

Based on my experience in Belatrix, I am convinced that it should be at the heart of a company’s operations right from the get go, and in this blog I explain why.

Building a complete notion of CSR

CSR is usually defined as the responsibility of a company to integrate business operations with the welfare of society, environmental concerns, and sustainable development. This is quite a dry definition, and I prefer to see it as an organization’s duty to manage their business to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact. Other definitions talk about CSR as an organization’s regulatory mechanism to ensure the compliance of law and international regulations. I take the perspective that legal and regulatory compliance should be a given, and therefore don’t fall under the purview of CSR.

CSR is not merely a strategy which aims to improve your organization’s reputation or fulfill international laws. Rather, it is imperative to place social responsibility in the roots of your organization – because it builds ethics, values, expectations and goals into your company, that gives it a powerful sense of purpose.

CSR will help build your company culture

Can your startup afford to ignore social responsibility?

My experience as a founder has taught me how crucial it is to be laser-focused on creating a positive and high-performing company culture. A company’s culture is what will make your startup flourish or sink. In Belatrix, over the years we have worked hard to build a strong set of values based on respect, motivation and continuous learning. Since the start, we had zero-tolerance for toxic or unethical behaviour. We stand for diversity.

CSR is a core component in building this culture. For example, Belatrix seeks to implement its core values to positively impact the lives of our local community. One of the programs we are most proud of is the DANE project, where we worked to improve the quality of life of children and young adults with ASD and Down syndrome. Meanwhile, Belatrix’s mobile lab works with non-profit organizations to develop applications that help them better recognize their emotions, interact and communicate with others.

Meanwhile, one of the projects our team feels most related to, is the Miguel Giaquinta Scholarship Program. In 2013 Belatrix started a collaboration with Fonbec in order to provide support to young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Given the importance of education in technology for children, we help promising engineers to get professional training. Every year we hold a Tech-day where high school students get involved for the first time with programming, while they interact with inspiring young people who are already finishing university studies in the tech field. These kind of initiatives develop a sense of belonging and purpose in the company, and help to create an empowered and engaged workforce.

Tech-day in Belatrix
Tech-day 2017

Putting it into practice

Startups can be concerned about getting involved in social activities when they are at an early stage and have limited resources. However, even within these constraints, there are many ways to put CSR into practice. Start by setting realistic CSR objectives. It is not necessary to create a massive program which will impact everyone; supporting local projects and getting involved with your community are great examples. At Belatrix, we created Hackatrix, an annual event that promotes the collective development of innovative ideas that positively impact society. During the event, young people build technology products that aim to solve specific problems in the community.

Creating a CSR committee allows you to design a self-sustaining social responsibility program, and can help bring people together outside of their usual jobs and tasks. By creating a team of volunteers you will not only have a solid strategy but it can also be a great incentive for your employees to develop or show leadership skills.

What is the future of CSR?

Increasingly, we’re seeing that today’s fervent political environment is pushing companies to take a stance on social issues that they would not have previously commented about. This underlines the importance for startups to embed CSR in everything they do. Meanwhile, we’re seeing that technology is having a dramatic impact – from social media which means company transgressions become amplified, to increased data collection meaning more transparency about everything from the supply chain to real-time company performance. Technology is also providing ways to share news about your CSR initiatives amongst your workforce (using a hashtag on Twitter for instance), thus helping to build the company culture. What this means is that CSR initiatives will continue to grow in importance and influence – so make sure your startup gets ahead, and implements one today.

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