10 CSR Trends To Watch In 2021
Last year in the pre-COVID world, I listed the following five trends that would drive Corporate Social Responsibility work in 2020:
· Searching for the truth
· Achieving carbon neutrality
· Standing with employees
· Pursuing purpose over passion
· Looking for the next big thing
Today, we are all still looking for transparency, authenticity and truthfulness from companies and their leaders, and many companies continue to back their employees by protecting their health and safety and allowing them a greater voice in corporate decision-making. Additionally, many companies went beyond the push for carbon neutrality by finding ways to be carbon positive, and the concept of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies took greater hold in the CSR zeitgeist. Accordingly, these five trends remain just as relevant in 2021. To these, I would add the following five:
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are front and center. In response to the killing of African American and Black individuals in 2020 and the social unrest that followed, many companies increased their commitments to racial equity with pledges to hire more racial and ethnic minorities, ensure pay equity globally, increase the amount of their spending going to minority and women-owned businesses and target their philanthropic investments to vulnerable communities. These trends will continue and possibly accelerate in 2021 as government officials, investors, employees and customers demand more inclusion and equity from the companies they associate with.
Global Giving is on the rise. Companies are increasingly making contributions to charities and community organizations globally and finding ways to encourage their employees to give and volunteer in their communities. Gone are the days that U.S. companies can claim that charity and corporate philanthropy are unique to the United States – it simply isn’t true, and stakeholders are demanding more local investments all over the world. Expect to see more global gift matching programs, the expansion of corporate volunteer programs, and increasing efforts to engage employees in ESG issues worldwide.
Virtual Volunteering finally finds a footing. While virtual volunteer programs have existed for many years, and organizations such as Catchafire, Taproot Foundation and Strive for College have achieved a number of successes, expect to see this trend grow in 2021. Last year, companies expanded their virtual volunteer efforts, but many of these initiatives were quick fixes or temporary adjustments to the pandemic. But with so many employees expected to be working from home until summer, and many companies contemplating more flexible work arrangements post-COVID, CSR leaders will need to adjust their corporate volunteer programs permanently, and find new ways of encouraging their colleagues to not only work from home, but volunteer from home as well.
Supporting Small Businesses becomes a new philanthropic priority. Because of the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on small businesses worldwide, particularly in vulnerable neighborhoods, more nonprofit organizations are focused on finding ways of helping these important pillars of their communities, and that means that companies will increasingly be asked to assist these endeavors as well. Efforts like the Coalition to Back Black Businesses, an initiative launched by American Express in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and four national Black chambers, will find traction with corporate philanthropy programs that may have shunned such efforts in the past. The importance of small businesses – particularly to hard hit, vulnerable urban centers and rural areas – will help drive more initiatives to prop up these businesses and ensure their sustainability during and post-COVID.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals take on new importance. While the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals have been embraced by many companies, the progress toward achieving these goals has been slower than was expected. The global pandemic has helped to emphasize that global issues can quickly become local ones, so expect to see more companies embrace the SDGs as drivers of their CSR/ESG work through more public-private partnerships and efforts to mobilize resources and actions around them in the coming decade.
Corporate Social Responsibility leaders are more challenged, more needed and more impactful than ever before. These 10 trends will drive much of their work in 2021 and help to make the world a better and safer place for us all.