Costa Rica, Convergence, and CSR

Public-private partnerships have not earned itself a popular approval in many communities around the world as a means to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods, and surely the process to converge NGOs and private business firms and government is a complex one. Nonetheless, I believe the idea of a convergence economy proposed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has some bright opportunities, including NGOs who recognize the resources they can leverage by seeking out dedicated businesses for support and businesses who recognize the long term benefits they can leverage by engaging NGOs who are aligned with public welfare issues and the protection of natural environments. Governments, therefore would accordingly need to facilitate and act as an umbrella actor to help foster the accommodating policy fora so that such a convergence can take place.

Take Costa Rica for example, in a recent article by Robert Blasiak ( a former LUMIDER!), the country has independently “self-imposed” this idea of convergence first in regard to environmental protectionism and economic development, recognizing the diverse societal gains of their biodiversity of lush tropical forests (more hectares of forests:carbon neutrality; ecotourism: local employment). Because as Robert so nicely summarizes:

“Costa Rica’s success in slowing and ultimately reversing the deforestation trend is due to recognition by policymakers of the value of the country’s ecosystems.”

For Costa Rica, and it may be a unique case given the country’s natural environment endowments, the lesson is drawn from a seemingly nonchalant, yet out-of-the-box epiphany by the government: constitutionally justifying  “a healthy and ecologically balanced environment” for all people and operating without a standing army for the last 64 years! But nonetheless, Costa Rica drew my attention and certainly speaks to what the WBCSD  envisions, a future  of a “convergent value chain” or:

“…a flexible model in which different participants play different roles at different times, according to the recipients’ needs and according to which entity has the necessary mix of skills and resources.”

And it looks somewhat like this in Costa Rica. Because as the Costa Rica works towards carbon neutrality (independent of the international finance and institutional support might I add), big businesses in the country such as Florida Bebidas (aka Florida Ice & Farm Co.) are integrating more sustainable and environmental conscious efforts into their operations as a beverage brewery company. It appears to me that the model represents a convergence of stakeholders in this regard using a mix of financial and program development resources and local on-the-ground labour input. For example, Florida Bebidas’ (financial resources) pay for environmental services such as watershed conservation, coordinated by state agencies and national foundations such as the Foundation for the Development of the Volcanic Mountain Chain or the Costa Rica National Forestry Fund (program development and implementation) who then train and pay landowners and community producers for the services their land is used to provide for water users. (See one 2003 watershed program here)

Since my digging has not yet discovered local NGOs’ collaboration with business and government, this could mean several things, including: whether there are still gaps in seeing the effects of a fully multi-sector oriented scheme, the fact that the different stakeholders are still not seeing eye to eye and maybe there hasn’t been an active request to NGOs for support, or possibly even a lack of interest or hesitancy by these organizations themselves to be involved. However, what seems more probable is the potential for new value captured in the overall value chain model where not only has a company committed to CSR campaign for waste reduction and responsible consumption behaviors, but it has committed to working with people and stakeholders outside of its direct industry, and for the main reason recognizing that its long term growth depends on it. Ultimately it is such a convergence of stakeholders that the social and environmental impacts have equated to training landowners, employment generation, water resources management, social network development, and ultimately the conservation of Costa Rica’s precious ecosystem.

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Gender perspectives on CSR

The popular tv show Mad Men set in New York’s emerging advertizing industry of the 1960’s, underlines the challenges and difficulties women were faced with when entering the workplace at the time.  Sexual harassment, being ignored by their leaders, and thick glass ceilings, just to mention a few.  Since then, women have moved far in the workplace (at least in some countries).

Yet, in 2012 for performing the same work women still (statistically) receive lower salaries than male colleagues,  both within the public and private sector. Women are absent from top management,  leadership positions and boardrooms across the corporate world. Furthermore, issues such as sexual harassment, abuse and low wages are problems with a gender dimension to it.

In 2010 the UN Global Compact placed gender equality on the CSR agenda through the launch of the Women’s_Empowerment_Principles. These principles address the issue of gender equality in all areas of business, including  leadership, supply chains and entrepreneurship in communities. The principles create awareness and give practical examples of what corporations can do to empower women’s role in the workplace. There is a huge potential for business to make a difference.

That said, it is not only the business community that bear the responsibility for correcting inequalities. There is a need for policies that promote women’s agency, opportunities and rights in the workplace. Policies that empower and enable the entire workforce, both men and women,  to participate and contribute with their capacity.

This part of CSR is up to all of us, in the businesses and organisations we participate in daily. If the  workplace of the 21st century was of the Mad Men, why not let the 22nd be of the Sane Men and Women?