As published in the Pittsburgh Business Times
As a business owner and corporate attorney, I had numerous opportunities over the years to engage with leaders of many great organizations. Now, as a university president, I have a unique opportunity to observe and appreciate the qualities and expectations of our next leaders. Based on my interactions with them, I am confident that our future will be in capable hands. While some might be critical of the young people on our college campuses, I am privileged to witness on a daily basis their many outstanding qualities.
This next generation of leaders expects that their work should help to transform the world – to make a difference. They want to spend time and money on the causes they care about, and if they don’t find a worthy project to engage in, they’ll create one and lead others to it. The members of this next workforce want to work for companies that they can believe in, trust to do good things, and rely on to operate transparently, ethically and lawfully. One way that companies can work toward attracting (and keeping) these emerging leaders is through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work.
Strategic work in this space depends first on trust – it’s critical. Data from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 81 percent of consumers “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right” as a top buying consideration. The 81 percent was consistent regardless of age, income, gender and market. If a consumer trusts you, they will buy your brand first, stay loyal, advocate for and even defend your brand. Companies must earn that trust.
Nowadays, every stakeholder is watching and measuring performance, including investors. I urge our region to continue to take this work seriously and dedicate resources to strategic CSR work. This work involves far more than just social investments; it is a commitment to fair, compliant and sustainable work across all aspects of corporate operation, including fair labor practices, minimizing the negative impact of operational work, transparent reporting and making positive social influences. As companies refine their own CSR efforts, collaborating with others to address the unique needs of our region will produce dramatic opportunities for success. Imagine the potential for collective impact by working toward shared goals.
Such partnerships can be creative. For example, my liberal arts institution has partnered with a global tech university in the Pittsburgh area to focus on food insecurity and rural transportation challenges in Greene County. We are just getting started, but we believe that Pittsburgh will be stronger when our entire region is stronger.
Investing time and resources in a strategic CSR program provides benefits that are far greater than reputation. Make no mistake, good CSR work can help a company’s reputation, attract investors and enhance workforce recruitment and retention. But deep down, I believe that we all are a part of a giving and generous culture that ultimately wants to see our region flourish. We have more opportunities than ever before to make a positive impact in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and we have a willing workforce that wants the same thing. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
Each day, through my interactions with the forthcoming generation of leaders, I am heartened and inspired by their drive to fulfill the need for moral and ethical leadership well into the future. As they move into the workforce, mentorship through programs such as Corporate Social Responsibility can be our legacy that will help them succeed in the world they inherit.