Corporate Social Responsibility: Then and Now

No single person or entity has the expertise, resources or reach to effectively address global challenges alone. Instead, it will take a collaborative effort among the public, private and nonprofit sectors to move forward.
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Recently I participated in a conversation at the Brookings Institution with thought leaders from Brookings, the U.S. State Department, the World Bank, and Ceres, a nonprofit advocate for sustainable environmental leadership. Given the diversified nature of the global challenges we face - from eliminating poverty and providing access to decent healthcare to repairing fraying infrastructures and combating climate change - I was encouraged to hear first-hand that innovative partnerships between businesses and organizations outside the private sector are making real progress in addressing many of these issues. From the collective perspective of the panel participants, partnerships are no longer an option; they are essential to economic development. No single person or entity has the expertise, resources or reach to effectively address these challenges alone. Instead, it will take a collaborative effort among the public, private and nonprofit sectors to move forward.

As the smoke cleared from the financial crisis, we understood that in order to reach our full potential as a partner for change, we had to ensure that our own house was in order. An important first step was to deepen our dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders - from employees and customers to community leaders and regulators - to better understand their concerns and to share our plans for continued business growth while regaining their trust. Under CEO Brian Moynihan's leadership, we put everything we do under a microscope and worked to improve the company, an effort that included selling-off more than $70 billion of non-core assets, simplifying our businesses and making significant changes to our governance and risk-management practices. We're now a much healthier company as a result.

All of these changes have had a dramatic effect on our corporate social responsibility (CSR) philosophy. Having previously approached CSR largely as a matter of philanthropy, we've since realigned our priorities to address fundamental parts of our business and to reaffirm the principles and values that guide us and our operations in more than 40 countries. While philanthropy continues to be an important area of focus, CSR goes well beyond writing checks.

For example, helping people understand more about their money and how to develop better money habits is at the heart of what we do as a company - through our products, our practices, and the education and resources we provide. With polls showing that a large majority of Americans regard themselves as ill-equipped to handle their finances, we've partnered with Sal Khan and the Khan Academy to launch, an online tool that takes an innovative approach to learning complex concepts through simple and approachable content.

Another way to improve people's financial wellbeing is to give them more control over their money. Earlier this year, after consulting with a group of consumer policy partners, we launched an account called SafeBalance, which helps customers avoid overdrafts and fees by limiting their ability to spend what they don't have.

Our CSR efforts also extend to partnerships that support a healthier, safer, smarter and more sustainable world. In recent years, we've deepened our relationships with partners including Vital Voices, which provides development opportunities to emerging women leaders around the world; Feeding America, the leading hunger nonprofit in the United States; and (RED), an organization that has generated more than $250 million in the fight against AIDS. With nearly 240,000 employees and a customer base of more than 50 million, a global company like ours can have a tremendous impact when we leverage our platform to raise awareness and support.

That's not to say we're the only ones who can help make a difference - far from it. There are countless companies around the world who have so much to offer, and need a place at the table for communities, countries and the global economy to succeed.

I'm hopeful that our conversation at Brookings continues an important dialogue between leaders in the public, private and nonprofit worlds. There's no denying that business and private enterprise can offer considerable resources, reach and capabilities, which when combined with other sectors can have a real and measurable impact on people's lives.

Anne Finucane is Chief Global Strategy and Marketing Officer at Bank of America

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