Just back from the annual Asian CSR Forum (AFCSR) in Bangkok. As with last year's event in Manila, the sense of dynamism and optimism about the future, that one experiences in Asia Nowadays, was palpable - particularly by contrast to a more sclerotic European scene. Years ago, I used to head regularly to the USA to get a top-up of "can-do"spirit. Today, I head east!
Over 550 delegates and more than 50 speakers from thirty countries across Asian and beyond, spent two days debating corporate social innovation. This was a more sophisticated and rounded discussion than last year's infatuation with shared value. Both, however, represent an advance on Asia's previous focus on "CSR" as corporate community involvement.
The conference recognised that corporate social innovation requires collaboration with NGOs, international development agencies and academic institutions as well as other businesses. Collaboration was seen as an instinctive Asian characteristic. I found myself wondering: if that is indeed the case, does this mean that this creates yet more competitive advantage for Asia, if Asian business can successfully exploit corporate social innovation?
Several Western governments are active in promoting an "architecture for corporate responsibility" - the enabling environment for responsible business - across Asia. The Canadians, for example, are doing this in Vietnam. The German development agency GIZ has been active across Asia with a significant programme to promote corporate responsibility on China, which is now winding down after a number of years.
A whole conference track on heavy "footprint industries", i.e. the extractives sector, was a powerful reminder of how politically and socially disruptive mining can be , in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.
In the conference corridors, I heard frequent discussions about how businesses enter or re-enter Myanmar (Burma), in a responsible manner. Organisations like the Institute for Human Rights clearly have an important role to play here, and this is the subject of another blog.
Awareness of corporate responsibility - or CSR as it is still generally referred to in Asia - seems to be developing fast in Asia, at least amongst leading multinationals - closely linked to ideas of business having responsibility to contribute to national development priorities in areas like access to education and tackling major health challenges like TB or HIV/AIDS. Younger, better educated and more demanding consumers and employees are seen as a particular driver.
This article was first published at Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management.