With Wayne Dunn, corporate social responsibility advocate

Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012

Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an international businessman and project leader with 15 years of senior level global experience. He maintains a particularly strong network in Ghana that extends across sectors, regions and alliances throughout the country. Dunn is an advocate of corporate social responsibility (CSR), a business model that encourages companies to have a positive impact on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere. One of the founding members of the Leadership Council of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), he will be presenting at the International Conference, Toward New Public-Private Sector Partnerships for Sustainable Development in Resource Extraction Industries  at McGill, on March 29-30. For more information about the conference go to www.mcgill.ca/isid/resource-extraction-conference

 There has been a lot of talk about the obsolescence of corporate social responsibility (CSR) – what do you think?

I wanted to say that I think the talk is rubbish, but really I believe it is because the phrase CSR is used to describe an increasingly broad and diverse set of activities. I don’t agree with this broadening of the definition. I believe that CSR is about finding alignment between corporate interests and community and other local interests; finding ways to concurrently create value for local stakeholders, shareholders and others, while simultaneously respecting the environment. How can that ever be obsolete? Companies and communities that take a mutually beneficial value creation (rather than philanthropic) approach to CSR will find exciting and sustainable ways to collaborate – and that will never become obsolete.

What is key about the value-creation approach to CSR is to be creative about finding those actions and projects that can be beneficial for companies, communities and others, and to systematically manage them. And, at the same time, be open to ways to maximize the value to all. CSR isn’t a zero-sum game. Increasing the value to community stakeholders shouldn’t simply be equated to spending more on the company’s part, it is about the community receiving more value.

This is obviously a much longer discussion but what is crucial to systematically achieving this sort of value-centric approach to CSR is to apply the same rigour to evaluating and managing CSR as a company does to its normal capital and operating investments. This forces managers to focus on more efficient ways of delivering value to local stakeholders and improves both the company’s return on that investment and the overall value received by the community.

Why does it appear to be so hard for communities and mining companies to collaborate?

The simplistic answer is because their approaches are too narrow and self-interested and too rooted in looking backwards. I believe the path to fostering more mutually beneficial collaboration between mining companies and communities is for both parties to be open and look for creative opportunities where their respective interests can be served by collaboration. I have worked on over 35 mining and community projects on every continent and in nearly every situation; from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Africa to Papua New Guinea, from the Andes to Eurasia. I have yet to see one where there wasn’t an opportunity for mutually beneficial collaboration. I have seen somewhere this wasn’t realized, but it was because one or both parties were unwilling to let go of a narrow, self-interested, historically focused, way of thinking about and seeing the other party.

How can we be respectful of indigenous peoples and communities vis-a-vis the productive use of their land?

Say please. Say thank you. Listen. Don’t be defensive or aggressive. Spend time getting to know them as people and as a Peoples. Be open. Recognize and respect that every please will not get an immediate yes. Be a good neighbour. Recognize that relationships and trust take time. Accept that your timeframe is not necessarily their timeframe. And, of course, focus on mutually beneficial value creation opportunities (but, get to know them well enough to begin to understand that their value framework may be different than yours – this may actually create an opportunity for even more efficient value creation). Another good thing is to learn about successful partnerships and relationships.

How can our Canada be a leader in the area of CSR?

We have led, but I have not looked closely enough to know if we are a now leader. Certainly, some Canadian companies have been CSR leaders. A project I developed with Placer Dome was the first private sector company to ever win a World Bank Development Innovation Award (for a CSR project on mining and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa). There have been other successes and there have also been abysmal failures.

Over the past years the Canadian Government has been making serious efforts to both promote progressive CSR practices and raise the minimum standards of corporate conduct in this area. Many companies are also stepping up and working to address the issue in a meaningful way. But, other companies are lagging behind. There reality is that we all have a lot to learn. McGill’s ISID, by organizing the upcoming Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development conference, is playing an important role in moving this issue forward.


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Category: Four Burning Questions

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