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Corporate Social Responsibility: Moving from Disaster Response to Risk Reduction

Published: Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What if we were to shift the discussion about CSR and disaster response from one of reaction to one of pro-action?

I suppose your perspective of CSR in the context of disaster response depends on whether you are entrenched in the humanitarian sector or in the corporate sector. For those representing the humanitarian sector as first line responders or as fundraisers, there is the belief that if you have the resources you really ought to give. There is a moral imperative to do so, regardless of where the disaster strikes, acknowledging the interdependence of humanity, its strengths as well as its weaknesses. The truth is that corporations, on average, give a very small per cent of net profits to disaster response. This has been holding steady for decades. There has been no change.

For the most part, the philanthropic expression of a company's CSR strategy which may involve matching local fundraising campaigns or those undertaken by its own employees, is used to enable an efficient response to the disaster. And not to take away from the importance of these initiatives, because such efforts can be life altering for the beneficiaries as well as the fundraisers, but such efforts do not need to be the end game.

Being proactive on disaster response, or better stated, disaster risk reduction (DRR) is an option. DRR as an embedded component of a company's CSR strategy is not all that mature in most organizations because of the norm to continue to react to events as one-off occurrences.

A company which recognizes its role as a global citizen, oftentimes also a participant in regional economies, can find ways to insert itself into the disaster risk reduction, preparedness conversation.

The challenges that exist cut across all industries and include those related to innovation and technology which have been woefully neglected in addressing engineering, design, supply, storage, distribution and servicing gaps to name a few. The following video highlights some of the challenges:

The emergence of ideas to influence disaster preparedness work, to prevent catastrophic impact when disasters do occur and to aid in reconstruction efforts would be important assets to any company's CSR strategy.

Most disasters are predictable: they occur with predictable frequency, in predictable seasons in predictable regions of the world. Early warning systems are in place, but traditional responses have not succeeded in averting events and the catastrophic outcomes they cause. A shift in response, to move from reaction to participating in the long term, sustainable conversation committed to the prevention of future consequences would ultimately contribute to strengthening risk reduction response capacity and reconstruction efforts. The World Economic Forum has taken a leadership role in mobilizing the private sector and is buoyed by the UN agencies with emergency response mandates including UNICEF and World Food Programme as well as the International Red Cross.

This response will not apply to all companies, but for those who can embed disaster preparedness and risk reduction response capacity into a company's CSR framework it will ensure they become part of a bigger conversation that will expand their corporate sphere of influence. It will also contribute to significant strides in averting suffering and loss due to natural disasters.