The Growing Movement in Social Responsibility

Julie Peeler surveys how the information security community is giving back to society
Julie Peeler surveys how the information security community is giving back to society

Corporate Social Responsibility:

A concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interactions with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis, addressing the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society. By taking steps to better meet their social responsibility, enterprises can help themselves and help society as a whole.

– The European Commission 

Search companies with global operations and you will find that many have comprehensive, strategically focused corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, allowing the company and its employees to have a positive impact on society. To be sure, corporate initiatives that ‘fly the company flag’ at a local community level also reinforce the brand and increase name recognition. Great programs through which companies and their employees can impact the world often reflect key issues capturing the attention of governments around the globe, as well as the concerns of the common citizen.

Despite the economic downturn, companies continue to invest in socially responsible efforts as part of long-term sustainability strategies. According to the annual Corporate Giving Standard (CGS) survey, of a sampling of the world’s largest corporations, major trends emerged from 2009–2011 (the most recent available data):

  • Median total giving was $24.4 million, which is slightly less than 2010 levels ($24.6m) but well above 2009 ($22.6m).
  • 60% of companies increased their total giving since 2009.
  • 48% of companies increased their giving by more than 10%.
  • The consumer staples (25%) and health care industries (25%) had the largest percentages of growth in giving.

Programs designed to demonstrate social responsibility range from meeting the unique needs of the communities where a company operates, to those designed to fight common human issues. For example, a company might participate in job training programs in a community where they have a facility or fund hunger relief efforts around the world.

Many companies back programs that take advantage of their business focus and thus the skill set of their employees, like an energy company that builds solar energy systems in impoverished rural areas, or a bank supporting financial literacy efforts.

The CGS study reported that corporations continued to target programs close to their business areas. Health care firms continued to give predominately to health and social science; food companies gave to relieve hunger; and information technology concentrated on education.

In addition, ‘sustainability’ as a catch-all term for programs that support anything from saving the environment to encouraging indigenous economic development, has become a much larger area of CSR since the Kyoto Accord was negotiated in 1997. While this was a global government initiative, private companies began looking into the myriad ways they could impact environment sustainability and the communities they serve. It also led to a longer-term view of their role in society, beyond next quarter’s earnings report.

In a talk at the Board of Boards Conference in February, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, noted the strategic difference behind their CSR strategy. “A responsible company is not about corporate philanthropy, because there is not enough money that we can give away to be viewed as a responsible company in two hundred countries”, she said. “A responsible company has to [recognize] that all of us work within the laws of limited liability from society, because we owe every society we operate in a duty of care. If you start with that basic premise, you don’t think about just shareholders, you think about stakeholders. You don’t think about just the short term and quarterly results, you think about long term, sustained impact. I think there’s got to be a balance.”

An overview of cybersecurity companies shows that many programs cluster around four key areas: education, basic needs, employee volunteerism and sustainability. A deeper look shows a variety of options within each area.


Education is at the heart of many CSR programs, and corporate efforts have focused on the need for scholarships, educational materials, and facilities. While many companies provide scholarships for employees’ children, a vast number also provide scholarships supporting education for women, ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged students. Still more support a particular field of study, most notably STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and those professions that are specifically needed within the cybersecurity community.

In addition to scholarships, many companies help fulfill their CSR programs by providing school supplies for children in their communities. For those companies that operate in economically distressed parts of the globe, there is a great deal of focus on providing not only educational materials, but the building of educational facilities as well.

Among its many CSR programs, Cisco’s Networking Academy uses its strengths to bring technology education, 21st-century skills, and improved job prospects to four million students in 165 countries since its inception. With its blended learning model that combines classroom instruction with online curricula and interactive tools, Networking Academy epitomizes how technology can enrich learning. The program’s goal is twofold in that it builds the pool of qualified IT workers while preparing people for better job opportunities around the world.

Basic Needs/Social Services

Providing for basic human needs at a community level is a prominent trend among some of the world’s most visible IT security companies. It is clearly recognized by industry leaders that being involved improving the communities where they do business is a natural fit when evaluating how to give back to both their employees and customers where they live and work.

Many community-based programs focus on donating time, material and funds to local children’s programs, housing efforts, roadway up-keep/beautification and homeless support. A great number of the children’s programs focus on the issues they face every day, whether it is food, clothing, after-school care or safety.

Employee Volunteerism

Volunteerism is a highly respected and often-used facet of CSR. Many companies provide their employees opportunities to volunteer in a wide variety of areas that include everything from food and toy drives, to more involved projects that encompass fund raising events for charity drives, community beautification projects, disaster relief efforts and children’s education/mentoring. Volunteering pays benefits beyond community impact. Employees have a chance to build their core skills, as well as add to them in areas like leadership, personnel management, project management, budgeting, marketing, and communications.

Companies like Hewlett Packard, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Deloitte encourage their employees around the world to volunteer locally. (ISC)²’s Safe and Secure Online (SSO) program places our members, who hold the Certified Information Security Systems Professional (CISSP) credential, into local classrooms to teach children ages 7–14 about cybersecurity, cyber safety and cyber ethics. Through the SSO program, children learn how to protect themselves from online dangers, the volunteer gains presentation skills and the satisfaction of having an impact on their local community, and their employer garners goodwill from the visibility.

According to Andrea Simmons, global head of policy governance at HP Enterprise Security Services in the UK: “We have a culture of giving back to society and being good citizens. As a large global company, we recognize that we have a wealth of experience to share. We also want individual employees to find their place in society and experience the rewards of understanding how they can contribute. We don’t just encourage this. As a manager, I work with my team to set performance goals that includes their volunteer work.”

Simmons, an (ISC)² SSO volunteer herself, believes that her involvement “really helps to bring a message to [the children’s] daily lives in an engaging way, stepping into their school day and presenting material that captures their imagination and gets them both thinking and talking”, she says. “On the one hand, those attending the presentations can be reassured that they are not alone, in whatever it is that they may be experiencing in relation to their online interactions. On the other hand, it provides a platform from which to share best practice and disseminate positive messages that should encourage the youth of today to become the quality ‘netizens’ of the future that we need to see involved in our online, always-on information society.”

Although programs like SSO allow corporate volunteers to flex their cybersecurity skills in a new way, many are driven by reasons closer to home. “Being in the industry and as a parent myself, I’m acutely aware of the risks out there and the harm that can come to children who are not aware of the consequences of their actions”, says Matthew Parker, a manager in the Channel Islands office of PwC. “I wanted to use my experience and knowledge to help inform as many children as possible what they should and shouldn’t do [online], and not to be afraid to ask for help.”

His personal commitment to youth education in cybersecurity is encouraged by PwC. “We fully support Matthew’s efforts to inform and educate”, explains his manager, Evelyn Brady, a partner at PwC. “Technology moves at such a fast pace, and children are exposed to all kinds of risks online; knowing how to react is imperative.”

Regional firms also see the value of encouraging their employees to be active in the marketplace. Carol Lee, a cyber risk manager at CLP Power Hong Kong Ltd., is also motivated by being a parent. “Being a mother of an eight-year-old kid, I realize the importance of early education to teenagers. The earlier that you give kids lessons on the correct and proper attitude, that will embed as part of their moral mind-sets”, says Lee. “The growth of cyber bullying is definitely another driving force for me, that we (as part of our community) must do something to stop its growth. My employer is committed to contributing social responsibility to the community, and they encourage us by giving me several hours’ leave for SSO.”

Another way companies involve employees is by matching donations or making donations to charitable organizations where their employees volunteer. The CGS study showed that in 2011, employee matching-gift policies changed as companies moved to include their workforce in its societal engagement: overall workplace giving campaigns were up, as were ‘dollars-for-doers’ programs. Year-round policies, however, were down.

The global footprint of corporate philanthropy expanded as companies increasingly engaged causes outside of their HQ countries, predominately through employee engagement programs. Companies that increased giving since 2009 were more internationally focused than their counterparts. These programs largely took the form of employee volunteer awards and company-wide days of service. Notably, family volunteering programs were up from 21% in 2009, to 26% in 2011.


More companies are sourcing energy, raw materials, components and packaging from cleaner sources. But the corporate definition of ‘sustainability’ goes beyond clean air and water to include ensuring that the company’s economic activities don’t drain a society but allow that society to continue, and thrive.

Through its Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship focus, Accenture leverages one of its core competencies – training talent – to help people in local communities around the world gain the skills they need to enter the workforce or develop their own business. Kensuke Inomata of Accenture’s Tokyo operation helped secure the funding to launch an IT and business literacy program for persons with disabilities in Cambodia. The program has placed many graduates in full-time work positions, and has since expanded within Cambodia and elsewhere.

Accenture executive chairman, William D. Green, recently issued the following challenge at the Board of Boards conference: “I think we need to have leaders that have principles about their company….who aren’t afraid to stand tall and stand firm that these are investments that are necessary for the long term, and that this defines the character of our company, and in many ways ultimately the value of our company.”

Getting Started

While many organizations begin forays into socially responsible efforts based on the proclivities of the CEO, a good CSR effort is underpinned by a sound, clear strategy. And whereas many strategies at the corporate level are designed for mass impact and garner positive returns for the company, a CSR program strategy should be designed to impact individuals.

Those individuals should represent people living in the communities a company hopes to affect, whether that community is geographic or virtual. An assessment of employee goals, however, is also key.

Finally, when measuring the impact of CSR programs, companies must assess both the tangible and intangible impacts. To be sure, those programs will have impacts for marketing, investor relations and human resources development, but they should not drive the measures of success. Rather, the ways people are positively impacted is what counts in the end.

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