Fall 2018 - 60700 - PA 387K – Advanced Topics in Public Policy
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility
Companies are increasingly choosing to embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives—in which they not only exceed legal requirements they face but also take action beyond what is being discussed in public policy debates. Strategic CSR initiatives can be more complicated than traditional market-based corporate strategies—focused on customers, suppliers, entrants, substitutes, and rivals—because they often require managers to engage with actors in the non-market environment—including regulators, politicians, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists—or at least to consider how they change the calculus.
This course builds towards a realistic understanding of CSR given the constraints of the business environment. The course is grounded in market realities and recognizes that the average socially responsible firm performs no better than the average firm, but culminates with an understanding that there are conditions under which CSR can provide strategic value to firms.
The goal of the course is to encourage students to become more critical thinkers about both business and social problems—enabling them to use that perspective no matter where their careers take them.
The course has five parts.
The course will begin by asking how about how to measure CSR and rate firms on CSR— looking at the difficulties inherent in defining and measuring CSR, the various ways that is done in practice and what the implications of each are.
A single day on theory and frameworks examines the concepts of perfectly competitive markets, market failures, Coasian bargaining, and the Theory of the Second Best all as applied to strategic management, corporate social responsibility, and social problems.
It will then survey the landscape of corporations on the spectrum of social responsibility from those that engage in a number of socially irresponsible practices to those that engage in a number of socially responsible practices. We will also ask why firms have chosen the position they have on the spectrum of social responsibility ranging from negative to neutral to positive—exposing tension in each position that have implications for strategic choices firms may make.
In the fourth part of the course, we will dig into the mechanics of specific CSR initiatives and explore what firms are doing with respect to CSR along traditional dimensions of market strategy—and how CSR issues can become threats or opportunities vis-à-vis traditional market forces. In this part of the course we will evaluate the extent to which different types of social responsibility initiatives are strategic and/or could be made more so.
The final part of the course will be dedicated towards understanding how firms are able to profit by staying ahead of the ever evolving CSR frontier by engaging with various non-market actors and institutions to solidify their positions. Broadly, it will look at the roles of social entrepreneurs, activists, and government/policy.
Recognizing that we can learn from those doing things differently and from failures, throughout the course we will also examine cases where firms strategically choose to be socially irresponsible and where firms fail to embrace CSR initiatives in a strategic manner. Nevertheless, the bulk of the course will be oriented towards building an understanding the conditions under which CSR initiatives can be introduced strategically or aligned with corporate strategy more broadly.
This class is cross-listed with BGS. BGS is the home department.