The ‘CSR café’: where business meets civil society
What if civil society organisations could meet up with business in an informal way to share best practices on social and environmental programs? This idea sparked the creation of the CSR café: a friendly space where business meets civil society. Gautier Amoussou of Eco-Benin tells us about this highly successful concept.
Gautier: "The idea for the CSR Café originated during a training that we took as part of the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions program with the support of IUCN NL. It is a training focused on how civil society organisations (CSO) can collaborate with businesses to protect biodiversity.
After the training, I got in touch with local organizations that shared our vision and ambition on this aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Together with the director of the regional CSR network in Benin, we composed a committee to organize the first edition of the Café, which was funded by IUCN NL. Since then other organizations joined our initiative, and it works."
Encourage and motivate companies
The aim of the Café is to encourage and motivate companies to take action and become more aware of their social and environmental responsibility. It invites these companies to present their activities and good practices to the participants, while at the same time allowing for discussion and strategic feedback of their programs.
From the onset, the organizers thought it important to create an equal level playing field for all parties involved. They also knew they had to lower the threshold for companies or they would otherwise be hesitant to take part. Participation is therefore voluntary, free of charge and companies can join, or leave, at any time.
Collaborative way of thinking
Gautier is keen to clarify that they aimed to counter preconceptions and mistrust between CSOs and companies. Because, in the end, they both have the same goal.
Gautier: "Companies depend on natural resources. We must work with them so that these global public goods (biodiversity, water, nature) are protected.”
This collaborative way of thinking has been productive and the organizers notice that companies are now much more willing to share information such as environmental audit reports.
The CSR Café is not a court condemnation of negative company impacts but a space for co-construction and sharing of good practices.
Gautier: "The trust between companies and civil society organizations arose from the fact that participation in the CSR Café is voluntary and without obligations, but the other important aspect is that companies have realised that the CSR Café is not a court condemnation of their negative impacts but a space for co-construction and sharing of good practices. Everything is relaxed, and everything happens in an atmosphere of conviviality to create confidence."
Today the CSR Café initiative is evolving into a match-making platform. Gautier: "We will move towards a system where companies that need support to carry out activities within the framework of their CSR policy can connect to civil society organisations that are able to offer them the necessary expertise and support on the ground."
Participants feel this is a win-win situation for everyone involved including for the people in the communities and the environment. Because when companies and CSOs collaborate on developing more effective CSR programs they will have more impact on the ground.
Gautier: "Today, we are in the process of developing a CSR charter that will be broken down into tools to help companies develop action plans and implement these plans." Thanks to this action, the companies now have a better understanding of what good CSR policies are and they have a closer working relationship with the civil society organisations.
Gautier: "Benin has internalized the Sustainable Development Goals and has planned to carry out concrete action towards SDGs 8, 9, 10 and 11 by 2030. If CSR improves business performance, the national economy will grow and this improves the welfare of all citizens."
Guiding companies in the right direction
For Gautier Amoussou, it is important for companies to be aware of their dependence on natural resources. Moreover they must work to reduce their impacts in order to make their activities sustainable. In this sense, the CSR café seems to guide companies in the right direction.
Potential to go global
In conclusion, does the CSR café have the potential to go global? Gautier is certain that it does. In fact, he has started to share his experiences with neighboring countries.
Gautier: “Eco-Bénin is a member of the Deltas Collective of the Gulf of Benin, a platform that brings together civil society organizations from Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. At our various meetings, we’ve shared our experience with the CSR café and our international colleagues seem motivated to develop the initiative in their respective countries."
The lessons learned from this case summed up:
- Companies feel comfortable with the fact that participation in the CSR café is voluntary. This makes it easier for them to join and creates a trusting environment.
- CSOs can help companies to create more impact with their CSR programs if they provide them with practical tools, data and expertise.
- Involve multiple CSOs in your initiative to grow the effect and impact of the CSR café.
Lessons on business engagement for nature conservation
This article is part of the series Lessons on business engagement for nature conservation.
We are also interested in hearing your experiences of how companies, civil society organisations and governments can work towards joint solutions.
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It takes the willingness and initiative of CSOs around the world to make the CSR café go global. Are you up for it? Would a CSR café work in your country? Why would or wouldn’t you organize one? Share your opinion in the comments below.