“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
———–Maya Angelou, Poet and civil rights activist
We are engulfed by stories every day. We read them in newspapers and books, listen to them on podcasts or the radio in the car, and watch them come to life on our TV screens. But where do stories and business intersect? We don’t usually associate these two concepts with each other, but we should (Dolan, 2017). Corporate social responsibility (CSR) deals with managing the relationships that are fundamental to the future success of the business (Werther and Chandler, 2011).
Storytelling is a human condition, and it’s becoming increasingly important in a business world crammed with long zoom calls, excruciating excel sheets, and painful PowerPoint presentations. Storytelling is the most effective and authentic form of communication (Dolan, 2017). CSR requires that the company must take stock of the real essentials, what it is in business to achieve.
Businesses have the misguided view that sharing their stories is a waste of time and is not business-like. Most of these businesses have not even considered the power of storytelling. The analysis is what drives business thinking. And yes, these analyses might excite the mind but it hardly offers a route to the heart. And that is where CSR aims to take companies to tell their stories of the difference and impact they make. These stories do not have to be the most earth-shattering, massive initiatives with big budgets ignoring the treasure trove of stories that you already have in our organization.
Some great stories to steer by
LinkedIn: LinkedIn wants to use their platform and tools to make a positive impact in the world, and connect under-served communities, such as youth, veterans, and refugees, with economic opportunities.
Programme overview: The team at LinkedIn is aware of the fact that some groups of people have way more challenges than others when it comes to networking and accessing job opportunities. That’s why they have built programs and partnerships to help individuals in these communities to succeed.
Success story: To support refugees seeking employment, for example, LinkedIn has set up an initiative called “Welcome Talent.” They partner with non-profit and government groups in different countries to train refugees on key business skills, connect them with mentors, and help them find employment.
Why this is inspiring: LinkedIn is leveraging the social network that they created to make a difference for people in need. The result? Their programmes have helped individuals like Issam Bahlawan find new careers and set up sustainable lives after being forced to leave their home countries.
TOMS Shoes: TOMS Shoes was founded on the idea that for every pair of shoes they sold, they would also donate a pair of shoes to a child in need. Since then, their mission has expanded to include providing more healthcare, education, and economic opportunities to children around the world.
Programme Overview: The company focuses on giving back to third-world communities via apparel donations, eye exams and vision treatments, clean drinking water programs, safe-birth facilities, and crisis-counselling training.
Success Story: Since it was founded in 2006, TOMS Shoes has donated more than 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need, restored sight to 400,000 people, provided over 335,000 weeks of safe water to communities across the globe, and helped 25,000 mothers safely deliver their babies.
Why this is Inspiring: A lot of CSR programmes think local, but TOMS Shoes made it a point to think globally. They integrated giving into the very core of their business model, which has helped to inspire not only their employees but their customers as well.
Telling your story
What is my story? This is the question that almost all businesses ask themselves for the longest of time. A good deed or an example of selflessness or protection of the environment etc. sparks emotional connections between people. The powerful cognitive effects of stories have been proven in scientific studies. This makes storytelling the perfect driver for CSR communication. In a world full of uncertainties and tragedies, the business world needs inspiring stories. The current corporate social responsibility movement is mainly trying to make it a regular practice for most companies to create the kind of impact that can make a difference to the sustainability of our world and the present and future generations (Kaushal, 2017, p.222).
But fascination and inspiration aside, can storytelling really be relevant to the business community? According to Dolan (2017), storytelling is still the most effective and authentic method to deliver a message or communicate an idea.
Nossel (2018) illustrates how to tap into the timeless power of storytelling to transform your business. Furthermore, Nossel (2018) guides business on how they are enabled to:
- Find their stories and tell them for a particular audience and purpose.
- Leverage your company experiences, memories, history, and heritage.
- Create, develop and craft a universal story that everyone can resonate with.
- Connect with stakeholders and business associates on a more personal and relatable level.
- Share your corporate vision and goals, and get others on board.
- Resolve workplace conflicts and find workable solutions.
- Boost creativity spread ideas, and spark true innovation.
- Improve teamwork and collaboration through listening and learning.
- Integrate storytelling into all your communications for ongoing success.
Storytelling is an effective influencing technique. According to Werther and Chandler (2011), equally so CSR is essential, therefore, because it influences all aspects of a company’s operations. Businesses have to harness the power of stories and become engaging communicators.
Businesses have many stories buried like treasures under the ocean of annual reports, Facebook pages, company websites, and social media feeds. These stories are scattered across the organization. CSR storytelling unleashes the untapped reservoirs of inspiration and the source of the most authentic stories businesses tell through CSR initiatives and programmes. Werther and Chandler help us realize that, once you see CSR in its strategic applications for the core business, you know that well-understood business principles apply (Werther and Chandler, 2011).
Stories are suitable for various business scenarios. Cause what the point of always hiding the excellent CSR initiatives and projects in lengthy uninteresting reporting documents if you don’t want to share them is? Stories are also a perfect way to represent your corporate brand. This is a combination of what you do, what you value, and how you communicate these aspects. This corporate brand can be shaped by the stories stakeholders share about your company. And these, in turn, are directly influenced by the stories your company shares with them. By taking control of the stories your business tells and share, you take control of your corporate brand (Dolan, 2017). Businesses communicate most effectively through their impact, and their business success depends on it.
Stories can galvanize a business over a defined goal that will allow the company to reap the benefits of storytelling. Hence, companies should never underestimate the power and responsibility that comes from storytelling. CSR storytelling should no longer be a question of whether but how.
In the end
Telling your company’s CSR stories allows businesses to satisfy their itch to understand the minds of their stakeholders. These stories have a unique power to change the view of the world of your company. By mastering CSR storytelling, businesses can attain great business results. At best, companies have to learn how to take the latent skill of storytelling and turn it into a potent business habit. As the successful film executive Peter Guber posits, ‘storytelling is not show business. It’s good business’.
Werther, William B; and Chandler David (2011): Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders in a Global Environment. 2nd Edition., SAGE Publications, Inc, California.
Kaushal, Virender (2017): Corporate Social Responsibility: A Survey of Cement Corporation of India, Rajban, Sirmaur; International Journal of Science Technology and Management; Vol.No.06; Issue No. 07, July 2017. Available from: www.ijstm.com [Accessed 10 June 2021]
Nossel, Murray (2018): Powered by Storytelling. McGraw-Hill Education
Dolan, Gabrielle (2017): Stories for Work. John Wiley & Sons Inc, USA.
About the Writers:
Romein is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. His diversified professional career spans many different sectors, i.e., local government, mining, consultancy, construction, advertising, and development cooperations. Romein is the Head: Business for Development at PIRON Global Development, Germany (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])
Ebenezer ASUMANG is a Development Communication Specialist, an SDG Market Building, SME & Finance Researcher, serving as Senior Project Manager with PIRON Global Development, Ghana (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])