CSR- Building Resilience


“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

———–Bill Gates, Business magnate, and philanthropist

Flex your resilience muscle

Resilience is the trait that can help any business withstand and even benefit from challenges and setbacks. Resilience, in other words, is about adaptability and flexibility – taking on a new form to meet the demands of new situations without getting bent permanently out of shape. Hence the word “resilience” usually denotes something like elasticity.

So how does your business become more resilient? Well, one can think of resiliency as a mental muscle – something that, just like a physical muscle, can be developed with exercise.

Resilience is not an elusive quality that some businesses have, and others don’t. Instead, it’s a practice that companies can build by refusing to give up, despite the rejection and criticism they encounter. Indeed, resilience is, therefore, a skill that businesses can develop, enabling them in a position to succeed. All companies have the capacity for resilience. And by cultivating it, businesses can discover their true meaning and contribution to society as a whole and pursue it, even when the odds seem to be stacked against them.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) success comes one step at a time. CSR success is the result of resilience: the ability of businesses to face criticism and failure when pursuing their vision and goals. Resilience is about learning to accept failure. Through resilience, companies know how to take risks, fail fast and become agile.

Resilience in Reality

But this is easier said than done. So how do businesses build their resilience and achieve impact in a CSR way? Along this way, enterprises gain some knowledge, insights, and techniques that help them achieve their desired goal. And one of the main ways businesses can do this is by maintaining laser-like focus and being risk-tolerant and hungry for new opportunities. That was one of the keys to billionaire Elon Musk’s bumpy road to success.

Elon Musk also provides an example of resiliency in the other sense of the term: not just withstanding setbacks but also growing from them.  For instance, in 2017, when reports came out about the high rate of injury at his Tesla factory in Fremont, Musk made some unusual public pledges to his employees. One of them was that he would have one-on-one meetings with injured workers to learn about the factory’s production line problems. Not only that, he would then perform their tasks himself to experience those problems firsthand. Thus, he turned the issues into a learning opportunity.

To keep up with the relentless pace of change, companies can build resilience by staying connected to the communities they operate and the stakeholders with which they engage. In addition, businesses can develop their resiliency by taking care of their CSR priorities and looking for opportunities to exercise them. This prioritization lies at the heart of building resilience.

Fail Fast

“Fail fast” can teach both individuals and organizations to make the most of failure.

The concept of fail fast comes from systems design. It denotes a technology that immediately reports issues likely to cause serious problems further down the line. When this happens, operations are halted so that the flaw in the process can be addressed. The idea was later taken up by businesses to describe the way they stress-test products early on. This gets failure out of the way, and it can prevent years of wasted investment. Importantly, it allows businesses to leverage their strengths, even in the face of failure.

Most companies don’t enjoy and, in fact, fear failure and try to avoid it. So how are businesses encouraged to embrace failure? Trail and error, and the failed attempts that inevitably result, often lead to swift improvements in business operations. Companies have used failure to launch them to prosperity. By stepping out of the proverbial “comfort zone”, businesses can learn a lot about themselves and what to do differently next time. Hence, instead of avoiding failure, invite it. It might be that some things don’t work out, but companies will be losing out on attractive opportunities by not attempting something new and doing things differently.

Winds of Change

Resilience isn’t just about positivity – it’s also helpful to think about everything that could go wrong. Companies are much more likely to be resilient when companies are clear about their doing what they are doing. Purpose makes businesses resilient and gets them through periods of hardship. This sense of “why” gets business leaders through grueling seven-day weeks in the early stages of establishing their business. In other words, the conviction that their tasks are meaningful gives them the courage to push through adversity.

For businesses to be resilient, they have to able to withstand the turbulent winds of fate. So, for instance, if a building can weather the literal winds of a hurricane, it would be labeled as resilient.

But in another sense of the term, a resilient business not only withstands the winds of fate but also harnesses them to the best of its ability – as a sailor does with his sails. The sailor knows that while he can’t control the direction of the wind, he can control the direction in which he points his sails.

In this metaphor, the uncooperative “wind” stands for the challenges, crises, and setbacks that the world may throw companies in pursuit of their vision. But, if these businesses are resilient in both senses of the word, they’ll not only take these difficulties in stride; they’ll also respond to them in ways that lead to growth.


Over the past decade, organizations have often lost sight of “natural” resilience because they have favoured superficial long-term performance. However, excessive focus on efficiency leads to holes and weaknesses in vital systems. There is no longer enough redundancy and diversity to mitigate uncertainty and permanent change. To (re) balance your organization, you need to increase both flexibility and robustness. Companies also need to improve diversity and be more open to different views and alternatives. Finally, businesses have to invest in resilience deliberately so that they can face risks and challenges head-on.

In today’s fast-paced world, where important decisions have to be taken quickly, businesses can’t simply react to change; they need to drive it as well. 


Kaz, Karl (2019): Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sane Leadership: Showcases in the German-Speaking Countries

Kahn, Susan (2020): Bounce Back: How to Fail Fast and be Resilient at Work. Kogan Page Ltd.

Babineaux, Ryan, and Krumboltz, John (2013): Fail Fast,  Fail Often: How losing can help you win. TarcherPerigee.

Perell, Kim (2018): The Execution Factor: The One Skill that Drives Success. McGraw-Hill Publishing.

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  is a Development Communication Specialist, an SDG Mkt Building & SME Researcher and Finance & Investment Nomad. He`s Ag. Country Director with PIRON Global Development GmbH, Ghana (www.piron.global).   Contact him via ([email protected])

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