Sustainability Corner: CSR—reciprocity; the name of the game

Chief Sustainability Officer
  • “Reciprocity is the recipe for prosperity.” —Vincent L Rogers, Author

Remember the old cliché, ‘what you give is what you get?’ or the song ‘The End’ that says the love you take is equal to the love you make. You bet, that’s true in business too. Time and time again, we have observed and studies have shown that corporations and organisations inclined to share or sacrifice something and focus on collaboration are the businesses which have an advantage over their peers and competitors.

But what is meant by reciprocity in layman’s terms in the context of business? Reciprocity implies give-and-take, a mutually beneficial relationship of meaning and power. The law of giving and receiving – or for that matter, asking – is not about helping those who help you. It’s about helping others regardless of whether they’ve helped or are likely to help you. It is an investment that will yield powerful returns over time. And this can thrust your organisation forward. Is it not true that if we hear a business does excellent work to benefit their community and customers, we want to buy from them or be associated with them? This is partly because, as individuals and as a society, we disdain those who do not reciprocate good works.

We have all heard the ancient proverb, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving’. But does this mean that it’s wrong to receive? And this is a categoric NO! These two acts go hand in hand. It’s impossible to give without receiving, and vice versa.

Reciprocity beyond lip-service

How do you make reciprocity part of how you do business? Say, for instance, you want to increase your sales, enhance your reputation and begin reciprocal relationships with other companies in your area. Collaborate with businesses that provide similar services. See if you can start a referral programme, for instance when one corporation cannot provide service to their regular and existing customers. Start with outreach to complementary businesses to find out if there’s a possibility that you can promote both companies together so as to increase volume for both of you.

The US-based design firm IDEO is already reaping the rewards. That’s because of its active ‘culture of helping’, which encourages employees, business partners and other businesses to share what they know and ask for help when they need it.

As businesses grow together and build balanced partnerships, they create a community. This makes for a triple-win experience for everyone, both the companies and their customers. Additionally, sharing resources among small, medium, and local organisations helps foster small business growth within a community. Because small businesses are frequently bootstrapped, building positive relationships with other companies can sometimes mean the difference between staying afloat and business closure. Reciprocity also allows companies to get things done that they would not be able to do on their own. Finally, by working together or exchanging services, companies can accomplish more than they would as separate and individual entities.

So to reiterate, reciprocity is a good and beneficial thing. It keeps businesses in check to behave in socially acceptable ways, and allows businesses to engage in a social give-and-take with others. Importantly, reciprocity builds trust with clients. Particularly for those who have never interacted with your product, service or brand before, businesses must understand that they can make profits and be a force for good. As the law of reciprocity details, you establish your industry authority and demonstrate that your business has your customers’ best interests at heart.

Moreso, reciprocity equally applies to employees at a company – businesses that keep employees engaged and make them feel appreciated and valued for their work. For example, organisations can keep employees happy by giving them gift-certificates on their birthdays or rewarding them for outstanding performance. The reality is that the more businesses offer, the more they get. It’s an almost surreal experience.

It’s all about reputation

Clients and communities, through their online presence, are now profoundly interconnected. Hence, any news about your business will spread quickly – whether your business is donating to an orphanage, developing great products and services, mistreating your employees or polluting a river with industrial waste. The new generation of well-informed clients and communities are acutely aware of environmental problems and social injustices occurring well beyond the borders of their communities, and countries for that matter.

Therefore, organisations have no choice but to start genuinely caring about their employees, humanity, and the planet to win the favour of this new generation of discerning consumers. This is particularly important for reciprocal, responsible and caring businesses that care about their reputation. Conscious consumers and communities seek products, services, or brands that resonate with their values. Conversely, they will reject products, services or brands associated with values they don’t support. As a result of the growing connectedness of customers and their awareness of social problems and environmental challenges, companies that fail to demonstrate reciprocity risk damaging their reputation and growth prospects.

As it happens, businesses that focus on giving back to their employees, customers and society are often those which consistently and sustainably thrive. Consequently, if enough organisations prioritise helping the community, employees and the environment, they will realise that they can make an impact and create positive change as quickly as they can be profitable.


Finally, this is the information age and the principle of reciprocity is especially pertinent in today’s digital landscape. Our conscience goes hand in hand with our connectedness. The way businesses behave impacts others’ lives, and their actions have implications for people worldwide. Think about it; most successful digital marketing, albeit social media, content marketing, inbound marketing, or email marketing, follows the ‘Give. Give. Get.’ formula.

Reciprocity plays a crucial role in the way societies and business relationships work. Being a reciprocal business means committing to success – and not just your own. Reciprocal companies understand that success isn’t an individual pursuit. Instead, it occurs in an environment where everyone is given a chance to thrive. That means taking a two-pronged approach to achievement. First, reciprocal businesses will flourish over the coming years and decades by ensuring that corporate culture and business practices prioritise solid values and good causes over their profits and short-term gains. Also, not only does the power of reciprocity unlock potential earnings for businesses, but climate change and future pandemics may make this kind of corporate innovation an absolute necessity.


Kotler, Philip; Hessekiel, David; and Lee, Nancy (2012), Good Works!: Marketing and Corporate Initiatives that Build a Better World… and the Bottom Line. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Johansen, Bob and Ronn, Karl (2014), The Reciprocity Advantage: A new way to partner for innovation and growth. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

About the Writers:

Romein VAN STADEN (Pr. CHSA, MBA) is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. Romein is a multi-disciplinary professional with experience in various sectors. Contact him via ([email protected])

Ebenezer ASUMANG, MA.MBA.CGIA has specialties in Development communication, Innovative finance & investment, Sustainability and Creative writing. He`s Country Director @ PIRON Global Development GmbH, ( and Branch Manager @ People Investor AG (

Contact him via ([email protected])  & [email protected])

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