But I have been fortunate enough to spend several days in Istanbul just last week.
I was leading a workshop on internal and external communications in sustainable business.
Essentially, we covered how the leading companies make the sustainable business case and then communicate and embed policy and targets.
My takeaways from meeting and spending a few days with around 20 executives, from bosses to managers, were these:
- ‘Leapfrog’ economies, as emerging markets are sometimes called, can also ‘leapfrog’ on sustainable business / CSR very quickly. For example, Roche Turkey, which hosted our workshop, has recently done a top notch report that’s likely set a standard in the country. This has happened within the last year or two, pretty much from a standing start.
- CSR/ Sustainability in a sense, matters more outside the EU: Government and institutional support in some areas is weaker, so business, once engaged, can quickly see that a leadership position really matters, and can benefit them. There seems less of a “let’s not get ahead of the leader because we might get shot at” attitude. Of course, one might argue that a less critical media and less developed NGO sector play a major role here. Nevertheless, the feeling remains.
- There’s less cynicism than in the EU/US around the topic. I met 15-20 really smart, thoughtful and ambitious individuals working in the field last week. If that’s any kind of cross section, the passion for the topic (which is so important) has not been dulled by the fatalism one so often experiences in the EU/USA.
- There’s a decent sized divide (which I’ve seen elsewhere) between the divisions of multi-national companies and large domestic companies on CR policy, reporting and implementation. That’s to be expected. What was clear to me though, is that there are at least several, likely more, large Turkish companies set to catch up in the next few years. They may catch up very fast if their bosses grasp the business case.
- Lastly: If we want to get past the ‘Philanthropy as CSR’ problem, a major challenge in many emerging economies, perhaps we should think about other ways of phrasing progressive corporate strategy.
For example, the Ethics and Reputation Society of Turkey, with which I worked to put together last week’s workshop, has, I believe, hit the nail on the head with their name.
Given that CSR is in many ways a damaged term, often associated with low-level community and philanthopy/volunteering work, they have chosen to focus on two key areas for family-owned business, which dominate in Turkey: Ethics and reputation.
Many senior executives may look down on the idea of CSR, but none can ignore the twin motivators of ethics and reputation.
In a sense, ethics is the stick, and reputation is the carrot to gain their interest.
I think it’s a smart move. Once interested in the notion, the more holistic notion of sustainability and the value of social entrepreneurship can be gradually introduced. This is already happening.
For any readers interested in Turkey and CR, I’d recommend two individuals, alongside Tayfun Zaman, who runs TEID, (linked above) who’s work you might consider taking a look at.
One is Serra Titiz, who runs a company called Mikado. Serra is responsible for some of the best CSR work in the country in companies, and is also a leading social entrepreneur.
The other is Salim Kadibesegil, the country’s top reputation management consultant and author. Both are fascinating and inspiring.
I am particularly taken with Salim’s philosophy of having ten year life goals/visions. A great idea.
As always, I’d welcome comments on the above thoughts from readers more expert than myself on Turkey.
I’m looking forward to working with TEID (the Ethics and Reputation Society of Turkey) again.
Their hospitality and ambition to drive forward the agenda is second to none.
If you are tired of the incrementalism and cynicism of what we used to call ‘the West’, then go see what’s happening in countries like Turkey.
It can re-invigorate you. It certainly has me.
Here’s the Ethical Corporation Turkey briefing from September 2011 below, and linked here.