Shifting from corporate social responsibility to relevancy

Recently I was having dinner with my friend Nate Garvis, who led Target’s government and public affairs function for nearly two decades and is now working at the intersection of design thinking and entrepreneurial strategy as co-founder of Studio/E.

Nate is taking a very different approach to what it takes to build healthier communities. He’s one of the many corporate social responsibility practitioners I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over the past six years who challenges me to think differently with his insightful questions.

Cover of the 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

Cover of the 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

We were discussing our work and it led to a conversation about critical social and environmental issues facing today’s society, including changing demographics, growing income disparities, and the expanding business potential for green energy and other clean technologies — all topics important to corporate social responsibility at Wells Fargo and many other companies.

What we saw:

We need to shift our focus, and also the words we use, from “responsibility” to “relevancy.”

The term “responsibility” implies obligations and checkboxes. “Relevancy” challenges us to align our decisions and actions with the interests and concerns of others inside and outside our companies.

“Relevancy” also inspires us to use our resources, expertise, and relationships to better society, the environment, and our companies over the long haul — not just through philanthropy and volunteerism, but in how we conduct business.

The public rightfully expects us to be responsible in how we run our organization, but that is not enough.

We need to become relevant to the world our communities want to build by engaging in actions, including providing products and services, that our communities believe have a positive impact.

When our communities see us thinking and acting in ways that are important to them, we can create a powerful differentiation in the marketplace and build our businesses in the right way and for the right reasons.

Let me give you an example. One of our country’s most pressing issues is the growing income gap between rich and poor. We know Wells Fargo alone can’t solve the problem, but we can do our part.

We can expand access to high-quality and responsible banking products and services. We can provide financial counseling and other financial education. We can lead conversations and brainstorm solutions with industry groups and community stakeholders. We can provide needed capital and education to strengthen small businesses, like our work alongside nonprofit Grameen America to help low-income women build small business through microloans.

The bottom line:  We must do all of these things to remain relevant. If we don’t, we’ll fail.

In our 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Report launched today, our Chairman and CEO John Stumpf writes: “Our progress has not been perfect. We know there are many opportunities ahead for Wells Fargo.” I think one of our most important opportunities is to think less about being “responsible” and more about being “relevant.”

What do you think are the most relevant social, economic, and environmental issues that we should focus on? Use the “Leave comment” feature below to share your ideas.

About Jon

Campbell is the director of Government and Community Relations for Wells Fargo and oversees the company’s federal and state government relations, strategic philanthropy and partnerships, environmental affairs, community relations, diversity and inclusion, and Community Reinvestment Act risk management.

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