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Management Networking for Social Responsibility; Companies Increasingly Turn to Business Schools to Find Ways to Build Good Practices By Alina Dizik 986 words 19 November 2009 The Wall Street Journal (Online and Print) WSJO Management English Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship created an invite-only online community this month for its member companies to directly share best practices on corporate responsibility. In less than three weeks, 314 members joined a group of 226 who tested the system for six months. Center administrators expect this kind of exchange will attract even more companies to join the center— and pay as much as $10,000 a year for membership. The community offers user-generated advice and access to a cadre of business studies from the center, part of Boston College's Carroll School of Management. School administrators say the online site was launched partly because companies were increasingly contacting the center for advice and information about what their peers were doing in the area of corporate social responsibility. "We have leaned on them significantly," says Robert Chatwani, head of global citizenship at eBay Inc., who was part of the original test group. With input from other members and business-school case studies, the online-auction company is finding ways to expand the reach of its social initiatives. For example, Ebaygreenteam.com, a site that points users to ecofriendly products, is now seen by millions of users as a result of tips from the online

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community to align its marketing with eBay's brand-name cachet, says Mr. Chatwani. Like eBay, a growing number of companies are turning to business schools these days for help in redefining what it means to be socially responsible. School administrators say firms in industries across the board are looking to incorporate initiatives in this area into their business plans and everyday leadership decisions. One reason for the heightened interest in social responsibility is that companies seeking to expand globally need to first understand what social issues matter most in their target countries, says Gil McWilliam, an executive director at Duke Corporate Education. "If you are doing business in India, you are very aware of what's happening around you—businesses these days can't avoid it," she says. Since Duke began its custom executive-education offerings in 2000, about 40% of corporate clients have either discussed or taken on social initiatives, with a big chunk of those doing so for the first time this year, she adds. In August, International Business Machines Corp. collaborated with Duke to offer Forward Looking Insights, a hands-on exercise to educate the firm's emerging leaders on the needs of the developing world, says Suzanne DeWitt, program director of education and leadership development. Taught in Singapore, Madrid and Raleigh, N.C., the program aims to help company managers expand technology offerings and sell products abroad. "It's very important that we go through that step in expanding their thinking," says Ms. DeWitt. "Certainly we are bringing [the concepts] down to earth, to their particular business unit and their role in the company." For some companies, a renewed—or new—focus on social responsibility is necessary to build a stronger reputation locally and abroad. Kellie McElhaney, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business, says this kind of brand management can help positively shape a company's public image. A large part of her consulting in the past 18 months has been focused on helping companies highlight their social efforts to build their brand. She's currently working with a large retailer to highlight its longtime commitment to ethical products. Indeed, 57% of consumers say a company or brand has earned their business because it supports good causes, according to a survey from Edelman, a public-relations firm.

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MIT's Sloan School of Management is designing a custom course on sustainability for 12 executives and 120 directors at Itau Unibanco SA, a large financial-services company. The program, which launches next year, will tackle concepts like understanding sustainability as a business opportunity and integrating sustainability into the evaluation of risk. Richard Locke, deputy dean at the school, says it is the first time a financial firm has asked MIT for this sort of extensive training. Of course, when it comes to teaching corporate social responsibility, textbooks aren't always enough. The concepts—incorporating an ethical approach to business decisions and understanding the impact on surroundings—can be difficult to grasp for professionals focused on profits, losses and monetized strategic goals. Ms. McWilliam says immersion and emotional influence make the most impact on developing a mind-set for incorporating responsible practices. To that end, Duke is making an effort to harness internal resources at companies to foster learning and change—and to make the ideals more real for numbers-oriented managers. The school recently created a program pairing executives at an energy and mining company with the heads of its nonprofit environmental foundation so they can learn from each other. The firm hopes leaders will understand the needs of a developing area by learning about its social and environmental factors, and that, in turn, this knowledge will help the company manage risk as it continues to expand internationally. At Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, a module that simulates a corporate crisis component with a corporate social responsibility angle has become a popular add-on. For example, managers will spend class time re-enacting a scenario in which they react to environmental groups that have attacked their firm's reputation. Participants learn that "you have to integrate these moral quandaries with respect to the social issues fairly quickly," says Daniel Diermeier, a professor of management at Kellogg. Last year, Mr. Diermeier taught the module to managers from more than 40 companies, up from about five in previous years. "It's an increasingly important part of managing and enhancing a company's reputation," he says. Write to Alina Dizik at alina.dizik@dowjones.com

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