CSR in China: Philanthropy or Community Investment?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming a large field in Asia, especially with the launch of groups like CSR Asia that provide the much needed research and advisory services to institutionalize the field.  One of CSR Asia’s article, Challenges to Chinese Philanthropy, highlights some of the barriers corporations in China face.  As I read the article, I realized that the definitions of ‘philanthropy’ and ‘CSR’ are very western concepts with distinct meanings.  I wonder if we have been able to successfully separate them in practice here in the U.S.

The author says that “CSR in China is still widely perceived as philanthropy.  The concept of community investment is largely unknown, and for many people, CSR is comparable to a donation rather than actively engaging communities and developing real partnerships.”

I hope that as philanthropy develops in the region, it can engage communities and develop real partnerships. Perhaps, one of the reasons that CSR is seen as a “donation” is that many corporations were started, managed or controlled by families and individuals and it is an extension of their giving.  Given enough time and adoption of practices, CSR in China could certainly resemble our western practices.  However, I wonder if that is the solution we should aim for given our economic predicament.

Here is a brief list of the challenges to philanthropy mentioned in the article:

1.  Lack of accountability and transparency of government foundations

2.  Insufficient experts and professionals who know both philanthropy and business

3. Education projects are much more valued since contributions are made in relation to return of value.  “The mentality of giving money to something that has no obvious future value is uncommon in China.”

4.  Chinese companies do not think of themselves as being a corporate citizen.

5.  Business owners think that their business is to makeprofits for shareholders.

6.  Chinese people still regard philanthropy as some occasional activity by wealthy organizations or individuals.