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So what happens to NGOs?

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 23, 2012 2:40:17 AM / by CSRHub Blogging


By Ashley Coale


There’s no question that the CSR and business responsibility fields are alive and growing – with clear signs that they’re here to stay. We’ve seen many companies adopt whole systems approaches to retooling their business model. We’ve seen executives like Unilever’s Paul Polman turning away investment from sources that don’t buy into Unilever’s equitable and sustainable model. Furthermore, we’ve seen corporations shift from sources of philanthropy to active participants in implementing and participating in projects that give back.


NGOsSo, you may be asking, what’s wrong with all this? Well, in some ways, not much. But increasingly, as we’ve heralded the blurring of the public and private, I have to ask, so what happens to NGOs? 


The rise of civil society in the latter half of the 20th century dramatically changed the landscape of social and environmental activism. In fact, the pure numbers of NGOs grew astronomically from 176 in 1909 to nearly 5,500 in 1996. When you think of some of the most successful campaigns for everything from dolphin-safe tuna to non-discriminatory hiring, somewhere there is an NGO to thank.


And very importantly, when it comes to corporate social responsibility and transparency, NGOs have held companies accountable, helping the public to understand the reality of business behavior. A significant share of CSRHub’s sources of data come from independent NGOs – of the 142 sources of CSR ratings data, over 70 are NGOs. The Human Rights Campaign, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and Greenpeace provide transparent ratings of corporate behavior on hiring practices, carbon emissions and sustainable seafood.


We relied upon NGOs to find the means and methods for pressure and whistle-blowing where it was most needed. They provided research, expertise and funding. And they exerted political pressure, often advocating for those without a voice. In the old days, if there was no money to be made – business was out.


But business isn’t “out” anymore. As we have come to expect more from our corporations, they have come to deliver more. There has been a shift in what Doug Guthrie has called our social contract with business. The expectational paradigm of what makes a positive non-governmental actor is evolving towards not just an NGO, but also a for-profit enterprise that provides and works for good in its community, the environment and the world at large.


Further complicating the non-profit and for-profit dichotomy, traditional sources of international NGO funding, such as the US Department of State and USAID have increasingly emphasized private sector participation. Social enterprise – development as implemented by entrepreneurs and small start-ups – can’t seem to stop building buzz. With the empowerment of the corporation as the next locus for social and environmental progress, will NGOs become relics of the past?


I’ll be the first to admit that it’s overly simplistic to see NGOs as the ONLY significant engine for change. I’ve never been one to subscribe to the simplistic categorization of cultural theory: the good (NGOs), the bad (government) and the ugly (business). In fact, usually I’m actively arguing for disrupting this old structured assumption – and I know there are many with me. This old model may have gotten us to trust and rely upon NGOs, but it has done little to empower and expect more from business.


But as we go about our disrupting, and changing the role for business, we can’t let the NGO model drift by the wayside. We must not allow the NGO of the 20th century to disappear. As David Weiss cautions, we can’t let them become victims of mission creep or exploitation. And most importantly, we still need the objective checks on reporting and accuracy that NGOs have long been able to provide.


Photo courtesy of Brande Jackson


Ashley Coale has a long-standing passion for business sustainability and the impact that strong, effective communications campaigns can have in catalyzing change. As the Social Media Editor, Ashley manages social media and communications outreach at CSRHUB. She is responsible for crafting and implementing content and strategy. Her communications experience includes a wide range of causes including international development, human rights, and federal and municipal sustainability policy. She holds a bachelors degree from Wellesley College and a masters degree from the London School of Economics. A native of Portland, Oregon, she now makes her home in Brooklyn, New York.



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Altruists in Action

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 14, 2011 10:36:28 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

The Role of NGOs & Non-Profits in CSR


by Bahar Gidwani

This post is the latest in Crowds of Ratings, a Triple Pundit guest series about the CSR ratings field.


4092374825_9df7bf3a04 There are more than 1.5 million US organizations—and many more overseas—that have put addressing a  social issue or need above the goal of making money.  More than 2.3 million people work (again, the US figure) in these “not for profit” (NFP) organizations.  Hundreds of thousands more work for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as universities and hospitals.


These dedicated altruists help the poor and sick, lobby for legislation, protest, persuade, and discuss important social issues.  They also contribute a ton of useful information on corporate social responsibility (CSR).  NFP groups have the patience and enthusiasm necessary to track a company’s behavior over a long period of time, make lists of companies who do and do not support their cause, and mount public campaigns aimed at changing both consumer perception of a company’s brand and company management and employee awareness of how their company is behaving.


We have found these sources most useful for understanding specific, controversial issues (what we call “special issues”).  For instance, should companies test products on animals?  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (better known as PETA) feel they generally should not.  They maintain a list on their Web site of companies who do animal testing and encourage others to refer to this data.


A dedicated animal-loving researcher named Alex Poulos keeps his own list of “good” (no testing) and “bad” (testing) companies on a site called “Vida Compassion” or “Alex’s List.”  A third group called Understanding Animal Research offers a list of companies who have published statements on their internal policies and regulations on animal testing.  Their view is that when performed responsibly, animal testing contributes to safer products and better human health.



Another list comes from the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS)—which now has set up a “Leaping  Bunny” certification programIf you areinterested in the animal testing issue, you should probably explore the information on these sites and many others listed here. You can also cross check the data on each company these sites mention, using two of our SRI sources—Asset4 and IW Financial.


NFP sources give us information on things like mercury in fish (Oceana), involvement in Burma (The Burma Campaign and Global Union Burma), and a list of who is in the coal industry (Coal Mining Engineer’s List).  We’ve integrated many of these sources into our CSRHUB rating project—but we’d like to have more.  What holds us back?


  1. Many NFPs do not target corporate behavior.  For instance, of the six current “Take Action” suggestions from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), only one involves company behavior.
  2. Many NFPs believe they can most effectively change corporate behavior via private interactions.  Corporations sponsor a particular NFP program, adjust to a request from an NFP to change a policy, or respond directly to a letter or position.  For instance, The Nature Conservancy does not share its corporate discussions with outsiders like us.
  3. Many NFPs do one-time studies.  For instance, Greenpeace did a wonderful study on the effects of cattle breeders on the Amazon. But, our system needs long-term, broad-based data—so that we can track over time and across many industries and countries.
  4. By its nature, the data from NFPs is not independently reviewed and verified.  We tend to favor data that can be verified or confirmed.


Many NFPs have become justly famous for the quality of their CSR reporting.  For instance, Wood Turner’s ClimateCounts has been publishing corporate climate change Scorecards since 2007.  His small group of analysts assesses and publicizes the climate performance of more than 140 companies across 22 different areas.  We all benefit from this kind of selfless service to our community.



Bahar Gidwani is Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. He was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses, and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey. Bahar has consulted to companies including Citibank, Banco Portuguese do Atlantico, Crane Co., Sperry, GE, General Dynamics, Computer Associates, Oracle, Microsoft, Computer Sciences, EDS, Cerner, and Acxiom. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Bahar is based in New York City.

CSRHUB is a corporate social responsibility ratings tool that allows managers, researchers, consultants, academics and individual activists to track the CSR performance of major companies. We aggregate data from more than 90 sources to provide our users with a comprehensive source of CSR information about 5000+ publicly traded companies in 62 countries. Browse our ratings at www.csrhub.com.

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