By Stevenson, Michael
Information Outlook , Vol. 3, No. 8
In the Assets Column: Plant, Equipment, and Stakeholders
Our end-of-millennium economic boom has been stoked by heavy corporate investment. But company resources are going not only toward trophy real estate and high-tech tools, corporations are ramping up their social investment. A few indicators from the field:
* Corporate philanthropic contributions by U.S. firms have risen from some $7 billion (1998 dollars) in 1985 to over $8.5 billion in 1998 increasing through the era of downsizing, global competition, and merger mania.
* Fortune- and National Post-ranked companies such as Merck & Co. and Petro Canada have embarked on multiyear programs to be recognized as Neighbors of Choice[SM] by their stakeholders. Such efforts include corporate-wide education of the workforce to encourage employees to be ambassadors for the company, and company partnerships with schools, social-service providers, and advocacy groups.
* Extractive industries' "slash and burn" approaches to business are giving way to gaining community buy-in. British Petroleum PLC dropped a ham-fisted approach to the ecology of Casanare province in Colombia, and has committed over $10 million, in an era of weak oil prices, to sustainable economic development in the region. The oil giant has traded quick gains for long-term benefits for BP Colombia and for Colombians.
Investment Boom, Information Boom
Corporate librarians who monitor their firms' press and Internet coverage face a host of publications and Internet sites that document, monitor, foster, and critique corporate social investment. CommunityWealth (www.CommunityWealth.org) explores public/private partnerships, cause-related marketing and "venture philanthropy." Rain Forest Action Network (www.ran.org) offers ready-made e-mail messages that the disgruntled may zap to a company president to protest corporate policies.
Conservative groups, too, are web-savvy. Capitol Research (www.CapitolResearch.org) posts companies that "feed the hands that bite them": Top supporters of causes termed inimical to business interests.
As mergers proliferate, the media consider fallout for communities. The Boston Globe's business columnists regularly critique area firms for their contributions, or lack thereof, to the Bay State's civic life. The Star-Tribune does the same for Minneapolis-St. Paul, home to a grand tradition of corporate social investment. The papers' web iterations get the word out to a global audience of investors and relocation specialists.
A ROSI Scenario?
The new social investing is higher risk for the corporation, and with attendant bigger rewards. A growing body of research by financial analysts shows a positive correlation between active social investment by a firm and the latter's financial health. So the potential return on social investment - a measure we might dub ROSI - is attracting the attention of even diehard beancounters in companies. Managers of social investments need good information, and corporate librarians and information brokers can exploit this opportunity to serve new information needs.
Grand Alliances and Collaborator Intelligence
To whom in the company should information professionals reach out to foster wise social investments - and thus contribute to the long-term health of the organization and its communities? …