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Strategic CSR and Social Entrepreneurship: The Merge of Commercial and Social

A conversation with NetSpring Social Enterprise and Maker Sustainability Consulting

In recent years, we can see more and more initiatives cross the boundary of commercial and philanthropy to solve today’s sustainability challenges. In the past, businesses solely engaged in the commercial activities while governments and NGOs took care of social problems. However, organizations have increasingly extended their boundaries between the social and commercial lines. Corporations, faced with public pressure on taking social responsibility, have initiated societal and environmental projects. NGOs, suffered with low efficiency and lack of funding, have embraced business tools to enhance capacity and have engaged in commercial activities to reduce dependence on donations. 
Together with the MBA Entrepreneurship Club, CEIBS Center for Leadership and Responsibility supported a session on Sustainable Business Opportunity on January 21 at Shanghai campus to discuss the merge of commercial and philanthropy activities between companies and NGOs. Clotilde Pallier, General Manager at Netspring Social Enterprise, and Yaxing Tan, founder and CEO of Maker Sustainability Consulting (MSC), presented their organizations and experiences on sustainable business in China. 

Clotilde first shared her experience and thoughts about Netspring. After several years working as a quality and sustainable development manager in retail, Clotilde decided to fully focus on social and environmental good thus joined Netspring in 2015 as the general manager. She introduced Netspring's economic, environmental and social value creation process: helping companies getting more value from their e-waste while turning them into education tools for the million kids who do not have computers at school. Since its establishment, Netspring treated 26 tons of E-waste, built up 58 IT classrooms and provided IT equipment that impacted more than 26,000 kids. She also shared the biggest challenge Netspring is facing now: how to turn its business model from a philanthropy oriented CSR project into a strategic business model.

Yaxing, an entrepreneur who started his sustainability consulting firm  in 2014, started his presentation by asking the meaning of CSR. Yaxing began his presentation by talking about the stereotype he received when introducing himself as a CSR consultant. In telling his journey on CSR, he recalled back to a volunteer project in Qinghai Province, when he saw the inefficiency of the philanthropic donation for schools. Then he decided to find efficient and effective solutions by leveraging the private sector for more strategic philanthropy practices. The idea turned out to be his entrepreneurial project: MSC. He showcased a successful partnership with Tencent WeCountry, which utilized internet tools to craft an innovative rural development project. Yaxing also shared the challenge of many companies' poor understanding of CSR and the difficulty to bring CSR to a more strategic level for them.
Indeed, when the for profit and non profit sectors merge, many challenges appear as well. One of the most cited is the difficulty to change mentality: NGO and business people have different ways of thinking and talking, which prevent them to accept different approaches to get things done. From my interviews, NGO people tend to criticize businessmen being arrogant and think everything can be solved by money while business professionals find it very difficult to work with NGO ones for their lack of professionalism. It is very rare to find talents who understand the both worlds.
This is the first session on Sustainable Business in 2016. Our center would like to bring more dialogues on the topic of business and society into CEIBS campus to facilitate ideas exchange between business and non profit sectors and to break the mentality boundary between. We expected to raise awareness and connect people within and beyond the CEIBS community.
More about Netspring and MSC.
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