The importance of Corporate Social Responsibility in business

In today's episode, we discuss why corporate social responsibility is important in business, how CSR has changed and evolved over the past year and what trends practitioners should be thinking about.

We also explore what are the greatest opportunities in the CSR space and why bold companies will we rewarded by employees, customers and the market.

This is part 1 of our 3 part discussion with Jerome Tennille on disruptions in the social impact space. 

Watch or listen to Part 2: The future of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in the workplace. 

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Karl Yeh:

So today we have two special guests. Our first guest who you've probably seen before is Janelle St. Omer, who is the Regional Vice President with Benevity and she's our special guest host today. And we also have Jerome Tennille, who is the Manager of Social Impact in Volunteerism with Marriott International.

Janelle St. Omer:

Thanks, Karl, and hi everybody. I'm super excited to be back here today [00:01:00] and even more excited to have Jerome Tennille joining us.

One of the favorite parts of my role is getting to connect with practitioners who are doing amazing work, but who also think differently and are constantly pushing themselves and the rest of us as practitioners to do even more and up our game, as it relates to social impact.

So, Jerome is a disruptor, an influencer, and all around great guy, and we are thrilled that he could be with us today. Hey, Jerome.

Janelle St. Omer: Well, thanks for joining.

So let's dig right in. CSR, [00:01:30] as you reflect on the last year, what do you think is the biggest thing that's changed or evolved in CSR over the last year?

How has CSR changed or evolved over the last year?

Jerome Tennille:

Yeah. And I've written a little bit about this.

I mean, I don't know that CSR has necessarily changed, but what I've seen is that it's been accelerated by what I would suspect to be about five years and I'll share what I mean by that.

So I happen to think that disasters, whether they're natural, or manmade have this way of really [00:02:00] changing our behaviors and changing the things that we do out of necessity.

And so what we end up seeing is that trends that were already on their way to happening are accelerated by years.

And a couple examples.

So, nowadays like digital, virtual, remote, deliver, everything is like what we expect.

Now, that change has been happening, but I think COVID-19, and out of the abundance of safety, [00:02:30] it accelerated that, the appetite based out of a demand, a need that didn't currently exist before a crisis.

And I think that's what we're seeing play out with corporate responsibility.

Janelle St. Omer:

I think that's a great point because I feel like for myself, I've been in this space for a little while, and these are all things that I think practitioners knew inherently, we all had in our gut that this was the direction that we could go.

But in some cases, getting the buy-in, building the business case was a little bit more challenging.

But now to your point, everything's been accelerated because it was the [00:03:00] only choice that we had.


Jerome Tennille:

And I would say that for example, people they look at last year, or almost a year and a half at this point, and they say, "Oh, well the Defense Production Act, it did A, B and C and companies responded."

These are the things that companies were already on their way to doing, but out of necessity and the great need of society, we saw car manufacturing companies pivot to making ventilators.

We saw apparel companies and other appliance companies [00:03:30] starting to make PPE, face masks, the face shields, and everything that goes along with it.

And we also saw distilleries, of all the different types of companies come together and make and sell hand sanitizer.

And so the interesting thing about this is that we have accelerated in my estimate about five years, but we can't go backwards, which is like the silver lining of all this, is that we've set the bar so high now that [00:04:00] you can't go backwards.

That would be lunacy.

Janelle St. Omer:

I agree with you completely.

So when you think about that, that we can only go forwards from here.

What's the trend that you think every CSR practitioner should really be thinking about?

CSR Trends every CSR Practitioners should be thinking about

Jerome Tennille:

So less of a trend in terms of critical issue, or cause that needs to be solved, but more of a trend in people becoming more open-minded, CSR professionals being more open-minded, their leadership, CEOs, [00:04:30] COOs all being more open-minded.

So, I generally don't like to focus on trends because I think sometimes trends are created based on not necessarily critical issue, but sometimes some weird demand in society that doesn't really necessarily address a very specific issue.

So not a trend in that way, but I'm seeing that people are much more open-minded in how they're creating, planning, [00:05:00] and executing their CSR programs.

And also things like, for example, like applying an equity lens to how we conduct business more responsibly, like those sorts of things.

  • Who creates the programming, why is it created, the intentionality and the purpose behind it?
  • Who's allowed to volunteer, who has the most barriers to volunteering that as a business you need to remove.
  • How do we show [00:05:30] up in the communities that you're seeking to serve in a way that doesn't perpetuate the issues that you're working to solve?

Like, those are the types of things that I think people are now starting to think about and should continue to think about because the open-mindedness is there.


Karl Yeh:

So when you talk about open-mindedness in terms of like, are we talking about the businesses in terms of open-mindedness or in terms of everyone in general or CSR practitioners.

Jerome Tennille: I would say everybody in general [00:06:00] .

Karl Yeh:

And I guess moving on from that too,

What is the biggest opportunity in corporate social responsibility today? What are some advantages for businesses that engage in CSR?

Jerome Tennille:

So I think the opportunity is for companies to be bold and more bold than they've ever been.

And this goes back to the trend of being open-minded as people, or as businesses that I think CSR professionals should look at as an opportunity.

The crazy hair-brained idea that I had two years ago, people [00:06:30] are now open-minded to it.

And so if there is this, you know a big, hairy, audacious goal that you have as a CSR professional, this is the time there's no time greater than the present to say, "Hey, I have this thing that I've been thinking about, and because of such drastic times, calling for such drastic measures across the globe for a myriad of reasons, let's try this drastic measure that is wildly untraditional compared to what we have done before."

And surprisingly, people [00:07:00] are much more mentally able to consider the things that they've not considered before.

And I think a part of that's out of this acceleration of CSR, but also the great need that we're still trying to address.


Janelle St. Omer:

I agree with you completely.

I think the bold nature that you just talked about is one of the things that I've observed the most.

I feel like we're at a point in time now where companies are actually willing to take that step forward, whereas before to me, there was kind of status quo.

Everybody was [00:07:30] doing the exact same thing.

So when you think about that bold nature, that openness, I guess kind of taking this different lens to the work that we're doing, where do you think that we're going, and are we headed in the right direction?

Are we going where we should be going?

So three questions in one for you there Jerome?

Where do you think that we're going, and are we headed in the right direction?

Jerome Tennille:

So, two different things here.

I want to address, I think something that Karl asked about, and that was the advantage.

Bold companies will be rewarded

And I think both companies that pursue some of these bold opportunities, or the opportunity to [00:08:00] be bold will meet favor and they will meet applied by not just the public and customers, but also there employees who also expect this new boldness.

And so, as we're sort of thinking about that, and as we're thinking about, where are we now versus where we should be going?

I think the answer is that we're going in the right direction.

I think where we are at now is probably where we should be.

Of course, [00:08:30] we can always do better as companies, as practitioners.

And I think we should continually push the field to do better, more effective programming and work to have long-term positive outcomes.

But I think where we're at is where we should have been five or 10 years ago.

So I'm happy with where we're at.

Where CSR is headed

I really don't have any complaints. In terms of where we are going, I think the one thing that I'll share is I think CSR [00:09:00] can be very reactionary, right?

We're reacting to the next disaster, the next issue, the next situation.

And I think sometimes we have a tendency of getting caught down a rabbit hole and I'm going to share one example.

So it was just 2019, 2020 that we couldn't turn on the TV, or the news and see the wildfires that were happening across Australia [00:09:30] and all the wildlife and humanitarian disaster that it created.

Think about where we are now.

You never hear anything about that. Yet, they will be recovering from that for decades.

I mean, we're talking about some wildlife being close to extinction because of the wildfires, right?

So these are the things that are happening over the next decades.

And so where we should be going [00:10:00] is I think, where we are going, but we also need to just be mindful to not go down a rabbit hole for one thing and completely forget or ignore that there's a whole other issue that's also happening.

Of course, some of these things are very ad hoc, right?

You have to address the things that are most immediate and present right now.

And so recovery and wildfires might be secondary to addressing COVID and racial injustice, [00:10:30] but we can't forget that that's also happening.

And so we have to make sure that we have our head on a pivot moving forward to make sure that we're canvassing all the issues, the best way that we can, or at least know that they're actually still happening.

Janelle St. Omer:

I think that's a really good point, particularly on the racial justice, because [00:11:00]

I feel like so many companies now who have not before taken a very bold step towards inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging at their workplace and now seems to be the kind of shiny object of a shiny thing that everybody's focused on.

Whereas to your point, there are so many critical long-term issues that practitioners have been focused on historically.

And it's almost the tension of, the and as opposed to the or, and really figuring out how to continue to do both.

And I think even to your point about disaster relief overall, I think more and more practitioners now are even starting to recognize that there really are three separate and distinct pieces to disaster relief.

There's the preparedness, [00:11:30] there's the actual relief in the moment that it happens and then there's a long-term disaster recovery.

So, I think that our work as practitioners really does, even though we're talking about different areas, not necessarily disaster relief, but there really are kind of the short term, medium-term and longer-term implications to everything that we do.

And we cannot lose sight of all the different issues that are out playing.

Jerome Tennille: Correct. It's all interconnected.

Janelle St. Omer:

So, last question for you.

What's the one thing that a CSR practitioner should be thinking about, or one last piece of advice that you have for a CSR practitioner [00:12:00] who's just getting started?

Jerome Tennille:

Value, diverse thought.

And this is what I mean by that. I think many people they say, "Oh, I diverse all sorts of thinking."

But here's what I mean, I happen to have a nonprofit background and my nonprofit background actually informs much of the work that I do.

I'm able to put this community focus lens over the work that I'm doing when I'm connecting with nonprofit partners. And that makes me much more empathetic and makes me much more understanding of [00:12:30] the burden that they feel as a nonprofit.

It makes things much more human.

And it also removes the power dynamic that might exist between the companies and the nonprofits that they're serving.

That's one very different perspective, but people from all different walks of life, from all their different experiences, lived and learned, they bring a very different perspective to our field.

So we need to value that diverse thought process because I think long-term, that'll help CSR [00:13:00] in general, get out of the rut that I think that it's felt pre-COVID to this point. And that's how you have that boldness.

Karl Yeh: So Jerome if [00:13:30] any of our audience wants to connect with you, or learn more about you, where can they go?

Jerome Tennille: They can go directly to my personal website, at

Question of the day

what are some of the CSR trends and disruptions that you've seen, and how have they impacted your business? Let us know in the comment section below.

Connect with Jerome Tennille on Linkedin

Connect with Janelle St. Omer on Linkedin