CSR Learner's Corner Archives

Seeking truth through research

While browsing through the Internet for random things earlier this morning, I came across a work of fiction that I had previously encountered before, in high school. This short story has spawned movie interpretations and very deep food for thought, and I regret to not have fully understood it in high school.

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s short story, In a Grove (original Japanese 薮の中 Yabu no Naka), was published in 1922, during a time when modernism was, as its name would imply, not yet a huge movement. It was subsequently turned into the famous Japanese film Rashōmon by the reputed Japanese director Kurosawa Akira, which combines the plot of In a Grove and the setting of Rashōmon, another short story by Akutagawa; and even an opera by Alejandro Viñao.

The story recounts a rape and murder from the perspectives of key characters and witnesses – a traveling woodcutter, a Buddhist priest, a police worker, the mother-in-law of the murder victim (whose daughter, the victim’s wife, was with him at the time), the purported killer, the wife, and even the dead man himself, speaking through a medium – in that order. Their testimonies serve as the content of the story itself, with no narration whatsoever (except for the headings identifying who is speaking). What is notable about these is that each testimony adds to the reader’s account of the rape and murder – and also confuses it. At least one thing every character says is refuted by another, with a different version of events recounted. In the end, it is not said whose version of events is the truth or fact, as the reader is left with a collection of at times contradictory accounts of what really happened.

The story depicts the relationship between man and objective truth, and how the connection between them can be choppy or have a broken bridge. Meaning, man’s ability and/or willingness to take in and then translate truth can at times be compromised, resulting in unintended or unpleasant consequences. These can be minor or major depending on the importance of the thing being discussed at hand.

Such as CSR or social enterprise.

There is no one universal definition for either of these two terms, which leads to what may seem as just a little confusion at first, but with wide-reaching consequences in execution or application. For example:

  • The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) describes CSR as a management concept where social and environmental concerns are integrated into operations and stakeholder interaction. It is the way to achieving the triple bottom line approach of people, planet, and profit, and makes a distinction between its CSR and charity, philanthropy, and sponsorships.
  • In 2011, the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) described it as “[capturing] the essence of business-led investments to provide access to social services, support the development of communities, and protect the environment”. It takes corporate citizenship as one step beyond, marrying long-term business goals with the aforementioned. Their CSR is done in three ways: optimal internal management, strategic resource provision for social development, and partnerships with non-business communities and publics.
  • Also in 2011, the European Commission streamlined their definition to be “the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society”.

Furthermore, Dr. Wayne Visser, keynote speaker at BCYF’s first Philippine Conference on Research in CSR in 2011, brought forward the notion of “CSR 2.0”, a new take on “corporate sustainability and responsibility”, which brought the CSR notion further to be engrained into the very raison d’être of business. Then during a United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (UN-PRME) meeting, Professor Francisco Roman of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) proposed further what is now BCYF’s working definition of CSR, “citizenship, sustainability, and social responsibility”, which from the individual’s perspective is what BCYF calls CSR 3.0.

But searching for a universal definition of CSR is not my point here; the above are merely illustrations of this week’s reflection. My point is simply that due to so many differing accounts of what CSR really is, there is no blanket agreement on what it is; only key concepts are shared and essentially agreed on as gospel truth. Like the murder from the In a Grove story, certain facts are evident to all and can really not be refuted. But because of some circumstance, other facts are not as known and one can only rely on accounts to accurately describe said facts. Unfortunately, because of the limitedness of the human being (as compared to the perfection and all-seeing eye of God), said accounts can lead to confusion.

This is why research is essential not just in trying to understand this great elephant that is CSR, but in trying to understand anything about the world itself. Universities encourage their constituents to do formal research in order to effectively and efficiently shed light on matters that humanity tries to understand. Though it may never be possible to fully come to a universal, infallible truth about a matter, doing research can clear the way enough that at least confusion is dispelled. The more written output about something resemble each other, the more it is likely they depict what we think to be the truth – again, based on objective analysis and evaluation.

On the other hand, not doing research and simply plucking one’s hand into the unknown – and this is a daily reminder I wish to enforce upon myself – would be akin to taking In a Grove as it is – without doing any further analysis of the conflicting stories of the characters. Or it would be like taking just one account as gospel truth without even attempting to understand or analyze the other accounts. When it comes to matters where the stakes are high – such as environmental sustainability or the plight of the poor – failure to properly understand can result in dire consequences that would be awkward or difficult, if not downright impossible, to revise.

In doing research, like-minded individuals can combine their knowledge and power to be truly effective and efficient, as the already agree on a set of principles to carry out. Such should be the nature when discussing and living out something as potent and transformative as CSR or social enterprise.

Rashōmon screenshot taken from ShadowLocked.com. Rashōmon is produced and distributed by Daiei Film Co., Ltd.

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