Two terms are used for the same thing: Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In the companies I cover, Cisco—with an effort driven by Francine Katsoudas EVP and Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer, and Tae Yoo SVP Corporate Affairs—is the best.
But I often consult with other firms struggling with these efforts, often with inadequate budgets and a lack of focus. One of the reasons Cisco stands out is that they find ways to use their unique skills and capabilities to help the world, so they get a massive force multiplier that most traditional philanthropic efforts lack. Cisco’s CDA program, for instance, led by Guy Diedrich, not only does a ton of good, it helps Cisco expand into new markets.
Now I believe that ESG and CSR efforts are less about leadership and more about driving collective positive change in the world. So having companies do a better job than Cisco doesn’t hurt Cisco. It would make the world an even better place to leverage artificial intelligence (AI), given that AI is uniquely powerful in taking defined and stable concepts like ESG and CSR best practices and applying them at scale.
Let’s talk about how AI could make ESG and CSR efforts more effective and powerful and maybe even autonomous.
AI systems are uniquely capable of looking at massive amounts of increasingly unstructured data and making actionable recommendations based on that data. Were an AI vendor, like say IBM, to focus their effort on ESG and CSR, not only could it provide more effective and potentially profitable solutions for IBM, but other firms wanting the same benefits would be potential customers, and their combined good should massively exceed what IBM might be able to do alone.
As I look at this general area, the most effective path, and here I mean the path to do the best with the resources available, may not be doing ESG and CSR themselves but on enabling an ever-growing number of customers to create more scalable, effective, and even profitable efforts to make the world a better place.
Were IBM to make their Cloud AI instance for ESG and CSR free, it not only would become a showcase for the power of Watson, but it would help an ever-growing number of existing customers and prospects become more effective with their ESG and CSR efforts. The positive impact on the world could be unprecedented in scope and potentially profitable for both IBM and these customers (depending on the result).
CSR And ESG At Scale
Many companies don’t seem to realize that their true power isn’t in their money; it is in what they do. This power dynamic is true of individuals as well. For instance, a surgeon providing consultation and services can do more good, like Doctors without Borders often showcase, by giving their time rather than money. But with AI, you could collect the combined knowledge of these doctors and provide far more accurate diagnoses and more timely identification of new diseases and problems, along with currently unknown remedies that might work. And this information could be used to help developing countries and underserved communities cost-effectively. Still, access to this collective knowledge should also help the doctors become more effective and successful.
The more effective collection and sharing of knowledge that then is parsed and made available to the people that need it could have a massive positive impact on the world and easily outperform the collective existing ESG and CSR efforts.
Wrapping Up: Thinking Out Of The Box
We all have unique skills and capabilities that define our value in the world. Even the wealthiest folks in the world, like Bill Gates, for instance, often can make a more immense contribution by providing their knowledge and experience than any monetary donation, no matter how big. It is just vastly easier to donate money than it is to donate experience and knowledge. But AI could fix that by connecting people to those who are the most likely to help them, collecting the contributed knowledge of the world, and reformatting it to help the people in need.
Currently, in tech, thanks to the massive focus of its CEO Chuck Robbins on making the world a better place, Cisco leads in CSR and ESG. Still, an AI vendor could go even farther by enabling companies of all sizes better to use their unique capabilities as a force multiplier and help make the nation, and the world, a far better place.