Reflections: Bringing our own value to corporate responsibility and accountability

For CSI UNSW students Suzi Hullick and Jaimie Moreno (pictured above with fellow student, Sam Flockhart), learning about corporate responsibility and accountability has been invaluable on both a personal and professional level, with a key takeaway being that it doesn’t happen in isolation but rather as part of a complex system in our complex world.

Sandeep Kirpalani, lecturer of Corporate Responsibility and Accountability at UNSW , hopes that Suzie, Jaimie and other students who complete the 12-week subject as part of their social impact degrees, derive a deep understanding of the context within which corporates sit and the roles and the responsibilities they personally have in the world.

“It’s not about having a debate of whether corporates should exist of not, or whether capitalism is bad or not,” says Sandeep.

“Rather, it’s about knowing corporates have been here for a long time and they’re here to stay so what are their responsibilities towards stakeholders, society, employees, customers and suppliers? And can profit and purpose fundamentally intertwine for the long term rather than the conventional focus on the short term.”

The ‘moral compass’ for corporates

Suzi, who is Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Westpac, describes corporate responsibility and accountability as “The moral compass for organisations. It’s asking yourself that question, ‘We could, but should we?’”

She reflects that with corporates becoming more and more the vehicle for change, it requires them to have people who are “absolutely acutely aware of both corporate social responsibility and the social impact they’re having on society.”

Jaimie, who works in the public service, is drawn to the nexus between sectors and how they can help solve important problems differently and together.

“I really found the value in the discussions with fellow students, who'd worked in government, not-for-profits and the private sector. It really made me think that I would like to learn more about the business side of the equation too,” says Jaimie.

Jaimie also found that looking at the actual impact and outcomes of corporate responsibility was interesting.

“There was a lot of work in the course around the importance of designing solutions and defining problems as corporates or stakeholders, but also what the different incentives are across the stakeholders,” says Jaimie.

Sandeep himself finds the push for organisations to be more accountable for their actions quite inspiring.

“It’s almost like corporates have been left with no choice but to act within a responsible manner. How they do it is the interesting part and that’s where our students can play a crucial role in shaping the next iteration of corporation ethos,” he says.

The power of collaboration

Sandeep is also acutely aware that nothing he teaches as part of the course can be done in isolation.

“Corporate responsibility, creating shared values, social impact, leadership. All of this happens in relationship with people and stakeholders. Collaboration is actually the key,” he says.

“We are living in a very complex world and a lot of our solutions are in the realm of problems that don't have easy answers. If you're not collaborating, then you're essentially never going to be able to work in the world of complex problems,” says Sandeep.

To reflect this, the Corporate Responsibility and Accountability is a very collaborative course. Students build networks through doing real world and practical exercises together.

“If you go through a journey together, where you've collaboratively done something out of your comfort zone, that bond becomes really strong,” says Sandeep.

In parallel to this, Suzi has realised through her studies that from an organisational perspective, partnering is critical.

“Westpac as an organisation, won’t solve all the problems. But if collectively the industry gets together, then there could be a collective movement,” she says.

Jaimie, through his studies, is curious as to what we are asking corporations to do, and how reasonable some of those things are.

“Shouldn’t we be looking at this in the context of a collective? In the context of sectors?” he asks.

“Do we understand the cost involved? And are we willing to accept the cost? Whether that’s in our time, whether that’s in increased prices, what we’re willing to pay for. Basically, are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?” asks Jaimie.

Bringing value to the world of corporate responsibility

It is all well and good to expect corporations to play a more responsible role but Sandeep wants his students to reflect on the role they play, and what value they bring to the world of corporate responsibility.

“As we went through the course, after every session - which includes a number of guest speakers - we would look at ourselves in a different persona; as a customer, investor and citizen, with the goal of working out what our value is in the world of corporate responsibility. I asked our students, what tangible actions are you going to take when you leave the course?

“Corporate responsibility and accountability was always important, but it has never been so accessible to the world as it is today. And that’s exciting for everyone as we can all play a part,” says Sandeep.