Blogs & Comment

Aboriginal culture and CSR: The new frontier

An Aboriginal Elder once told me that Aboriginal people walk into the future facing backwards so they don't forget their families, their communities, their history, and their values.

Aboriginal boys dancing at an aboriginal dance festival in
North Queensland, Australia. (Photo: John Miles)

An Aboriginal Elder once told me that Aboriginal people walk into the future facing backwards so they don’t forget their families, their communities, their history, and their values. This past week, I participated in Canada’s largest Indigenous inclusion event and recruitment fair, the Aboriginal Human Resource Council’s Inclusion Works ’11, and made the connection between what I’d heard from the Elder and what corporate social responsibility (CSR) is really all about.

It occurred to me that over time, businesses lost the ability (and the interest) to consider the impact they have on the people they are closest to: employees and retirees, customers, and local communities. In the single-minded pursuit of profit, corporations lost sight of the fact they also have a social purpose. And, although the degree to which the business of business is integrated with society varies according to the industry (e.g. the mining industry has much more impact on local communities than a sector such as aviation) there are three common threads that, together, comprise the DNA of a corporation’s social purpose:

  • A genuine interest in finding out what really matters to employees, customers, and community stakeholders in terms of social and community issues.
  • An ability to deliver on short term goals and maintain a commitment to longer term social goals.
  • A commitment to telling the truth and operating in an open and transparent manner.

From what I heard this week, these same threads are also woven into Aboriginal culture.

During a keynote presentation I did called Increasing Business Performance through Corporate Social Responsibility it struck me that corporations who want to be more responsible have much more to learn from Aboriginal people than from me.   

As an Aboriginal Elder told me this week “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breach, only then will you discover that you cannot eat money”.