By Rong Wang

During one of the keynote speeches at the Cross-Sector Social Interaction Symposium in June, the Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council spoke addressed some of the major challenges faced in their line of work. One challenge discussed was about how to move from traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) path to create a sustainable business model with partners.

Visualization of the corporation-program network. The link indicates the implementation of a program. Color indicates node type: red = corporations, and black = programs.

This provocative challenge resonates well with the findings from a new study at NNSI that examines what corporations are more likely to implement what types of CSR programs related to refugee relief effort. We collected data from 99 Global 500 Fortune corporations that actively engaged in this line of work in the past 6 years and analyzed their annual CSR reports. The study found that, on average, all the sampled corporations implemented almost 4 unique programs between 2012 and 2017. There was some evidence of corporations forming partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (such as International Committee of the Red Cross), and inter-governmental organizations (such as United Nations Human Rights Council). However, only a few corporations formed alliances with one another.

Why is that? Our study found that corporations from the same industry tend to implement same types of programs. This is consistent with what literature describes as institutional isomorphism, meaning that organizations tend to mimic each other. Take technology companies for example — they are more likely to implement education-related programs and programs to help refugees improve their employment skills. But what about manufacturing companies? They are more motivated to help refugees better adjust to their new environment and find ways to adapt to new cultures.

All of this points to a debate in CSR literature and practices: Is the CSR window addressing stakeholders’ expectations or is it a form of strategic alliances for corporations to facilitate better transmission of information, knowledge and enhance the allocation of resources? We hope to continue this research project and understand how the refugee issue as a controversial topic affects corporations’ CSR effort and their communication to the public.