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Thought Starter: Social responsibility or social opportunity?

Julia Keady,
07 February 2018

This piece was first published by Pro Bono Australia. People who know me know that I get fired up about language.

“Giving back” has long been one of my pet peeves, up there only second to “not for profit”.
There are now more peak groups using “for-purpose” and “social purpose” which is great to see because not for profit has been a very limiting description that doesn’t fully capture the incredible work done day in, day out to improve life for us all. When did we ever describe the wellbeing industry as the “not for illness” sector?

Likewise, we are now also seeing more people talking about “sharing” and “contributing” rather than “giving” and “giving back”. Sharing and contributing is a much stronger and respectful invitation. Asking someone to “give back” can often first imply that you believe they have “taken something” to begin with.

The next domain for me is this language of “responsibility”, as in corporate social responsibility. It is often used to describe a business’ social, environmental or economic areas of responsibility.

Like “giving back”, the word responsibility carries a strong subtext in our society, and is also highly categorical –  you are either being responsible or irresponsible. There are few grey areas. In some cases, a lack of responsibility has indeed been evident and we need to stay on watch where human and environmental rights are neglected.

However, in a country largely populated by small-medium businesses and owner-managed firms, how inspiring is the concept of “social responsibility” in terms of inviting them to participate more deeply?

Put your hand up if you want to get involved in Corporate Social Opportunity or Corporate Social Responsibility. Is it just me, or does it feel more inviting?

Nelson Mandela summed it up well when he said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

I am seeing “opportunity” speak right to the hearts and hopes of both high-net wealth individuals and also businesses.

My prediction is that leaders from mid-sized firms and mid-sized for-purpose organisations (charities and social enterprises) will continue to bring this “opportunity” frame into being.

True shared value recognises the untapped value that business owners across the country already contribute, and continue to bring to social change and social entrepreneurship.

While I am sure my own language and choice of words is up for deconstruction (and some will no doubt help me in their comments below), I write this in an effort to contribute to the way we evolve the words we use to inspire and grow participation in philanthropy in all of its many guises.

What other words in our sector might we put on the chopping block in 2018? 

The Xfactor Collective is a community of pre-vetted specialist consultants who help social change makers achieve their social mission. We have a diverse range of specialists across 300+ areas of specialisation, and this article was written by our Specialist Consultant Julia Keady. To find out more about working with Julia, or how the Collective can help you, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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