Business News

GUEST BLOG: Crowdsourcing your CSR ideas

By Business & Finance
09 March 2016
stand out from crowd

By Sana Khan, commercial contracts attorney at Arista Networks

In part five of her seven-part CSR series, Sana Khan explains how companies can generate fresh new ideas by casting a wider net.

Crowdsourcing: firstly, it is worth understanding what is meant by the term. Crowdsourcing is the process of getting work or funding, usually online, from a crowd of people. The word is a combination of the words ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing’. The idea is to take work and outsource it to a crowd of workers.

A famous example is Wikipedia. Instead of Wikipedia creating an encyclopedia on their own, hiring writers and editors, they gave a crowd the ability to create the information on their own. The result? The most comprehensive encyclopedia this world has ever seen.

Crowdsourcing can be an innovative CSR initiative, as you bring internal and external stakeholders to work together in assisting your organisation to implement CSR ideas without having to spend resources on coming up with them.

You can also limit your crowdsource idea to internal stakeholders only, or use a combination of internal and external stakeholder-crowdsourced ideas.

With the growth of social media you need not spend resources trying to find people: the key is to simply use digital methods such as email or creating a specific website or portal to source potential CSR ideas.

This will also mean that resources are not spent disproportionately on coming up with and implementing a CSR initiative, but rather on the CSR initiative itself – therefore ensuring its maximum social benefit.

Websites such as Kickstarter and Gofundme highlight the willingness of wider communities, if the idea interests them, to provide resources such as monetary assistance, and this is something you can combine with your crowdsource idea.

This way people will be more willing to support your CSR initiative in a manner that suits them best, whether it be through providing online support or volunteering time and other resources.

This will mean that your CSR policy will likely have a lot of resources and support available to it, especially given that your organisation is large and will have the expectation that any CSR initiatives will have widespread positive impact.

By crowdsourcing ideas you are also allowing voices to highlight issues that you may not have come across before, or issues that are not given proper attention by the wider community. You can provide them with a chance to get their issues heard and hopefully obtain some assistance to deal with and manage the issue at hand. This way you can help identify what issues that your organisation, as a whole, feels it would like to focus its CSR initiatives on.


Once you have shortlisted your ideas you can further present your nominated potential CSR proposals for review, as well as the feedback of participants who were involved in recommending the crowdsourced ideas.

This way they can feel involved in the decision-making process of your CSR initiative, making the final initiative that you have decided inclusive, democratic and participatory – things that many CSR initiatives often overlook.

In terms of risk, you will need to outline why your organisation is looking to implement a CSR initiative, and the parameters of the ideas: you do not want to get never-ending options that aren’t of any practical use and will make your approach redundant or inefficient, as you will have to sort through the ideas whether useful or not.

With the growth of social media you need not spend resources trying to find people: the key is to simply use digital methods such as email or creating a specific website

Furthermore, it is advisable that you include a notice or disclaimer clearly stating that it is your aim to determine a CSR initiative for your organisation and that you will allocate resources depending on your organisation’s capability at the time of implementation. This is a good idea because in the event that your organisation cannot, for whatever reason, go through with implementing a CSR initiative, you have already provided an explanation to external participants.

Additionally, you should ideally have a privacy statement allowing your organisation to use personal data – for example, the name and details of participants, should you wish to further contact them (especially those whose ideas or points you are likely to consider).


Sometimes CSR initiatives get criticised for not making a lasting impact and being a short-term solution whereby the organisation gains more from a commercial point of view. If your CSR initiative indicates, however slightly, to others that it is a once-off effort then you are very likely to get scepticism and allegations of greenwashing.

Promoting what appears to be a once-off initiative can lead to the impression that your organisation has not had a proper plan in place for it, nor has it fully invested in the idea.

Impress your stakeholders and competitors with your CSR initiative by establishing a self-sustaining social responsibility programme that is designed to make significant social change over an extended period of time.

The Fair Trade organisation is particularly good for this as it attempts to provide a fair price to farmers in developing and underdeveloped countries, allowing them to get paid fairly and reinvest back in their farms.

This assists in building a sustainable farm, and in theory the community indirectly benefits because the farmer will require his/her farming operations to expand, and therefore hire more helpers. Another element of Fair Trade policy is to continuously educate and modernise farming techniques for farmers in developing and underdeveloped countries, which makes them better equipped to manage their farms efficiently.

You should make sure that any CSR initiative that you undertake can be continuously expanded, reviewed and implemented. This must be something long-lasting and not once-off.

The level of commercial risk depends on the precise CSR initiative that you implement. As with anything that is long-lasting, there are many ways that things can wrong – you just need to keep on top of matters, which is of course easier said than done!

Part one: Thinking about CSR in a new light
Part two: Building a community around your business with CSR
Part three: CSR, the environment and your business
Part four: How workplace CSR can help human rights
Part six: Bringing technology to places that need it most
Part seven: CSR, entrepreneurship and medical aid

About the blogger

Sana KhanIrish barrister Sana Khan is commercial contracts attorney at Arista Networks, education programme director for the Irish Chapter of Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) and a lecturer on corporate governance at Griffith College Dublin.

She provides innovative CSR initiatives that can be implemented by large organisations and has released an ebook on the subject matter of Business Social Responsibility: CSR for SMEs.

Sana can be reached by email with any queries.