Welcome to this one hundredth anniversary edition of Corporate Citizenship Briefing.

August 04, 2008

To mark the occasion, we have invited a cross-section of practitioners, analysts and commentators to share their perspectives on the past, the present… and prospects for the future.

We started planning our first edition of what we then called Community Affairs Briefing back in the summer of 1991. The sense of a world in flux was strong.

The Berlin Wall was down and Nelson Mandela had just been freed. The Rio Earth Summit was less than a year away. Francis Fukuyama declared ‘the end of history’, marking the supposed triumph of Western liberal democracy. Capitalism was seen as the only game in town. And the debate about the nature of modern capitalism – and who should benefit – was gathering pace.

Into that world we modestly stepped forth, offering a bi-monthly analysis of the major developments in the broad area of ‘business in society’ and what they might mean for companies and practitioners. Our main task then was simply finding out what was going on. We didn’t anticipate the explosion of interest in our topic, nor the subsequent deluge of news. We certainly didn’t stop to think what the world might be like one hundred editions – some 17 years – later.

That task we have assigned to our distinguished array of contributors, to whom we are immensely grateful. Together they span both sides of the Atlantic and the northern and southern hemispheres. They come from inside companies, from the viewpoint of NGOs and government, and from intermediaries operating in between. Some offer an intensively personal perspective, others adopt the analytical approach.

Attempting a summary here could not do justice to the diversity of their views. Reading them, you may be intensely depressed about the state of the world today – famine, poverty, catastrophic weather…. not just the four horsemen of the Apocalypse but many of their friends and relations can be felt riding through these pages.

Or you may be intensely uplifted – as I am – at the prospects for harnessing the dynamic power of business to address the social and environmental needs of a world that feels a lot smaller now than when we started out. No one said it would be easy – but the prize, if corporations, communities and governments can work in genuine partnership, is truly immense.

One thing that we haven’t cracked in the intervening years is what language to use. We settled on ‘corporate citizenship’ to capture that sense of companies being full members of society, having both rights and responsibilities: rights to trade (fairly) freely and generate the wealth many still desperately need; but responsibilities too, to think about the consequences of their behaviour on people and planet, today and for our children’s children.

Here our contributors use a multiplicity of terms, from sustainability and responsibility, to ethics and accountability. We’ve not sought to edit or restrict – preferring the approach of that poet from America’s Mid West, James Whitcomb Riley, who sometime in the 1880s said: “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

For now, let’s agree it’s a duck and concentrate on keeping it in rude health. Otherwise it will take most of the next 17 years to settle on an agreed alternative. I commend this collection of essays to you.

Mike Tuffrey founded Corporate Citizenship Briefing in 1991 as a way to brief himself and his clients on developments and trends in community affairs, social responsibility and sustainable development – in the belief that companies are citizens of society with rights and responsibilities. He co-founded Briefing’s publisher, the consultancy Corporate Citizenship, in 1997.

An economics graduate and chartered accountant by profession, Mike’s career has taken him to the private, voluntary and public sectors. Currently an elected member of the London Assembly (which scrutinises the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson) he was appointed to the London Sustainable Development Commission by former mayor, Ken Livingstone. For twelve years, he was a local councillor and leader of an inner city borough and before that a legislative assistant in Parliament.