Monsanto, ADM and the fight against hunger. A good partnership?

Before I go further, let me state the following is my personal opinion, not necessarily that of Tyson Foods, or anyone else in the company.

I ran across a post on my Facebook news feed yesterday from Feeding America talking about their Invest an Acre partnership with Monsanto, ADM, and the Howard Buffett Foundation, in which they’re encouraging farmers to pledge an acre of their production, the benefits of which would go to Feeding America.
The comment section was lit up.  Massive flames.  The gist: Feeding America has sold out to the evil empire of Monsanto.  Shame on them.  Boycott.  Occupy.
Let me offer a different perspective (and I can speak with some authority):  Corporations are not monolithic empires.  The most successful ones—and no matter your opinion of Monsanto, it is successful, as is Feeding America—are made up of  diverse collections of people. They don’t all think and act alike. Each and every day their cultures evolve, influenced by this diversity.
The hunger relief community has the capacity to influence the culture within Monsanto (again, I speak with some authority).  Much more so than Monsanto has the capacity to influence Feeding America.   But they can’t do it if they’re lobbing nuclear bombs.
If you truly care about hunger relief, you should want the people who drove the Feeding America partnership (and I’ve never met any of them) to be successful within Monsanto.  They’re the progressive thinkers within the company.  They’ll have their naysayers (one would hope not many), stating, “This is an exercise in futility. There’s no way our company benefits from this.”  Let me suggest that blanket invective only gives support to the naysayers and diminishes the influence of those who advocate for positive change.  Do we want that?
If you truly care about hunger relief, you should want the thousands of farmers who use Monsanto products and sell to ADM to be engaged in the issue.  They’re in the business of feeding people, and they do it quite well.  If their energy, intelligence and innovation can be rallied around the issue of hunger, there’s enormous capacity to move the needle.
I don’t agree with everything Monsanto has done and stands for.  But I do believe condemning Feeding America for engaging them and America’s farmers in the fight against hunger—a positive step—is counterproductive.
Flame-retardant suit donned.



The business case for CSR

Interesting post this week from Billy Shore (the most visionary non-profit person I’ve ever met), “Where the rubber meets the road: CSR and shareholder value.”

Billy raises a question, which in turn invokes the subject of his recently-published book, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men:  Where there is no market, what is the responsibility of for-profit businesses in solving the world’s problems? And if businesses don’t have an obligation toward those solutions, who does?

My rent is paid by a publicly-traded company with a vast array of stakeholders, each having expectations of the company.  My job is to be a liaison between the company and many of those stakeholders, including those people who have dedicated their lives to fighting hunger. 

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the role of corporations in solving serious societal issues.  What’s expected; demanded; rewarded? 

Obviously, the “license to do business” doesn’t necessarily mandate a company’s deep involvement in social responsibility.  While Tyson Foods has a respectable philanthropy/CSR profile, we have some very successful competitors who give little or nothing back.  They’re not penalized for not being involved. They would maintain their contribution to society consists of providing jobs for people, economic opportunities for communities, and good products for their customers.  But I’m not really looking to debate that issue here.

I do believe there are rewards for companies that give back. There’s a business case for doing it. I do know from my own experience that once the business case is put forward, it’s much easier to get resources allocated (especially when profits are slim).   So the question I would have, in follow-up to Billy’s post would be: Should companies maximize that business case by looking for ways to give the best reward to their shareholders for CSR?  In the end, is that a detriment or a service toward building a better world?