Sunday, June 29, 2008

Understanding ISR-Individual Social Responsibility

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) has been the buzz for a while. Several attempts have been made to define, practice and document CSR. But increasingly and from diverse and independent pockets in the world people are talking about a different and more basic social responsibility. ISR-Individual Social Responsibility has all the takings of being a high impact change maker. This article tries to build understanding on the subject by studying these various points of view.

What is ISR?

Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) is about an individual becoming responsible in his/her actions that have affect on communities outside his/her immediate circle. The immediate circle being family and friends [1].There can be an argument about also including family and friends, but it would be rather pertinent to include them as part of Individual Personal Responsibility.
Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation (WCIF), Bulgaria, describes ISR in its position statement on Social Responsibility as,
"The individual social responsibility includes the engagement of each person towards the community where he lives, which can be expressed as an interest towards what’s happening in the community, as well as in the active participation in the solving of some of the local problems. Under community we understand the village, the small town or the residential complex in the big city, where lives every one of us. Each community lives its own life that undergoes a process of development all the time. And everyone of us could take part in that development in different ways, for example by taking part in cleaning of the street on which he lives, by taking part in organization of an event, connected with the history of the town or the village or by rendering social services to children without parents or elderly people. The individual social responsibility also could be expressed in making donations for significant for the society causes – social, cultural or ecological. There are many ways of donating, as for example donating of goods or donating money through a bank account or online".

Is ISR only about philanthropy?

ISR is not only about:

1. Committing acts of charity
2. Working for the communities where you have material interest.

These only form part of ISR, which is a broader concept that can be manifested through action as below:

1. Philanthropic behaviour of an individual [2]
2. The campaigner, volunteer and activist instinct in the individual that picks-up and supports issues affecting the society [3].
3. The above two coupled with an individual being ethical (integrity, honesty)[4]in his/her outward dealings

ISR vis-à-vis CSR

1. ISR is at the roots of CSR, because a corporate comprises of individuals and hence determines the social responsibility culture it follows.

2. As CSR is being increasingly viewed as a tool to push wares a greater need for ISR is expected [5]. The example of in giving people the power to empower is a big indicator of the shift.

3. If ISR becomes way of life CSR may be an automatic end result.

4. “The social responsibility of business is to make a profit,” famously said Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winner. He explained that in making a profit a company creates thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly through suppliers, distributors and retailers. It imparts valuable skills to its employees. It pays crores in taxes. It improves the lives of millions of satisfied customers with its products and services. This is an enormous service to society. If some shareholders get rich on the way, so what? Companies should focus single-mindedly on their competence, providing goods and services better than their competitors, and not get distracted by extraneous activity. A company’s social responsibility is to make profits legally, not to harm nature, and uphold the highest standards of governance.
It is then left for the promoters of the corporations to practice ISR from the profits received above to really answer Social Responsibility.[6]

Is ISR practical?

Yes, it is. The successes of ventures like that empower individuals to bring sustainable change are case in point. Furthermore, the advent of Web 2.0 and social networking has fuelled Individual activism, campaigning and giving.
But there is still a long way to go. According to The Harris Poll ®#57, June 18, 2007[7], when it comes to individual social responsibility, two-thirds of U.S. adults have "Good Intentions" – they believe that social responsibility is a good idea, and they do what they can in terms of volunteering, but they do not sacrifice huge amounts of time or money. At the top end of the spectrum, 8 percent of U.S. adults "Practice What They Preach" and for this group, individual, as well as corporate, social responsibility is extremely important. One-quarter of U.S. adults, however, follow a philosophy of "To Thine Own Self Be True" and, for this group, social responsibility has little consequence in their lives.
On the other hand the trends show that the biggest growth for big charitable organisations in the world is coming through individuals and not through corporations and governments [8].
The aspects of ethics, honesty and integrity surely need further consultation.


1"ISR is here, watch-out CSR!” by Anup Tiwari at

2Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation (WCIF) position on ISR at

3Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation (WCIF) position on ISR at

4Suresh Govindarajan in "Individual Social Responsibility" on

5"The End of Corporate Social Responsibility", posted by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore on

6”Private virtue, public vice” by Gurcharan Das,December 17, 2006, Times of India,


8” The Inconvenient truth about corporate fundraising” by Sean Triner in

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