Corporate Eye

Passion and Creativity in Spain | CSR Around The World

Passion: the one word which sums up the Spanish completely.  No matter where they are or what they’re doing, the Spanish are likely to be giving it their all.

Because of this Spaniards tend to also be creative, imaginative and fiercely independent.

Think of the haughty Señora, or the fiery Señorita and the picture starts to unfold: this isn’t plain stubbornness, this is a high functioning desire to work it out for yourself and stick to what you believe in.

Passion, in retrospect, hardly seems to do it justice!

Spain’s political and business organisation reflects these values well.

The country is divided into seventeen autonomous regions, each of which has its own legislative, executive and judicial arms of government.

Although not formally regarded as a federal government, these regions exercise more independence than other more widely know federal countries, including the USA and Germany.

The same sense of autonomy runs through Spain’s business organisation.  According to the EU (PDF), Spain has 58 SMEs per 1000 people, “substantially higher” than the EU average of 40 / 1000 people.  What’s more, these SMEs contribute a much higher amount to Spain’s economy as a whole than the EU average: nearly 15% more Spanish employees are in the SME sector, adding over 15% extra to the overall value of the economy.

With such a strong sense of direction and belief in what they’re doing how, I wondered, do the Spanish approach the subject of CSR?  To help me understand this I turned to Juan Villamayor, a CSR expert living in Barcelona and author of the blog A Touch of Green.

“Spanish CSR is beginning to have a regional touch,” he explains, referring to the autonomous regions, “A local flavour that sounds delicious but actually smells more like improvisation. Many people fear that each of those regions will be tempted to regulate the subject in an uncoordinated way. In fact, two regions have already passed a law to support voluntary CSR.”

While news of support of voluntary CSR is welcome, the last thing any country needs is to have its regions dashing off in different regulatory directions.  To try and counteract the potentially divisive effect this may have, a National CSR Council was established in 2009.

However there appears to be little progress towards a national strategy for CSR, although it’s refreshing to hear Valeriano Gómez Sánchez, the Spanish Minister for Labour, describe CSR as “a new form of corporate governance” which goes beyond simple regulatory compliance.

Creativity at the heart of Spain’s CSR

One of the reasons Juan believes such a framework is vital to Spain’s interests is because of the sheer creativity the country holds, especially at SME level.

“Small and medium enterprises are the ones who are more creative about the subject (CSR),” he says, “Mainly to find ways to avoid costs and complex procedures.”  To illustrate this he points to Responshabilizate, a collaborate initiative which allows SME owners to share their thoughts and experiences of how to implement CSR and become more sustainable businesses.

“Furthermore, creativity is a must when explaining CSR to people and companies,” he continues, “Especially to SMEs .. (this is) one of the big challenges.” One excellent example of this creativity is a “subway map” to implementing CSR created by the Sustainability Excellence Club (Club de Excelencia en Sostenibilidad), which deserves a blog entry all of its own.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are, of course, both challenges and opportunities in Spain as there are in many countries implementing CSR around the world.

Aside from the risk of an uncoordinated regional approach being adopted, one of Juan’s top worries is SMEs motivation to adopt CSR policies in the first place.

“Many of the efforts in CSR will be crisis-driven, hoping that corporate responsibility will pay off in terms of differentiation and good corporate reputation,” he says, pointing out that around a third of Spanish SMEs have put their CSR plans on hold. “In the current Spanish crisis it becomes more and more important to translate the advantages of CSR into profit for the companies.”

However definite advantages to Spanish CSR and, in particular, Spanish-speaking CSR is beginning to flourish.  This is because Spanish multinationals are now starting to reach out from Europe to Latin America and around the world.

“This new multinational approach defines how Spanish companies are acting,” Juan explains. “They have learnt that CSR can be the way to gain more competitiveness and have more control over their supply chains.”

Of particular note is how these multinationals are breaking away from Spain’s traditional base of tourism and construction and challenging world dominating companies in areas such as banking (Santander) and fashion (Grupo Indetix).

Leading this charge is Telefónica which is now the third largest telecommunications company in the world with interests across Europe, the Americas and Asia.  It also happens to be a leading light in CSR and is the top ranked telecommunications company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

If this same passion and creativity can be ignited in all Spanish companies the country may soon become a leader in Europe, if not the world.

Picture Credit: Poster for Flamenco dancers in Grenada by Frank Kovalchek under Creative Commons Attribution License.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.