Social Responsibility in Public versus Private Organizations

A fundamental difference between the Civil Service and private sector organizations is that Social Responsibility has always been part of the fundamental mandate of the Civil Service or Public Service Institutions. These institutions exist to serve society, to make sure that the social, economic, political, environmental, technological, cultural and legal welfare of the society is safeguarded.

This is in contrast with what transpires in the private sector. The private sector ideally should but does not exist to safeguard the welfare of society. It exists to create wealth, accumulate gain, to maximize profits to the exclusion of all else. That is why the classical view of social responsibility prevailed for so long. The socio-economic view has only overtaken the classical view recently. Firms of today exist in society which makes social, environmental and economic demands on them. To acquiesce to these demands, they invest a portion of their gains back into society. I call it an investment because they expect a return on their social responsibility initiatives such as the goodwill of the public, tax breaks, government favor and enlargement of their customer base. They do not do it because they see it as a responsibility for the most part.

Therefore though private organizations may ‘practice‘ social responsibility, they do not do it for the same reason that the Civil Service does. For this reason, social responsibility initiatives of private organizations hardly impact the society as it could. The gold mining companies in Ghana are an excellent case. They have mined gold from places like Obuasi for decades. Yet a cursory physical observation of Obuasi and most mining communities in Ghana reveal that after years of operations, the mining has not benefited these societies in any meaningful and long lasting way. Individuals like the Chiefs or elites of these communities may have benefited plus a school block and a few scholarships may have been doled out here and there but generally the society as a whole did not benefit sustainably from the CSR. At least this is my opinion. This is the Ghana experience. In their wake some of these private entities specifically in the natural resource extractive industry leave behind used and abused communities with massive deforestation and polluted rivers.

At the World Bank Institute, there was a presentation by a World Bank Lead Specialist Djordjija Petkoski, titled Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Competitiveness in April 2003. The presenter quoted some ZMET interviewees. ZMET stands for Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation technique. It is an interview technique designed by a Harvard Professor, Gerald Zaltman which is used to define consumer thoughts and feelings. It is used to explore business to business and business to consumer issues. One of the ZMET interviewees was quoted in the presentation as saying, “the fundamental obstacle to CSR is that we are caged in our current ideas”. Another said, “The point is going from one way of doing business to another is very tough. There’s a lot uncertainty. It takes a lot of skill, but we have to lift ourselves beyond that, above the fog, and that’s not going to be a simple exercise. CSR is about seeing the forest, the fog, and seeing how we can get on the other side, and how we can be well-equipped for doing that. So probably we need to develop additional skills, knowledge, and understanding.” A group managing director was quoted as saying “Corporate Social Responsibility is not a cosmetic; it must be rooted in our values. It must make a difference to the way we do our business.” Finally, the 50th slide which concluded the presentation was a quote from a student from Moscow, during opening remarks for a meeting on Russian Future Leaders and CSR, with Mrs. Wolfensohn. It reads, “You cannot talk about CSR unless you love your people and your country” (Petkoski, 2003)

It is part of the Civil Service ethos to love your country hence being socially responsible is not that much of a problem though I must confess that there are more than a handful of “bad nuts” here and there. The private sector on the other hand has a big challenge not only in Ghana but worldwide as we can see from the World Bank Institute presentation in 2003. The proper motivation as the Moscow student noted is love for the people rooted in values. Maybe this is patriotism. This is the only way true social responsibility can produce meaningful long lasting and sustainable benefits to a society.


Petkoski, D. (2003, April). Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Competitiveness.


2 thoughts on “Social Responsibility in Public versus Private Organizations

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