The Power of Employee-Driven Social Impact: CSR Beyond the Boardroom

Liam Higgins
25 Aug 2023
4 min read

In the realm of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the traditional narrative often revolves around strategies devised by corporate leaders within the boardroom. While this top-down approach has undoubtedly driven positive change, a notable shift is underway. Corporations are increasingly recognising the untapped potential within their own ranks — their employees. This transition from CSR within the boardroom to CSR beyond it, powered by employee engagement, marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of socially responsible business practices.

The essence of CSR lies in a company’s commitment to balancing profit with purpose. Historically, this commitment has been defined and executed by executives and boards of directors. However, in today’s socially conscious landscape, employees are stepping into roles as champions of change within their organisations.

The Rise of Employee-Driven CSR

A defining feature of the modern workplace is a growing emphasis on purpose and social impact. Employees are no longer content with being mere cogs in a profit-driven machine; they seek meaning and fulfilment in their work. This cultural shift has given rise to a new breed of employees who are not just passionate about their pay-checks but also about making a positive contribution to society.

Companies are creating structured programs that encourage employees to propose and lead initiatives that resonate with their personal values. These initiatives span from environmental sustainability projects to community outreach programs and beyond. The result? A workforce that feels more engaged, motivated, and connected to the organisation’s mission.

Engagement Beyond the Office

Employee-driven CSR extends beyond volunteering days and philanthropic programs. It’s about empowering employees to leverage their unique skills and perspectives to effect change. This can take various forms:

  1. Skills-Based Volunteering: Employees offer their professional skills to non-profit organisations, contributing their expertise in areas such as marketing, finance, or technology. This not only benefits the community but also enhances employees’ sense of purpose.
  2. Employee Resource Groups: ERGs focused on social impact are on the rise. These groups bring together like-minded employees to champion specific causes, from environmental sustainability to diversity and inclusion.
  3. Crowdsourced Philanthropy: Some companies are giving employees a say in how corporate donations are distributed. Through voting or suggestion platforms, employees have a direct role in determining where the company’s philanthropic dollars go.
  4. Social Entrepreneurship Incubators: Forward-thinking organisations are incubating social enterprises led by their employees. These ventures marry profit with purpose and are often nurtured within the corporate ecosystem.

The Business Case for Employee-Driven CSR

Beyond the intrinsic value of making a positive social impact, employee-driven CSR offers tangible benefits to businesses.

Here’s how:

  1. Enhanced Employee Engagement.
  2. Attracting and Retaining Talent.
  3. Improved Reputation.
  4. Innovation and Creativity.

A more detailed overview of the business case of CSR can be found in our previous article.

Canva: Employee-Driven CSR in action

Canva, a global design and publishing platform, stands as a shining example of employee-driven CSR in action, guided by their Two-Step Plan:

Step 1. Become one of the world’s most valuable companies

Step 2. Do the most good possible.

Canva’s Head of Social Impact, Robyn King, detailed how the tech-giant has been able to embed employee-driven social impact within its corporate DNA in her recent article “Creating Global Impact: Why We Pledge 93,000+ Hours to Volunteering”.

Step 2 of Canva’s plan focuses on four key mission pillars: Empower Nonprofits, No Extreme Poverty, Quality Education, and Help Local Communities. In 2019, Canva joined the Pledge 1% movement, pledging all four categories. Moreover, 30% of Canva’s resources are dedicated to doing good in the world. The Canva company and Canva Foundation actively fuel these efforts, including pledging over 93,000 annual volunteering hours from Canva employees, or as they are known, Canvanauts.

Employees at Canva are encouraged to use their skills and passion for social impact. They have three days of paid ‘Force for Good leave’ annually to give back to the world, emphasising that employees are key to Canva’s Two-Step Plan. Through initiatives like ‘Force for Good Fridays,’ Canva dedicates one Friday every month to Step 2, fostering a culture of purpose.

Canva’s employees have come together to support more than 270 nonprofits globally since launching their volunteering initiatives. This commitment not only enhances employee engagement but also showcases Canva as a socially responsible organisation, helping them attract top talent and reinforce their position as an industry leader in both innovation and CSR.


In the evolving landscape of CSR, companies are discovering that the most potent force for social change might be sitting at the desk next to you. Employee-driven CSR initiatives not only enhance a company’s reputation but also empower individuals to become agents of positive change. As organisations continue to harness the power of their employees’ passion and expertise, the impact goes well beyond the boardroom — it resonates within communities and leaves a lasting mark on the world. The journey from the boardroom to the workforce is a transformative one, marking a bold step towards a future where the lines between business success and societal betterment are beautifully blurred.