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How does a beleaguered CSR start-up survive, prosper? It finds a compatible corporate parent

Here’s how revered CSR pioneer Ben & Jerry’s is pulling it off:

Many moons ago — 1978, to be exact — Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield had what was then a unique entrepreneurial vision. They established a gourmet ice creamery that would be financially successful while “making the world a better place” (a seminal model for the currently mainstream business strategy now called corporate social responsibility and sustainable development).

All went well for the strategy for quite awhile, but eventually (1990) — as often happens with even the best innovative start ups — there came a time when being acquired by a much larger company became attractive. 

The New York Times tells how over the years Ben & Jerry’s “carved out space for its social mission inside a global conglomerate.” Key point: Not just any conglomerate but Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company that was then evolving its own socially responsible vision.

“The recipe for this amicable partnership was written into the acquisition agreement”, the Times reports. “Unilever … chose to operate Ben & Jerry’s with more autonomy than any of its other subsidiaries … establish[ing] an ‘external board’ charged with overseeing Ben & Jerry’s culture and social mission … That board … has the authority to set aggressive new social impact target and to push back against Unilever.”

However, that kind of “push back” appears to have been hardly necessary, because  in subsequent years Unilever’s broad corporate strategic planning an implementation has made it one of the most highly-regarded multinationals in the global corporate social responsibility community and well beyond.  One of many examples: Recognition of the company’s strong support for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the imminent Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)