The Mittelstand – traditional German small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – is pivotal to the German economy. For most SMEs, acting responsibly toward employees, the environment and the community is a given. But when finances and personnel are scarce, it is not possible for all SMEs to approach the issue of CSR systematically. This is where the "Social Responsibility for SMEs" program, a project initiated by the German Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs (BMAS) with the support of the European Social Fund (ESF), comes in. The aim of the program is to offer companies a made-to-measure selection of consulting and training tools in the field of corporate social responsibility. The Steinbeis Transfer Institute of Corporate Responsibility Management is in charge of implementing CSR measures as part of a stand-alone project.
Under the program, SMEs should benefit from specific ways to manage business in a "corporately responsible" manner. CSR advice is being offered to business managers, employees and employee representatives, spanning four key areas: the work place, the environment, the market and the community. Companies can make use of this advice in a variety of ways: They may want to focus on more employee-centric HR policies to improve motivation and productivity, or introduce measures to help workers strike the right balance between work and family priorities, or put systems in place to increase opportunities for older employees in order to answer HR needs. Or they might want to use natural resources more carefully and efficiently and cut production costs.
Such CSR measures allow companies to cope with the fact that in the future, the EU will only allow firms to tender for official contracts if they score well on CSR issues. This will move companies forward, helping them adapt better to the business environment, raise their survival chances in the market and create more options for taking on staff.
As part of the support program, the Steinbeis Transfer Institute of Corporate Responsibility Management, which belongs to Steinbeis University Berlin, has joined forces with the State Association of Baden-Wuerttemberg Industry, or LVI, in a stand-alone project called "Implementation of CSR programs in SMEs with help of the Project Skills Concept." Their aim is to train employees to add social value and develop "best practice." Skills and project development are receiving 80% funding. Project results will be shared throughout Germany and Europe as best practice.
Standard projects last 12 months and during this time people involved in the project at the company start with a one-week training phase on key topics. During the subsequent project implementation phase, at least one person who is responsible for the project pulls together a list of project objectives with the support of a specialist project coach from the Steinbeis transfer institute. Implementation is based on Steinbeis project competence principles, which involve applying scientific methods to solve specific issues faced by the company.