Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Centre for Applied Research on Business and Economics

Research Seminar with Jason Good

Origins of implicit and explicit CSR in Europe: The International Charity Congress of 1857


Framing: The debate regarding the role of the state vs. the private sector in caring for the needy, infirm, and old, has deep origins. In Europe, these responsibilities had generally been delegated to the church. However, with the industrial revolution and mass migration to the cities in the 1800s, the church was not sufficient to handle these issues. International debates ensued, in which industrial, governmental, educational, and other leaders tried to determine the appropriate nature of government intervention. Europe in the 1850s was a place where many social experiments were being conducted as people sought various solutions to the problems they faced. Yet these debates continue quite vigorously today, with many social experiments being conducted throughout the world. Past debates about, and social experiments in, social responsibility hold lessons for current ones.


  • Purpose: To return to the origins of the debate between public vs. private responsibility for social welfare. 
  • Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative analysis of the proceedings of the 1857 International Conference of Charities (Bienfaisance) held in Frankfort. The text encompasses over 500 pages, which includes accounts of actual presentations, debates, and conversations.   
  • Findings: An accounting of the wide diversity of potential solutions to problems of social welfare that were developed and experimented with in Europe and beyond in the 1800s. 
  • Research limitations/implications: Although local conversations about developing solutions to the social problems had occurred, the Bienfaissance Congresses were the first international forum for sharing the successes and failures of different initiatives. Somewhat controversial today, conference discussions noted that the responsibility of the firm and the public sector to care for the well-being of the people started only after individual responsibility was exhausted.
  • Practical implications: There was a lot of experimentation going on in Europe and beyond in the 1800s, which was outlined, discussed, and debased at the conference. Some of those experiments are relevant today. For example, the issue of voluntary vs. mandatory participation in social programs is relevant for the Obamacare debate in the US.
  • Originality/value: Many have looked at CSR as originating in the post-World War II period in the United States. The European congresses call that legend into question by rooting the CSR discussion within a broader conversation of individual and corporate responsibility versus public responsibility, which goes back at least to the 1850s at an international level. It thus helps pave the way for a new understanding of the origins of this field of research and management practice.


Time: 12:00-13:00
Location: Fraijlemborg
Room: 3.009

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The research seminars are organized every 1st Tuesday of each month @noon. It is a great platform for sharing information about research, projects and ideas. It began with the first research presentation in fall 2016. We hope you'll join us! CAREM & CEDIS Research Team

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Gepubliceerd door  CAREM 20 maart 2019