As much as corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs have become a badge of respectability among firms, the truth is that they often languish. The reasons vary: Managers are frequently reluctant to sacrifice scarce resources, employees see them more as a chore than an opportunity, and participation is too quick and superficial to make an impact.

But a study by Bocconi University professor Christiane Bode and INSEAD professor Jasjit Singh examines an unusually successful corporate social...

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