I have noticed recently an increase in companies that have been started to meet the needs of a community and do Social Good. This trend has the ability to shape our world in a positive way that everyone can be a part of. The Puget Sound Business Journal reported that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the USAID awarded $3.2 million to two Haitian providers of mobile banking services. This is a good example of a for profit company meeting the needs of a community while partnering with a non profit and government agency. While for profit companies, they are improving Haiti’s citizens with better access to and control of money. This became very important after the 2010 earthquake devastated the country. Many people wanted to help but due to the destruction of area banks and ensuing chaos people were unable to easily access funds and do simple tasks like make payments. These strategic partnerships will continue to increase as our society puts more emphasis on meeting the needs of our global economy and all of its citizens.
Existing companies also have a large opportunity to incorporate social good into their business model. This last decade has seen more and more companies focused on social justice or social good and as a society consumers are demanding it more frequently. Organizations like B Corporation are in existence to help companies articulate and focus on having good business practices and positively changing the world. Through their certification program consumers can see the difference between companies marketing social good and those practicing it. On their website they state the following vision:
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
- That we must be the change we seek in the world.
- That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
- That, through their products, practices, and profits,
businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
- To do so requires that we act with the understanding that
we are each dependent upon another
and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
In addition to certifications many companies are working to change the conditions in the areas where they conduct business, focus on urban renewal and partner with non-profits. Currently one of my companies is looking to make strategic partnerships with non-profits to ensure that the values we care about as a board and company are translated into action. By donating a portion of our profits, from the sale of X Electronic Cigarettes, we will be able to directly help people throughout the country. We, and many companies like us, understand that our expertise is not in directly offering assistance nor would our band width allow for it. Instead by partnering with an organization we believe in by providing financial support we can reach more people and become more effective.
Many companies have asked if the consumer really cares whether they concentrate on social good. The reality is that consumers having a favorable view of a company are only a small portion of the benefit. When people and communities in need are being helped by companies seeking to make social change then the companies and world improve, often in ways not anticipated. Children with access to education make a better work force for employers. Those able to get preventative medical care will be healthier and miss less days from work. Putting parks in communities means children can exercise, reducing childhood obesity and long term health issues of an adult working population.
Companies choosing to be good stewards of the environment help to ensure our natural resources are available for future generations and the longevity of the company. A great example of this is Weyerhaeuser based in Washington. The forest products company has been replanting trees in areas they harvest for decades. This reduces the environmental impact from our consumption of wood while simultaneously ensuring the company has future harvests to meet demands. They were doing this as a best practice long before terms like “social good” and “sustainability” became catch phrases. Companies like Weyerhaeuser understand that caring about the environment and the impact a company makes can coincide with making a profit and providing shareholder value.
WBEZ91.5 reported that IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, Cisco, and Verizon are partnering with five Chicago High Schools to offer career training for students. They are creating curriculum focused on math, science, technology and engineering. In addition to getting an increased education students will also have internship and job opportunities from the program. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he reached out to the companies.
“They have a shortage of workers. We have a student population ready to fill those jobs if they have the educational opportunities to do it,” Emanuel said.
Both the companies involved and the students win. The companies improve communities by offering educational and economic opportunities otherwise unavailable to these students while increasing their pool of skilled workers.
Many companies are investing in Wellness Programs for their employees with the perspective of healthy and happy employees lead to a more productive work place. The US Department of Health and Human Servicesfound that worksites with physical activity programs have 20 – 55% reduced health care cost, reduced short term sick leave by 6-32%, and increased productivity by 2 – 52%. The University of Michigan conducted a nine year study on the wellness program of a utility company with over 2,700 employees. The study compared employees that participated in the wellness program to those that did not. According to the study the company saved $12.1 million in the course of nine years by having the wellness program in place. Participants were rewarded monetarily for meeting various health goals and having health evaluations. This company and others have found that engaging employees in improving their health will benefit not only your work force and their families but also the company’s bottom line.
These examples are only some of the ways that companies, communities and the world are benefiting from businesses focusing on creating social good. Capitalism is a powerful tool, an engine that drives growth. Used wisely it can create shareholder value while simultaneously making the world a better place. As consumers, business owners and executives we have the opportunity to promote and encourage businesses to make this a priority. We can choose to purchase their products, frequent their stores, and implement these practices in our business and work place. We can look around us, see needs and look for ways to meet them. It is possible for companies to care and have strong ROI. As a community of business leaders incorporating social good must be a focus to take the leap from a movement to something that is second nature.