May 15, 2020 | By Nate Wong and Audrey Voorhees

Nearly two months into quarantine, we’re seeing a shift in tone of company press releases from generic COVID-19 responses to something different. Beyond donations to relief and assistance, Target is investing over $300 million in employees with added wages, paid leave, and back-up childcare. Intel granted researchers and scientists open access to its global IP portfolio to pursue an end to the coronavirus pandemic. Actions like these no longer seem like window-dressing, but deeper commitments which may signal how some companies see themselves in a post-pandemic world. 

A newer model of capitalism is emerging– acknowledging that “companies, workers, customers and communities are the engines for achieving success,” says Kavya Vaghul from non-profit JUST Capital. Real commitments to positive social impact are taking center stage as leaders know publicity ploys alone will not attract customers, and certainly won’t keep existing employees or their supplier base safe and healthy. COVID-19 is a litmus test for corporate leaders to think beyond maximizing profit and instead reimagine their relationships with workers, communities, and natural systems. Reimagining will require hard-wiring and building impact into their DNA, not just tinkering on the edges of CSR or marketing. 

Enter born-socials with a playbook

Thankfully, a playbook for this new model of capitalism exists. “Born-social” companies put impact into everything they do, and model how to improve social and environmental outcomes while turning a profit. Patagonia and Ben and Jerry’s committed to community-oriented principles early. Warby Parker and Bombas embedded impact through non-profit partnerships. As corporate leaders make the shift from COVID-19 triage to strategic scenario planning, they should be intentional about how they re-form their corporate purpose, taking lessons from their “born-social” peers. 

(Re)define what truly matters and measure it. Born-social companies set clear environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals alongside financial metrics. Sustainable footwear startup Allbirds’ includes carbon as an expense line item on the balance sheet, helping the company reach carbon neutrality before any corporates pledged to do so. Allbirds also plans to reduce the carbon footprint of each shoe produced by investing a portion of the $75M raised in their most recent funding round in regenerative agriculture for raw materials. Prioritizing environmental goals may reduce Allbirds’ profits in the short-term, but it will pay off as they scale a sustainable supply chain that supports their competitive advantage. Even in a constantly changing environment like now, ESG measures can be dynamic in a time of COVID-19. 

Create a stakeholder governance structure to “bake” it in. Leaders both loathe and respect governance. Its true value comes from how these structures help guide decision-making toward shared goals. The B Corp certification provides structure for born-social companies to demonstrate their commitment to creating public benefit and sustainable value for consumers, employees, and investors. Now, with over 3,000 certified B Corporation companies across 70 countries and 150 industries, these born-social companies have tied social and environmental performance to how they make decisions, who’s involved, and how they report it. Others created their own internal structures. Airbnb recently added a new Chief Stakeholder Officer role to execute its commitment to stakeholders in an effort to tie the company to specific principles, for example linking its compensation structure to guest safety and strengthening communities. As COVID-19 ushers in a surge of voluntary executive pay cuts, there’s an opportunity moving forward to better align compensation and incentives with holistic performance rather than stock price

Bring your entire supply chain into the picture. Born-social companies know that each link of their value chain is critical for their long-term success. Sweetgreen carved a fast-casual niche by building a transparent “farm-to-table” supplier network. Rather than just an RFP process, Sweetgreen sees sourcing as long-term partnerships that allow customers to trace back their foods to the farm it was sourced. As this pandemic has made clear, supply chains are inherently linked. Unilever set aside over $500 million for early payment to small and medium-sized suppliers and extended credit to small-scale retailers, reinforcing their long-term value to their operations.


Related Links


Not why, not how… but when

As corporate executives reckon with complex future demands, the question is no longer why value a stakeholder lens (last year’s Business Roundtable corporate purpose statement made that clear). And as the examples above highlight, it can no longer be a question of how to do it. Born-social companies are raising the bar for improving society while turning a profit. It’s just a question of when others will catch up. 

Successful corporate leaders see their actions today as a way to lay the groundwork for tomorrow. These vanguards will use this pandemic to re-tool how they treat their employees, work with community partners, create a resilient supply chain, and source in a regenerative manner. When we emerge on the other side of COVID-19, most if not all companies will need to embed social impact into their ethos to thrive. They will value stakeholders and measure their financial and non-financial performance. Leaders will re-form their corporate governance structure to align compensation with these new performance measures, emphasizing pay equity. Companies will integrate their supply chain more fully into their business with a sustainability-lens, including disaster response and continuity. Let’s start now. A more resilient and inclusive economy depends on it.

Nate Wong leads the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University. He previously helped launch social impact units at Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte Consulting LLP and is passionate about using business assets for the greater good. @NathanielKWong

Audrey Voorhees is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Georgetown University with a focus on private sector social and environmental impact who is passionate about designing innovative solutions across public, private, and social sectors. @VoorheesAudrey

January 22, 2020 | By Sheila Herrling and Audrey Voorhees

We are at an inflection point where the stakes are high to reimagine how capitalism and democracy work for everyone. Critical to that reimagination is a movement to evolve the thinking around the role of corporations in driving social impact at the scale that today’s challenges require. Milton Friedman’s notion that the only social responsibility of business is to maximize profit is increasingly being questioned by many, including investors, philanthropists, business leaders, policymakers, and perhaps most notably Millennials, who will represent the future workforce and consumers. People want to buy from, work for, invest in, and donate to companies that identify as social enterprises. Corporate CEOs stand poised to seize the greatest opportunity of their lifetime to deliver both greater financial returns and social returns at scale that could, quite literally, make the world a better, more equitable place.

That said, it’s complicated terrain. Accelerating the movement requires proof points of companies pursuing and achieving financial and social gains, how-to’s for those who are convinced of the value but don’t know where to start, and a solid understanding and appreciation of the counter-arguments.

As we set out to better understand the ideas, actors, flashpoints, and gaps in the corporate social impact (CSI) movement, we learned and built upon the work of others. You can see our full landscape analysis presentation here. As part of our work, we also pulled together what we feel is a “Must Read List” for anyone interested in the role corporates are and could be playing in driving social impact at scale and ensuring that capitalism works for all. We’ve done our best to share a diverse list of authors and viewpoints.

First, get situated in the early, foundational work; corporate social impact is not a new idea.

Second, make sure you understand all sides of the argument; you can’t advance a movement without knowing and truly appreciating all views.

On the pro side, we found these particularly interesting with…

…Compelling arguments 

…Key moments and decisions that served as flashpoints accelerating the movement

…A great new media series

…And many framed within the broader movement to reimagine Capitalism

On the counter-argument side, our thinking was informed by:

Third, understand the landscape of actors and activities that can drive the movement forward.

Once the foundational arguments were absorbed, we began to create the landscape of actors and plot them across a grouping of activities and historical flashpoints that were driving the movement forward. You can view that landscape analysis here. [link to the blog]. Among the gaps standing in the way of mainstreaming the movement, two seemed ripe to solve for in the near-term: how-to content for the already convinced, and the need for a uniform, involuntary impact measurement standard.

For those companies convinced of the need to embed social impact into their operations, there’s not a lot of public content out there. Here’s some we found useful and we hope to see more.

We are convinced that the movement will continue to stall without agreement on a uniform, involuntary impact measurement standard; here’s food for thought.

That’s our must list; for those wanting a deeper dive, here are some of the books on the topic that influenced our work. Dig in!

 

 


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Cover Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

 

January 15, 2020 | By Nate Wong, Sheila Herrling & Audrey Voorhees

As public trust of business and markets wanes, there’s an ever important call for everyone to play a critical role in reforming the system “so that it delivers prosperity for the many, rather than the few.” The Beeck Center has been observing the trends in the corporate social impact (CSI) space for the past few years as mainstream rhetoric has shifted from a shareholder to stakeholder-centric view of capitalism, most importantly seen in the recent United States Business Roundtable announcement

The question remains, where does the CSI movement stand and where do we go from here? As a “grasstop” player, the Center links grassroot and institutional efforts poised for action, and puts our energy toward the messy infrastructure work that can accelerate and sustain positive social impact movements like corporate social impact. It’s what we’d call “Impact at Scale.”


CSI Defined: The increasing recognition that corporations need to rethink their role in society and embed social purpose into their business model in order to manage risk, maintain market share, and secure competitive advantage. For those more bullish, you could be more specific that purpose will drive higher profit.


We set out to explore the topic – who is doing what – and to identify gaps in the CSI landscape that require concentrated action to accelerate impact at scale. My colleagues Sheila Herrling and Audrey Voorhees conducted this analysis to consider potential roles for the Center, but believe it serves as a “global public good” for all interested parties to help move this movement forward.  

Analysis highlights include:

  • The CSI movement arguably began over 12  years ago… with at least 11 key flashpoint events that have been foundational in building momentum, but there is still more work to do to tip the movement. 
  • 22 actors stand at the forefront of accelerating this movement and their efforts are worth looking out for.
  • There are 4 major gaps standing in the way of mainstreaming this movement that require attention.

We have 7 gap-closing ideas. Dive deeper here.

Our hope is that this will ground people’s understanding no matter where you may sit in the space – a corporation finding its position relative to others, a policymaker navigating the shifting system, or an academic seeking to teach business through a more current lens – and empower coordination.

With all of the Beeck Center’s work, we pair learners and expert practitioners. Watch MBA candidate and Student Analyst Audrey Voorhees’ capstone presentation as she shares her own journey and some of the research highlights.

Engage with us. 

This is our first pass at creating a comprehensive landscape analysis of the corporate social impact movement. As a community of practitioners driving impact at scale, we want this analysis to provide value along the learning continuum, from initiate to expert. How does this analysis resonate with you? And the market? We’d love your feedback.

The potential for corporates to drive social impact is scale is enormous. If partnerships can be leveraged, strategic alliances formed and critical gaps in the movement filled, this movement just might tip!

Sheila Herrling is a Fellow at the Beeck Center, where she pursues initiatives in impact investing and measurement, inclusive entrepreneurship and social innovation at scale.

Audrey Voorhees is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center. She is currently pursuing an MBA at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Nate Wong serves as the Interim Executive Director at the Beeck Center, where he leads the Center’s pursuits and thinking on social impact at scale across its major portfolios. He previously helped launch social impact units at Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte Consulting LLP.


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January 7, 2020

2020 is the last year of the millennium’s first decade (fight me), and promises to be an interesting one with a presidential election, Brexit, 50th anniversary of the start of the disco era, and whatever other surprises will surely arise.

We asked ourselves what we might see in the year ahead in the social impact space, here’s what we see in our crystal balls.

Impact at Scale Means Accelerating Movements

Today, scaling impact is too often conflated with scaling programs or organizations. No single program or organization, no matter how great it may be, can truly solve the complex social ills vexing the world. Rather it will take a coordinated effort across numerous sectors– from social ventures to policymakers to local social service providers. 

In 2020 and beyond, we’ll observe a sea change as funders and impact organizations alike tackle intractable social problems through a coordinated ecosystem lens rather than scaling pointed solutions in silos. Donor collaboratives like the Tipping Point Fund (a $12.5M coalition of nine foundations and family offices) and radical coordination like Imperative 21 (a business-led coalition of 72,000 businesses across 80 countries) will continue to increase as more investment in field building is needed to sustain the impact we want to see long-term. We believe grassroot efforts need to reach institutions where change can be more widely adopted and ultimately create the intended positive impact for all.

For the Beeck Center, that means playing the necessary role as a “grasstop” player, linking grassroot and institutional efforts poised for action, and putting our efforts toward the messy infrastructure work that can accelerate and sustain positive social impact movements.

– Nate Wong, Interim Executive Director 

Thoughts from Outside the Center

CEOs Will be Judged Both as Commercial Leaders and as Social Architects

It is clear the current dynamic business environment, combined with evolving social, economic, and political realities, the role of the CEO is transforming faster than many had expected for both public and private concerns. Specifically, CEOs are realizing the need to take more active and/or vocal roles around stakeholder issues such as healthcare, education and retraining, climate change, affordable housing and the like. The most effective and most successful CEOs for the near future will need to be both strong commercial leaders as well as courageous social architects to ensure that the community of stakeholders they serve is as engaged and productive as possible.

– Tierney Remick, Vice Chairman and Co-Leader, Board & CEO Services, Korn Ferry. 20 Predictions for Business & Society

person holding clear glass ball

Photo by Jenni Jones on Unsplash

Students Want a More Hands-On Approach to their Education

Experiential Learning will continue to play an increasingly prominent role in higher education, with further blending of the curricular and co-curricular in equipping students for careers in social impact.

The Beeck Center will continue to break down silos at Georgetown, accelerating collaboration across campus as we’ll work with different schools and student groups to better educate students for social impact leadership.

Matt Fortier, Director, Sustainable Student Impact

Thoughts from Outside the Center

Rising Student Voice Will Prompt a Paradigm Shift among Professors

Today, students enter business school increasingly aware and concerned about the critical issues of our day. Faculty – charged with equipping these students with the context and skills to make responsible business decisions – will face louder questions about how the concepts they are teaching relate to issues like climate change and inequality.  These collective student voices will be hard to ignore, forcing faculty to make a conscious choice between teaching the seemingly discrete theories and models in the same siloed manner or exploring these challenging questions by looking at business concepts through a broader, more multi-faceted lens.

– Jaime Bettcher, Program Manager, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, 20 Predictions for Business & Society

gray and yellow tape measures and rulers

Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

A Demand for Results Means a Need for Tools to Measure Impact

We launched our Fair Finance initiative last year with the goal of righting the rules for shared prosperity, and we expect to see more partners engaged in our efforts as the year progresses.

Impact management practices and processes will converge as companies and investors increasingly look not only for measurable results, but for standard guidelines, commonly accepted tools and aligned frameworks to achieve positive and sustainable impact in communities.

If unemployment stays low, awareness of the need and opportunity to employ refugees and immigrants will increase.

The legislation that created Opportunity Zones (OZs) has only been in place for a short time, and as early movers begin to develop projects, more positive narratives about OZs will continue to emerge.

For us at the Beeck Center, we’ll bring together more of the key stakeholders in these areas as we convene our OZ Investor Council and complete a landscape analysis of workforce training opportunities for refugees and immigrants.

Lisa Hall, Director, Fair Finance 

Thoughts from Outside the Center

Move Beyond Gender to Include Broader Diversity

Gender equality and the inclusion of women on boards and founding teams has been a big theme over the past year and will continue to be an important agenda item.

However, as more investors recognize that diversity translates into more representative, better informed teams, we’re likely to see a bigger drive to redefine diversity beyond gender alone.

When it comes to diversity, there is still a lot of work to do and we shouldn’t limit this scope to gender alone.

– Karma Impact: Top 10 Impact Investing Trends for 2020

 

person holding clear glass ball with QR code background

Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash

Public Sector Workforce Grows Its Digital Skillset

In 2020 and beyond, data and technology will continue to drive the way our society builds systems and delivers services and we will need a workforce in the public interest and public sector—not just the private sector—that is equipped with the hard skills and policy expertise to leverage the tools of data and digital to deliver better outcomes. We need technologists in government to buy smarter so we don’t keep spending taxpayers dollars on software and products that vendors can’t or won’t deliver. We need technical skills at the policy making table in the public interest community and in government so major initiatives consider data opportunities and risks as well as tech implications in their design and also plan for rollout and implementation from the start. 

At the Beeck Center, I predict we will continue identifying ways that society can invest in the public interest technology community to ensure a workforce that meets our needs, and investing in projects and partnerships to drive forward the changing future we want to see. 

Cori Zarek, Director, Data + Digital

Thoughts from Outside the Center

Companies Will Expand CSR to Include CDR

More and more companies will embed data responsibility principles into the way they do business — and embrace corporate data responsibility, or CDR. The acronym may be new, but in a digital world, it’s the logical next step for companies committed to meeting their responsibilities to individuals, one another and society as a whole. For the Center for Inclusive Growth that means leveraging Mastercard expertise, data, technology and philanthropy to help ensure the digital economy happens for people, not to them.

– Shamina Singh, Founder and President, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, EVP, Sustainability, Mastercard, and member, Beeck Center Advisory Board, 20 Predictions for Business & Society

In addition to our thoughts, here’s some of the predictions we’re seeing from outside our offices: