April 17, 2013

Companies Work to #HelpBoston

Things aren't really back to normal yet here in Boston.  My office was open today, but the streets on two sides of the building are closed.  I went to a new cafĂ© for lunch because all my favorites are still shut.  My friends who live right at the site of the second bomb - whose apartment a bunch of us were in at the time of Monday's events - are still staying with friends.  The streets around my office, a block from Copley Square, are crowded by oddly quiet. 
 One thing that is normal, though, is the outpouring of support that we've come to expect in light of a traumatic event.  This is most evident, of course, in the tremendous efforts of the first responders, who certainly saved many lives on Monday.  It's evident in the #BostonHelp and #PrayforBoston hashtags on Twitter and in the tributes to the city that have taken over my Facebook feed for the last few days.  And of course, it's evident in the way the corporate community has leapt into action. 

Here are the trends I've been seeing in the corporate response to the explosions at Monday's Boston Marathon.  

Immediate Response  
In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, I saw a number of companies jump in to offer the assets they had available on hand, in order to serve immediate needs.  Google immediately launched its Google Person Finder service, to help people at the event communicate to people elsewhere that they were safe.  El Pelon Taqueria was one of a number of area restaurants that offered displaced individuals a place to go, along with free food and free wifiseveral restaurants in the area surrounding the crime scene continue to offer free food to first responders.  AirBnB and a number of airlines announced on Twitter that they were waiving fees for people making last-minute travel changes due to the events, and Pooch Hotel, which boards dogs, tweeted that first responders could board for their animals free of charge so they could focus on relief efforts.  A local yoga studio tweeted that classes would be free on Tuesday, and two major local museums were also free that day - all three emphasized that they wanted to provide an opportunity for reflection and healing. 

One immediate response that I found striking was the number of companies that reached out to inspire and support their customers or employees.  My company has sent out a series of emails our employees to keep everyone up to date on the status of our Boston headquarters (which was closed for the Patriots' Day holiday), to share resources for employees in need, and to comfort employees and begin the process of healing together.  I think that was really important, but it's also something I expect of a well-run company.  What I didn't anticipate was the number of companies that reached out to me as an customer with a similar message.  The first such message I received was from Marathon Sports, whose Boylston Street sporting goods store was impacted by the explosions.  The email, with the subject line "Our City Is Strong," focused on the feelings the company's employees and so many customers are experiencing, the company's pride in its staff for the way they comported themselves during the crisis, and a commitment to move forward with the community - the Boston community and the running community - stronger than ever.  The email also provided links to relevant services, including places to donate, the missing persons hotline, and the police tips hotline.  I received similar emails from my gym and CitySports (another sporting goods store), both located within a few blocks of the explosion.  (I should probably note that I am unfortunately not as sporty as my inbox suggests.)   

I have also noticed that quite a few companies are hosting fundraisers to benefit victims of the explosions.  More than 50 local restaurants are donating a portion of tonight's (Wednesday's) proceeds to the Greg Hill Foundation, which will use the funds to benefit victims.  A group of breweries in the area are hosting a fundraising event tonight, as well.   RueLaLa is selling a tshirt that read "Tough Proud Brave Free Boston" and donating all net proceeds to the Emergency Medicine Fund at Massachusetts General Hospital.   

A few companies are also soliciting cash donations on behalf of recovery efforts.  Technology Underwriting Greater Good, an initiative "dedicated to bringing together technology companies, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists to help young people realize their full potential", has raised over $153,000 so far.  The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation is raising money for the One Fund Boston (details below); the Kraft Family, which owns the Patriots, is matching donations up to $100,000.  Similarly, LevelUp, the mobile payments company, will match funds donated through its up, up to $26,200.  The company has also enabled users to donate the coupons they earn to recover efforts.  Currently, LevelUp is directing funds to Children's Hospital Boston and the Red Cross. 

Corporate Giving 
We are starting to see companies making direct donations to nonprofits involved in responding to the explosions.  Most of this activity has centered around the One Fund Boston, established yesterday by Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.  The One Fund, which will "help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013," was created with an initial $1 million donation from John Hancock, a major marathon sponsor.  In the twenty-four hours since the Fund was created, it has collected more than $7 million in donations, including $1 million donations from AT&T, Bain Capital, and Partners HealthCare.  The One Fund is also raising money from individual donors, with more than 8,500 contributing so far.  Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw similar funds after 9/11 and other events, will be the Fund's administrator.   

Separately, the Bruins and the National Hockey League are donating $250,000 - $100,000 from Jeremy Jacobs, the team's owner, and $50,000 each from the NHL, the NHL Player's Association, and TD Garden (the facility where the Bruins play).  The Bruins are also donating tickets to first responders and planned to honor victims and responders during tonight's game.  Twitter has donated its top promote tweet spot to the hashtag #OneBoston, which people are using to highlight inspirational stories and charitable efforts; the value of this donation (that is, the amount a company would pay for the spot for a day) is $200,000. 

Has your company contributed?  Share your activities with other corporate donors by submitting it to the US Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center, which is compiling a donations tracker.  I'd also love it if you leave a note in the comments. 

Looking for direction on your company's efforts?  The Center for Disaster Philanthropy provides advice on when, where, and how to give in the aftermath of disasters.  The Business Civic Leadership Center also provides a number of resources to companies seeking to support disaster relief efforts, and the Council on Foundations publishes "Disaster Grantmaking: A Practical Guide for Foundations and Corporations."  It also provides resources via a Disaster Resource Center.  The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy has published a research report on lessons learned from past corporate disaster relief efforts.  Some time ago, I wrote an article for onPhilanthropy.com laying out the steps in developing a corporate disaster relief plan.  The article is old, but I think it's still relevant. 

If you have tips, recommendations, advice, etc., please share it in the comments.

April 12, 2013

Make Every Job a CSR Job

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak at Harvard's "Public Interested?" conference, an event for students interested in exploring public interest careers.  I was honored to speak during the Big Public Service Ideas session, moderated by Sonal Shah, former director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House, alongside amazing people like Jarrett Barrios, CEO of American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, and Julia Silverman, Co-Founder of Uncharted Play. 

Each speaker was asked to address the question, "What is your big idea in public interest?"  No pressure, right??  After grappling with the idea, I decided to address a topic that, while perhaps not in my own career self-interest (!), is something that I feel strongly about, and I suspect that a number of you do, too.  Here's an adapted version of my speech:

My big idea today is that we must make all jobs corporate social responsibility jobs.

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, goes by many names - shared value, corporate citizenship, strategic corporate philanthropy, corporate social innovation, and so on.  No matter what the buzz word, I believe CSR boils down to one simple idea - that companies should engage with the social issues that create risks and opportunities for their business, and that, by doing so, they can produce value for both the company and the wider community.

Evolution of CSR
Historically, CSR - really just corporate philanthropy at the time - was very much held apart from the company.  The business made the money, and then the company's foundation or corporate giving group gave a little of it away - most likely to whatever nonprofits the CEO and senior executives found particularly compelling. 

Starting in the 80s and 90s, corporate philanthropy became more strategic, recognizing the opportunity to build business value while also building social value.  Companies particularly focused on driving HR and PR goals through corporate giving and employee engagement - for example, partnering with a cause that reinforces their brand positioning or working to increase employee loyalty by creating opportunities for employee volunteerism. 

In about the past 10-15 years, companies started developing a broader understanding of corporate social responsibility, recognizing that they bring much more to the table than just cash and employee time, that they could in fact re-engineer their business practices to drive social impact in a way that had a positive impact on the company.  This is when you started seeing a significantly increased focus on sustainability, for instance.  Similarly, some companies have made an effort to develop products that meet an unmet social need while also generating profits.

In the past couple of years, Professor Michael Porter and Marc Kramer, both thought leaders in this space, have refined or reframed this field by introducing the concept of shared value, which they define as "creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges," and which they say must be at the center of the business, not marginalized into a nice-to-have, bolted-on CSR department.

Business Unit Ownership
As we follow this progression, we see that, to fulfill its potential, CSR must be owned by the business units, not by the CSR group.  If the company is going to deliver social value by fully aligning social value with business goals, then it has to be driven by the person who owns the business goals.

I'm experiencing this right now in my role.  I'm responsible for making sure that our company has a responsible paper sourcing policy - we're a publisher (among other things), so one of the biggest ways we impact the environment is through choices we make about paper.  I've very quickly found, though, that I can't drive this conversation.  I'm not the expert in paper - my colleagues in procurement are.  I can draft a policy, but I won't be there for the hundreds of decisions, large and small, that constitute its execution.  As such, I need my colleague in procurement to drive the development of the policy, and also to feel a strong sense of commitment to it.  I can raise the issue, I can make connections between various relevant stakeholders, and I can be cheerleader, but this can't be my policy.

This means that employees in every department not only have the opportunity to deliver social value through their day jobs, but that they in fact must take responsibility for the company's social impact.

Implications for Job Opportunities
What does this mean for young people considering a career in CSR?  It means that, no matter where your passion lies, you have the opportunity to change the world.  Are you passionate about investing?  Go to a venture capital fund and look for investment opportunities in companies that have a positive social impact.  Are you obsessed with operations?  Think about how your company can reduce its environmental impact, or how you can include marginalized populations in your supply chain.  Do you love products?  Do you always have to have the latest and greatest gadget?  Take a job in product development and think not only about how to delight your customers, but also about how to address the real health, educational, or other social challenges in their lives.

Implications for CSR Departments
Of course, this changes the jobs of people like me, who work in traditional CSR departments.  It means that my job should no longer be about carrying out the company's social impact, but rather about empowering my colleagues to do so. 

CSR professionals must become trainers and educators, inspiring their colleagues to take ownership of social impact and providing them with the context and information they need to make a difference.  We should be internal consultants, advising the business units on CSR strategy, and connectors between stakeholders both internal and external.  We should essentially be responsible for doing business development for the concept of CSR within the company, growing the firm's social impact footprint.

This evolution also increases our reliance on CSR thought leaders, the professors, researchers, consultants, and other thinkers that advance and evangelize for the field.

Implications for Schools
This approach to CSR has implications for colleges and business schools, too.  We need to introduce these concepts to students early, to let them know that this kind of thinking is even possible.  Schools are indeed increasingly raising issues of corporate social responsibility, of the ethics of supply chain and environmental issues, but I think it's still rare for them to address corporate social opportunity, of the benefits companies derive from engaging in social issues.  Of course, these messages should not primarily be segregated into classes that are specifically about CSR, but should be integrated, both explicitly and subtly, into a wide range of classes on business and other disciplines.

So what should a we all do today?  I'd encourage you to think creatively and ambitiously about your career choices.  No matter where your passions lie, you have the opportunity - and indeed the responsibility - to drive social impact.  But you have to take personal responsibility for that opportunity.  At least at this stage of the game, no one will ask you, "What did you do this year to align our business's goals with its social impact?"  That's a question you have to ask yourselves.

At the same time, it's a question that you should ask of your employers.  One of the major proof points that companies use to justify CSR is that employees expect it, that in fact demand it of their employers.  Show your employers, and even your prospective employers that, not only do you want to know about how the company is having a social impact, but that you want to be part of it.  Tell them you think you can do it while also improving the health of the business - and then prove it to them.

Join me in making every job a CSR job.

April 10, 2013

CSR Practitioners: Connecting the Dots within Your Company

How do you connect the dots on social impact within your company?  How do you break down silos and break through the fog to identify and leverage the cool things happening in different departments and offices? 

I've had two experiences recently that have made me mull this issue.  I'm currently working on our paper policy, setting goals for how we can improve our environmental impact by improving the choices we make around paper procurement and usage.  As I started digging, I discovered that, actually, we're already doing a pretty awesome job.  We have growth areas, of course, but this is absolutely on our procurement team's radar, and they've been doing great work.  At the same time, our distribution centers have been implementing some wonderful initiatives, the teams that handle excess inventory have been really responsible about how they deal with it, our facilities team thinks a lot about this, etc.  That's obviously great - individually, these groups are all having a terrific impact.  Collectively, though, I think we've been missing an opportunity - certainly an opportunity to tell our story more effectively, but also the chance to bring these groups together, to leverage their work to make the whole more than the sum of the parts.

I had a similar experience a few months ago, when I was filling out a survey by an advocacy organization.  The previous year, we hadn't scored very well.  This past year, our score shot up, in part because I dug up a lot more information than had been available to the person who filled it out the year before - these were things we'd been doing all along, but that we hadn't reported on previously, because we didn't have access to the right information.  Like with the paper policy work, it required collaborating with a range of colleagues across a variety of departments.  In many cases, it also required that I reframe the questions in a way that made sense to my colleagues - they were written in a way that made sense to me as a CSR practitioner, but not necessarily to a benefits coordinator or a publicist.  Pulling all this information together not only mitigated a reputational risk by helping us avoid another low score, but also gave me a clearer picture of where the company is on this issue and, therefore, where our growth opportunities lie.

This makes me wonder about all the other instances in which I'm not making the connection.  What great opportunities are out there that I'm not leveraging because I'm seeing a data point here or an instance there, and I can't see how they fit together into something compelling?  I think this is a particular issue for CSR practitioners, particularly as more companies evolve to a shared value approach, because so much of the work we do requires significant collaboration with other business units.  In many cases, we aren't carrying out the activities at all, but rather influencing or spotlighting or helping the people who do.

How do you connect the dots within your organization?  Are there particular habits or practices you implement to make these connections?  Recently, my team has been thinking a lot about internal networking - for instance, we're each reaching out to at least two colleagues a month for informal get-to-know-you chats, to learn more about their areas of the business and to share how we think our work intersects with theirs, and then we're reporting back to one another at our monthly meeting.  I'm hopeful that this will help, but I know it isn't enough.  What else would you recommend we try?