If we live and work in the 'worst city' in America, what can we do to make it better?
By Joe Sibilia
CSRwire’s global headquarters is located in Springfield, Mass. We are a digital media platform for the latest news, views and reports in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability. Editors in the Midwest and Northeast conduct most of our editorial work while our Editorial Director and Director of Partnership Development operate out of New York City. The rest of us are in Springfield on Gasoline Alley. We are participating in the Gasoline Alley Foundation initiative of teaching inner city and underprivileged persons social entrepreneurship. That’s why we’re here.
Recently Areavibes.com, a project judging cities based on seven factors, ranked Springfield as the least desirable place in America to live. Obviously, the local business community challenged the ranking and their methodology, but most people are not inclined to look over all the details and determine whether the ranking should have been Number 1 or Number 21. Anyway you look at it, the ranking doesn’t generate good vibes.
However, from our standpoint, processing thousands of pieces of news, data, commentary, events, books, research and anecdotal evidence for the New Economy, we consider this ranking a GIFT!
A Race to the Bottom
We’re witnessing a race to the bottom. Multinational companies are literally racing each other to the cheapest manufacturing plants on the planet. When they find a cheap place to manufacture products such as clothes, they cut a deal, pre-sell the clothes and turn their heads to the conditions in the factory. As a result, people are dying to make us cheap clothes.—at the same time, some multi nationals are making a boatload of money. As with Rana Plaza, we are learning more about supply chain abuses in places like Bangladesh and across the globe.
On the other side of the coin, we’re witnessing a different kind of race – the battle against time Social Entrepreneurs are facing to solve complex social and environmental issues. NGOs and private sector organizations creating social enterprises are finding funding through crowd sourcing, awards, grants, purchase orders, loans and gifts. Our statistics suggest great attention is being paid to this new phenomena. Social Enterprises are being rewarded for finding solutions to the world’s challenges. The Gasoline Alley Foundation has incubated many such businesses. Springfield can become the home of the New Economy and showcase how a community can come together and improve quality of life for its citizens.
Social Enterprise is growing in popularity as a new, innovative business development model, and a consortium has even created a new corporate entity known as “B Corporations.” My favorite example is the Greyston Bakery, a company that bakes brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and employs formerly homeless people. The greater the social or environmental challenge solved, the more likely they will win awards, funding, loyal customers, raise awareness, talent and partners. There are so many awards and contests to support social enterprises that they are too numerous to mention.
Partnering to Provide Sustainability Solutions
There are many multi national companies that actively seek social enterprises to partner with. They don’t want to be associated with the blood, sweat and tears of a small child making their clothes—that’s really not good for business. What is good for business is aligning themselves with social enterprises that are providing solutions to societies’ challenges. By providing solutions, they reduce the size and need of government, reduce crime, improve property values, attract great talent, reduce risks, gain loyal customers, improve the quality of life in the community in which they partner, improve their stock price – everyone wins.
Additionally, we’re seeing premiums being paid for companies with a social contract. Profit is no longer the exclusive arbiter of value. Companies are being valued as to their contribution to society and the bottom line. Ultimately, companies with a CSR-focus outperform their peers. A great example is Indigenous, an eco-fashion leader, who finds that consumers’ awareness of organic materials and fair trade policies is stimulating business.
The Internet and social media have forced better behavior by brands. The average person would not be inspired to buy clothes that they knew were saturated with sorrow. They might be inclined to buy glasses with the knowledge that an extra pair was being given to a child in need. That’s the difference. Brands and companies cannot hide anymore, and good companies are being rewarded with loyal customers.
Make It Happen Locally
Springfield can become a mecca for Social Enterprises. The City can create an atmosphere to teach, experiment, execute, evaluate and adjust behavior to improve the quality of life in the ‘worst place to live’ in America. Citywide NGOs can create a League of Social Enterprises and enlist the support of multi national brands to partner with social enterprises that are actively solving social and environmental challenges. This City can make history.
For us, every challenge becomes an opportunity to achieve greatness. All it takes is just a little spark to create a big flame. The Springfield community can get together and embrace Social Entrepreneurship for the future while acting as witness to change for the better.