Corporate volunteerism is both a business and societal win/win.
By David Wilcox
- The Corporate Intrapreneur
- Strategic International Corporate Volunteerism
- Smarter Solutions for a Smarter Planet (IBM on Global Citizen’s Corp)
- Special Edition on International Volunteering
These are just a few of the sessions offered at the recent Business Civic Leadership Center Global Conference that focused on corporate leaders and employees improving the world and growing business through volunteering. In every industry, knowledge-based global companies are approaching corporate volunteerism as both a business and societal win/win.
Leading organizations are crafting their own particular approach.
GE is centering their global growth strategy around solutions to healthcare and energy with the expectation that many innovations will come from the Global South. (Relevant: How GE Is Disrupting Itself)
Dow Corning is seeking opportunity through deploying high potential leaders/innovators as cultural and commercial anthropologists in Africa, Asia and Latin America. IBM's Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Stan Litow credits a significant source of IBM’s continuous innovation capability to their understanding that “when you give what differentiates you in the marketplace, you produce not only significant benefit in the community but also for yourself.” These are just a few from a long list of innovators in this area.
Volunteerism & Corporate Value: IBM Responds
How does corporate volunteerism create value for companies, and how can companies organize to create maximum impact in the societies where they work and volunteer?
For leaders who are not yet convinced about the fundamental importance of corporations acting responsibly to both avoid doing harm and to improve society, Litow explains IBM's view of company value creation from corporate responsibility in a recent interview. In answer to the question, “how do you put metrics in place to track company impact?” Litow has very specific advice. Here is a summary of the key results that IBM expects and measures:
- Find and keep the best talent.
- Deploying the best talent and tech in exigent environments maximizes learning.
- Ranking high in CSR means ranking high in SRI Funds. (Socially responsible investment funds control over a trillion dollars worth of assets.)
- Earned media has calculable economic value
- IBM (and all corporations should) measures the effect of corporate responsibility on brand value.
Some leaders may view volunteerism as a way to save on cash contributions. It is unlikely that the leaders at this conference would advocate for a short-term financial advantage from corporate volunteerism. The advantages sought are leader development, learning, innovation, market creation and emerging market and consumer understanding.
In seeking the five values IBM measures and the people benefits above, it might be useful to ask a slightly different question: What are other admired companies doing that don’t seem to be using corporate volunteerism as aggressively?
P&G: An Innovation-Driven Model with Similarities
One example of a company taking a different approach is P&G, an organization with a reputation for innovation (Bestselling book, The Game-Changer, was written by P&G’s former chairman and CEO, A. G. Lafley).
One of its core strategies is FutureWorks, often referred to as P&G's “entrepreneurial engine.” The Futureworks group is out in front on opportunities to grow and import innovation from entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs globally, similar to GE's self-disruptive approach.
Like IBM, the Futureworks team also builds partnerships. While IBM is approaching volunteerism and the associated leader development on a broad scale (over a thousand leaders deployed through their Global Citizen Corp last year) and their citizen executives are learning through building capacity outside of IBM mostly in non-profit organizations, Futureworks is supporting P&G”s goal to import half their new consumer products from the outside.
Under the mantra of converting “not invented here” to “proudly found elsewhere,” P&G’s 50 + partner experts scour the globe and offer to partner voluntarily. For P&G the “volunteer entrepreneur supporters” are more likely to partner with for-profit enterprises, and P&G's successful engagements can often lead to investment opportunities as well.
One P&G investment example is Healthpoint Services, a for-profit social enterprise scaling from Punjab, India. Started by Al Hammond, a global base of the pyramid expert, and Amit Jain, a clean water pioneer, Healthpoint is the first scalable integration of telemedicine, clean water, diagnostics and generic pharmaceuticals. This integrated solution enables real foundational healthcare and water delivery in a sustainable manner (i.e., profitably) via a village facility where doctor visits and tests average less than a dollar.
P&G, IBM, Dow Corning and GE recognize that the world is changing rapidly and their strategies need to focus assets on new geographies and markets where innovation requires partners. Adding new generations of customers requires following their lead and rejecting single bottom line thinking. In many cases the global south entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs will create the products and services that will bring a new generation of customers to insightful companies who scale these entrepreneurial efforts.
Expanding Impacts of Volunteering
As any global development leader can tell you, the complexities of solving societal problems are substantial. Understanding and measuring whether a particular intervention has succeeded has become so complex -- think of randomized control trials -- that it is not surprising that many companies default to those programs put forward by employees working in their own communities (or in the case of companies working in developing countries, working in the communities that are impacted by their presence.) In emerging markets, leaders usually engage development experts to assist in design and implementation, but in most cases the focus is still on local community programs.
There is much to be learned from community-focused development, and having the employee leadership and personal volunteer investment guarantees a win/win when programs are successful. However, the ability for local community-focused individuals to be strategic and to consider alternatives with superior innovation models or impact profiles is limited. Employee-led programs are usually stuck in the history of where the company assets are instead of where they need to be for future “licenses to operate” to enable growth and pay dividends.
If the goal is to create societal impact and develop leaders who understand the complex tasks of innovation, market creation and policy making in emerging markets, a company cannot have its efforts derived exclusively from employee-driven development and volunteerism.
Guidelines for Increased Impact
To increase both company impact and societal impact from corporate volunteer programs, learn from the leaders and partner with the most innovative and sustainable solutions. Here are four key guidelines for getting the best results:
- “Giving the very best” is fundamental in creating corporate value and sustainable societal value.
- Rather than starting with the company’s capabilities, begin with this question: What organization is most capable of solving the challenge we are seeking to address in a sustainable manner and what do they most need?
- Seek social enterprises that build capacity to solve problems and scale solutions across countries and continents using hybrid and/or for-profit models and compare these models to nonprofit alternatives.
- Compare local solutions against regional and country-wide solutions that improve societal outcomes more broadly and seek partners to scale proven solutions.
Going forward, funds and talent should flow to the organizations making and reporting measurable progress actually solving key challenges. Some leaders call this “buying impact”.
By deploying the best, companies can bring added critical capabilities that enable impact to become partially or fully sustainable. In these cases, “buying impact” is replaced with “investing in impact engines.” (Relevant: Social Enterprise and Social Innovation: Not the Same Thing)
Successful social entrepreneurs create business models where the product or service provision draws resources from customers, donors, government, corporate and investor markets. This combined support and innovation actually can make the difference between a profitable and a non-profitable model.
These models are all evolving, and this fluidity is evident throughout the world. Viewing corporate volunteers as leaders who can attract other partners, bring business acumen to solutions, add critical distribution and scale capabilities, while enabling money to become a catalyst in building societal improvement capacity means the landscape of both business and society can be transformed.