Why Social Value Creation Matters
By David Brown, Babson MBA and Executive Director of Technology Underwriting Greater Good.
When you think of yourself as well versed in a field, especially a field that you plan to spend your career in, it’s rare when a course can not only surprise you but also provide meaningful conversations that change your perceptions. While at Babson, Social Value Creation Matters managed to do precisely that and has, consequently, been instrumental in shaping my own sense of leadership after college.
The course was impressive as it allowed us to engage directly with leading intrapreneurs from large Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs at both domestic and international organizations, including Ernst & Young, Staples, Ford, Sodexo, Aspen Institute, and Roshan. However, the reason this course was so valuable was not the fact that we got to chat with key leaders, but that we actually got to challenge them and to have substantive thought leadership conversations about what their programs should be doing. In doing so, the group really helped define together the opportunities and limitations of CSR programs.
From this experience, there were several key takeaways that altered my view of social innovation and CSR practices:
1. CSR Programs Offer Great Leverage Points for Immediate Impact
I am an entrepreneur at heart and knew that I wanted to be part of a social entrepreneurship startup after Babson. That said, the class surprised me by showing just how much positive influence you can exert early on if you join a company that is truly open to working on CSR from a leadership standpoint. When working for an established for profit with means, it’s possible to scale up and exert influence a lot more quickly than a startup that needs to build a brand and a war chest first. Our experiences with Staples, Ford, and Sodexo really hit this home, both in ways that these various organizations have varying levels of influence based on the credibility the program was given and how honest their efforts came across.
2. Values not only matter, they can make large financial impacts and can be the basis for competitive advantage
When talking to Chris Pinney, a member of the board for the Aspen Institute, three amazing statistics came out:
- 40% of a company’s overall reputation is based on the “social impact” type of things they do
- 40% of people are willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company, and
- 75% of people are willing to pay more for a product from a socially responsible company
CSR has a huge playground to create workplace value. It’s not just a feel good system but rather, as Michael Porter suggests, an opportunity to create a shared value system that drives the strategic goals of the organization. Roshan was a perfect example of how setting strong social values alongside operations can create amazing impact helping create not only real economic benefit (7% of Afghanistan’s 2011 GDP) but also directing social policy across the nation. It also reaffirmed the importance of being absolute and consistent in your values.
3. CSR platforms should be directly tied to corporate strategy
Coming into the course, I would have thought that CSR programs fit best alongside Human Resources as they are cultural and are great conversations for hiring. However, conversation after conversation continued to reiterate the shared value notion that CSR programs are actually an intimate part of company strategy and while they can be helpful for hiring, truly need to cut across an entire organizations’ operations, starting with the C-Suite. To be part of the culture, CSR efforts need to permeate the entire company and this often necessitates starting at the C-Suite and rolling out across all divisions.
4. Companies are the “new monasteries” so these issues really matter
When chatting with Brad Googins, he referred to businesses as the “new monasteries of the 21st century”, meaning that businesses are becoming the epicenter of our communities’ impacts and where people are turning for direction about the future (spiritual or otherwise). While this was not itself a revelation for me, it really hit home the notion that these concepts really matter and are becoming increasingly more important. With this increasing role of corporations, it stresses just how much CSR and leading through values is essential to long-term health of not just our companies but also our communities. There are huge responsibilities but also huge opportunities to be had in this increasingly important sector.
Again, these are just some of the many great insights gleaned from this class. However, the key understanding is that – whether you are going in to work for a profit or nonprofit, going to work for a startup, growth stage, or mature company – values are a huge opportunity. This class taught us that now is the time to start creating great social impact regardless of situation; long-term competitiveness in all companies depends on it.
David Brown (@dbskier) is the Executive Director of Technology Underwriting Greater Good (www.tugg.org, @TUGGorg), an organization that brings together New England’s startup leaders to collaboratively support the best new nonprofits fostering entrepreneurship, education, and life experiences for under resourced youth. In addition to TUGG, David sits on the boards of a number of local nonprofits and is an advisor to numerous for profit and nonprofit social enterprises. He is the social entrepreneurship track manager for Mass Challenge. David holds an MBA, summa cum laude, from Babson College, and a BA, with honors, from Williams College.