Creating Social Value Blog / Corporate Social Relevance

Leading for Social Value: Dave Stangis Puts Theory into Practice

By Emily Weiner, Associate Director of The Lewis Institute and the Babson Social Innovation Lab.

One week ago, we kicked off our seven-week intensive elective MBA course, Leading for Social Value. This co-created journey with The Lewis Institute, our students, and our featured guests focuses on understanding how to create economic and social value simultaneously, not sequentially. Each week, we invite leaders from different sectors (large multinationals, social enterprises, thought leaders in media, and intermediary organizations) to candidly share how they lead and create social and economic value that matters. We are using the book that was borne out of previous classes, “Creating Social Value: A Guide for Leaders and Change Makers,” as our textbook and model to help us jumpstart a new line of inquiry and a new way of approaching the topic.

Last Tuesday, our class was treated to an unbelievable kickoff session with Dave Stangis, VP of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, Entrepreneur-in-Residence with The Lewis Institute, and co-author of the forthcoming book, “21st Century Corporate Citizenship: A Practical Guide to Delivering Value to Society and Your Business.” Cheryl and I have been fortunate to know and learn from Dave for many years, and we couldn’t imagine a better person to set the stage and context for the class.

Before we jumped in, we asked our students to share how they were feeling and why they decided to take the class. We picked up on a few recurring themes and questions:

  • What is the language of social innovation and social responsibility, and how does that language differ between sectors (corporate versus nonprofit, for example)?
  • How do we find social innovation in our future workplaces? How do we listen for it in interviews and ask about it meaningfully?
  • What does it really take to create value? How can we activate our desire to work for a company or create something that has social value if we don’t really understand how to do it?
  • How do you integrate CSR into businesses that typically haven’t included it in the past? How do you expand impact in sectors that are not traditionally oriented around social value creation?
  • Is this even real and feasible? Do for-profit businesses even think about social value, much less focus on creating it?

Each of Dave’s answers and stories mapped to the qualities outlined in the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Leadership Competencies – a research study conducted while Cheryl and I were there that we also feature in Chapter 4 of our book. It picks out the key competencies and qualities needed to be a corporate citizenship leader (which, coincidentally, are exactly the same competencies needed to be the future heads of divisions and organizations according to a separately commissioned study by the same research team). Putting theory and research into practice by making it real and relevant, here’s some of what we saw in Dave:

Personal Maturity: An ability to achieve satisfaction by empowering others rather than through personal recognition.

Dave relayed multiple stories about empowering his colleagues and staff to take the lead and create impact. “My job is not to take credit for results; my job is to give credit.” He explained how taking credit for everything actually minimizes credibility, and navigating this terrain is extremely important to enrolling others to create value. Dave also knows what he doesn’t know, and engages other people to help him. When discussing what he looks for in a prospective employee, he said even a person in the most entry level and generalist position “needs to know something better than me” and leverage that for the benefit of the company.

Systems Perspective: Uses an understanding of how elements in a system interact to frame risks and opportunities.

Dave explained how important it was to understand and explain business implications of each effort, including long term shareholder value, P&L, and resource allocation. If he or anyone else has a great idea (say, investing in energy saving activities in their facilities), they have to make the business case for that idea. That’s money that is being taken away from another part of the business. If you’re competing for dollars with a new production line that will scale a product, you have to be able to adequately and effectively demonstrate the value of that investment; you have to think of the broader system in which you work.

Collaborative Networker: Uses empathy and interpersonal understanding to build mutually beneficial relationships, and to connect and engage diverse groups of people.

Dave gave several examples of using the power of relationships inside and outside the organization to create greater impact. One example involved a collaboration between growers with an overabundance of peaches who were paying to discard their leftover product. Seeing the opportunity to leverage Campbell’s core competencies and existing business lines, he worked across the company to help create a special peach salsa that was given to the local food bank as a fundraising opportunity for them. Through the power of relationships (and understanding the business objectives), Campbell found opportunities for employees to volunteer their time to work on the product, used existing equipment during off times, salvaged potential food waste, and created a revenue stream for the local food bank, thereby furthering their connection and partnership with their local community.

Peripheral Vision: Interest in the world and social and business issues that enable one to see new opportunities and risks.

Dave shared many examples of being on the forefront of trends and opportunities, and bringing those learnings inside of the business. Due to the “what’s said here stays here” nature of our class, I won’t share specifics, but a key takeaway was his perspective on the role of business in general. “Nearly all companies started with some bigger purpose. They went into business because they saw the social and economic value they wanted to create. There’s a founder’s story everywhere, but what the broader system has done with quarterly earnings and incentives has driven generations of behaviors predominantly around shorter term gains. The way to differentiate is to go back to the purpose. What’s our reason for being part of society? And why should anyone care?”

It’s impossible to capture all of the learnings from our intense two and a half hours, but my goal is to share some of the takeaways for the benefit of anyone unable to join us in the classroom. I can’t wait for tonight’s class where we’ll welcome our colleague Chris Lloyd from Verizon to focus on Sharing Value and Driving Change Through Partnership. If you’re interested in observing one of our classes or would like to see what we’ll be covering on this journey, please feel free to reach out to me: