Creating Social Value Blog / Corporate Social Relevance

An Open Letter to Fortune 500 Companies

As part of Emily and Cheryl’s Leading for Social Value course this spring, students were asked to write closing blogs with reflections from the seven weeks of the course. We’ll be sharing some of these posts periodically, starting with this open letter to Fortune 500 Companies from Evadne Cokeh, MBA’17.

Dear Fortune 500 Companies,

I wanted to write a letter to say thank you! I’ve noticed that you’ve been working pretty hard in the social innovation space and have come a long way from viewing “doing good” as philanthropy alone. You’ve been increasing transparency in your supply chain to provide responsibly sourced, chemical free products in your store. You’ve been investing in the STEM education of low-income middle school students. And you’ve been increasing your portfolio of organic products. I’ve observed that these initiatives are linked to your overall strategy (smart!), but gather that despite successes and even profitability from these initiatives, you are still questioning what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Well, I’m here for you and I want you to succeed. Why? Because your combined revenues represent $12 trillion and you employ over 27.9 million people, so even the smallest changes you make will have a tremendous impact.[1] Here are some tips and tricks to maximize your social innovation success:

1. Inform your employees and engage your Millennials. Your social innovation initiatives may be linked to company strategy, but what percent of your employees actually know of these initiatives? Communicating about your initiatives will ignite and engage your Millennials, so be ready. Make sure to create an opportunity for feedback and response because these ideas may fuel your next big business opportunity.

2. Measure for the short-term and the long-term by considering alternative metrics. Innovation requires a long-term time horizon and social innovation is no different. Make sure you are pursuing a mix of social innovation initiatives that create short-term and long-term economic value. Think carefully about how you choose to measure success and returns on investment because traditional financial metrics will most likely fall short.

3. Communicate a transparent story beyond your CSR report. I’m sorry to break it to you, but no one reads those CSR reports you spend hours on each year. But, use them to tell your company’s story in a digital format or in your store. Consumers want to know the story behind a product or how and why your social innovation initiative is important to you. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, but make sure you are open and transparent about your areas of improvement. Consumers value transparency and are more likely to forgive you for your shortcomings as long as they know you see them too.

4. Create healing spaces, instead of taking a political stance. Super Bowl 2017 was filled with commercials that “took a stance”. Don’t do it. Instead, be a leader in creating spaces that might bring both sides to the table for conversation, understanding, and action. Take a stance on showing that you care about bringing our country together.