Creating Social Value Blog / Corporate Social Relevance

From Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Social Innovation: Over to You.

By Ken Freitas MBA’87, Principal at Freitas & Associates, Executive in Residence at Babson College, and Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at The Lewis Institute.

The memo was written by Jeff Swartz, CEO of the Timberland Company and my boss at the time. It was to me and the team working to launch a new idea – a Timberland “Community Store”, an innovative, but at that point, still loosely defined hybrid of traditional specialty store and social enterprise. The store would offer the full product range, be located in a challenging, underserved area, and share ownership and profits with local community entrepreneurs.

The memo began with an unmistakable directive to get the store launched quickly, followed by a list of the significant questions yet to be answered. Each followed by the phrase, “Over to you.” It went like this.

  • What pricing / margin structure will satisfy two owners, a consumer, and a community? Over to you.
  • Where will we get inventory to fill a store that wasn’t part of the production forecast? Over to you.
  • What should the hiring and training plan be for a community store staff? Over to you.
  • How will we manage the impact on existing local wholesale customers? Over to you.

It went on, exceptionally thorough, filling about ¾ of the page, single spaced.

Jeff was a brilliant and fiercely committed pioneer in responsible business. He saw clearly the potential for business to do good. Even more clearly, he saw the obstacles and the very real possibility to move beyond them.

Early in my career, with my newly earned Babson MBA, I joined Timberland as it was beginning a remarkable journey. We were a young company (in every sense of the term) with bold aspirations to evolve from a regional boot company to a global lifestyle brand. I was lucky to be part of that phase of the journey and grow into a VP Global Marketing role. Later, I was luckier still to take on a new role, VP Social Enterprise, tasked with taking a broad notion of responsible business and making it a central part of the company. We set out to make Timberland a reference brand for “doing well and doing good”. Familiar and accepted language today, but at the time, business audiences were typically puzzled or amused by it.

In the 20-plus years since, as an entrepreneur and educator, I’ve stayed lucky enough to continue to do work that tries to advance the concept and reality of business playing a more positive role in society.

Today, I recognize that “Over to You” memo as an essential call to evolve. A call to the collective “you” – that is, all of us – to do the hard work of recognizing when current methods are no longer sufficient and moving beyond them.

That’s why I’m excited to be part of the team assembled by Babson’s Lewis Institute for Social Innovation, that is exploring the next evolution of business as a force for good. Cheryl Kiser, Executive Director of the Institute, and I are launching a new online edX course – “From Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Social Innovation”. It’s available free and will also be included in the BabsonX Entrepreneurial Mindset and Leadership Professional Certificate Program. Learn more and register here. The course is part of a vibrant and growing effort that includes an Intensity Track and Advanced Certificate in Applied CSI.

I hope you’ll join us in exploring the next evolution of creating economic and social value.