8 SSIR Articles on Businesses Pursuing a Social Mission

By Jasmine Liu, Stanford Social Innovation Review

Stanford Social Innovation Review curate eight articles from their archives- specifically for Business Fights Poverty—that offer insight into how companies can successfully orient themselves around purpose, both internally and externally, to reap its many rewards.

Consumers increasingly expect businesses to look out for not only their shareholders, but also society at large. They want to see their values reflected in the products and services they use, and prefer brands that invest in meaningful, long-term relationships with their customers. Companies that take time to listen and respond to these consumer demands have a lot to gain, including building brand loyalty, expanding their consumer base, and boosting the bottom line.

Here are eight articles from Stanford Social Innovation Review’s archives—curated specifically for Business Fights Poverty—that offer insight into how companies can successfully orient themselves around purpose, both internally and externally, to reap its many rewards.

1. The Rise of a Fourth Sector Skills Set

Business leaders’ growing enthusiasm to tackle complicated social problems has led to the blurring and redefining of barriers between the traditional business, government, and nonprofit sectors. Gib Bulloch of Accenture Development Partnerships argues that tomorrow’s leaders should build their skill sets around the demands of this emerging “fourth sector.”

2. Cultivating the Social Intrapreneur

Social intrapreneurs—entrepreneurial employees who develop a profitable new product, service, or business model that creates value for both society and the company they work for—help businesses remain competitive. However, many barriers, including opportunity costs of investment and capability gaps, frequently get in the way. Beth Jenkins, a senior associate of Business Fights Poverty, describes how progressive companies are encouraging intrapraneurship among their employees.

3. Caring for Working Caregivers

Former first lady and lifelong caregiver advocate Rosalynn Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” As people live longer and demand for caregivers increases, business leaders will need to build coalitions to help working caregivers. David Grayson, professor of corporate responsibility at Cranfield University, offers advice on how organizations can treat these employees right.

4. The New Face of Corporate Activism

Companies that are out of touch with their customers’ values may find themselves the target of activists. Gerald F. Davis and Christopher J. White, faculty at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, suggest that companies look inward for guidance. They argue that companies’ social intrapreneurs can be the most vocal activists for change, and leaders should pay attention.

5. Delivering on the Promise of a Purpose-Driven Brand

Purpose-driven brands add meaning to the lives of consumers, creating a sense of belonging for their supporters. Businesses can drive changes in perception, behavior, rules, and systems through effective branding. Justin Stokes and Dominik Prinz offer examples of companies that have succeeded in communicating their brand’s purpose.

6. Why Purpose? Why Now?

Companies that do not fundamentally embed purpose into their organization suffer from criticisms of inauthenticity. The in-depth series Why Purpose? Why Now? features articles that explore how successful companies are building their identities around a social purpose. Some of the most popular pieces include, “A New Approach to Solving the US Housing Crisis,” “The Competitive Advantage of Social Enterprises,” and “The Quest for Purpose.”

7. Can Corporations Inspire Social Good?

B Corporations, or B Corps, are facilitating a move away from prioritizing shareholders as a company’s only stakeholders. But organizations with other corporate structures can also improve society without negatively impacting their bottom line. Nishant Bagadia, whose background includes work in social entrepreneurship, tech, and business, proposes strategies that can help create organizational cultures oriented toward good.

8. Embracing Emerging Technology for Social Change

Organizations are embracing emerging technologies and using them to disrupt existing systems. In this podcast from SSIR’s 2018 Frontiers of Social Innovation conference, Katherine Milligan, director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, speaks with the leaders of three innovative organizations about predicting trend lines, dealing with risk aversion in the global community, and responding to major technological failures.

Read more about innovative ways to enhance corporate social responsibility in the SSIR archives.

Dig deeper into the topic in our online series on the future of social impact education in business schools. And stay tuned for our forthcoming series on reforming management education.

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