Big Business, Bigger Impact

By Ida Jeng, Director, Global Communication and Strategy, Refugees United

Big Business, Bigger Impact

“Let us bring the invisible heart of markets to those the invisible hand of markets has left behind,” said Sir Ronald Cohen during the Skoll World Forum opening plenary on Wednesday night, stressing that business and social good go hand-in-hand.

Of particular interest to me within that paradigm was a session called “Big Business, Bigger Impact: The Pursuit, Peril, and Power of Partn….” Participants tackled questions like, “How can entrepreneurs and businesses alleviate pressing social issues together?” and “How do you convince a multinational company to fund your social innovation?”

These and other questions were discussed on a panel featuring Robert Annibale (Citigroup), Mark Davis (The Body Shop), and Kavita Prakesh-Mani (Syngenta). Among the audience were representatives from Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Oxfam and more. In this room – full of suits – I was pleasantly surprised to hear panelists discuss the importance of integrating innovative and long-lasting solutions into every day work instead of sidelining social responsibility within Public Relations or Corporate Social Responsibility arms.

To me, this is indicative of a new discourse at the executive levels–ten years ago, this discussion was unheard of. In fact, several of the executives in the room had social programs in their portfolios but had deliberately chosen not to label them as such out of fear that shareholders would remove funding; or – as one of the panelist phrased it – would end up as a ‘ghettoized segment’ of companies that are doing good.

Advice for nonprofits

Below is a simplified summary of the tips that were shared during the panel.

Understand their situation: If you want to change the way they think, show them that you understand their markets and their customers – “you need to understand the beast.”

  1. Speak their language. In the C-suites, executives talk about return of investments, risk mitigation and innovation. Nonprofits talk about change, social causes, and doing good. Oftentimes, companies and nonprofits want the same thing – they want to serve people in their home countries, but they speak different languages! Companies need to be better at looking at global challenges from a ‘social side,’ and nonprofits need to be better at looking at them from the ‘commercial side.’ These barriers may prevent some executives from investing. Not because they don’t want to do good but because they don’t see how the social cause is connected to their core business.
  2. Building a business case: Nonprofits ought to ask themselves – how will this project contribute to the vision and mission of the company? Gather data and evidence, build a strong business case, and persuade stakeholders that your project is going to have an impact on the customers and the markets.
  3. Create ownership: Ensure that there’s ownership at the top (several panelists and audience members shared stories of projects, which had failed because they weren’t anchored at the top.)
  4. Incorporate good: The more you ensure that your project is deeply embedded in daily operations, procedures and procurement, the more likely they are to extend funding.
  5. Build success cases: Once you’ve received funding, continue to document how you are adding value.
  6. Skin in the game: Try to work with corporate partners who are engaged in your cause, or companies working within fields that are directly related to the cause. The further you move away from companies or partners that aren’t working in the similar field, the more bureaucratic and hard they are to work with.
  7. Proximity is key: Try to engage partners who have programs, businesses or operations in the countries, where the operation is taking place – proximity is key if you want to create ownership at the local level.
  8. Pitch long-term concept: Several investors mentioned that they preferred investing in long-term concepts with potential to really impact the markets they operate in. Focus on projects, which have a broad ripple effect.
  9. Quantify your pitch: Before you approach business people with your social cause, ensure that it’s quantified. This, in return, will make it easier to measure the impact.
Editor’s Note:
This article was first published on the Skoll World Forum blog, and is reproduced with permission.

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