The reality of globalization through technology and social media has created a smaller world, and it’s accelerating at an amazing pace. Many people are not aware of the immense integration and economic change that has taken place or that the playing field is being leveled. Globalization and advances in technology have also redefined what’s possible in the world of philanthropy and corporate and individual giving. Today’s entrepreneurs are creating companies with two bottom lines, making a profit for their products and/or services while their business philosophy is intricately entwined with a philanthropic mission. Facebook, Twitter, and Skype inspire conversations, discussions, and actions in real time and have given a whole new meaning and commitment to giving. And it’s not just the wealthy that are able to make an impact; grassroots movements are proving every day how a single individual, regardless of wealth, can make a lasting impact on the lives of others. But what’s also happening is the change in how we give our time, energy, resources, and money.
Entrepreneurs with a mission
Many of us know that Toms Shoes has blazed the way in corporate philanthropy with its business model tied to one-to-one giving. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is the author of “Delivering Happiness,” the leader transforming downtown Las Vegas into a thriving, culture-rich community led by creative thinkers and bound by common passions. More and more entrepreneurs are following in Zappos and Toms Shoes (pun intended), creating fascinating business models that cohesively combine business, giving, and community.
The first thing I noticed when I spoke with twin sisters Miki Agrawal, author of “Do Cool Sh*t” and co-founder and CEO of Thinx, www.shethinx.com, and Radha Agrawal, founder and CEO of Super Sprowtz, www.supersprowtz.com, is their energy and commitment to their companies, employees, and philanthropic missions. They are the new missionaries, evangelizing women’s rights and children’s health, and they mean business.
One of the characteristics that makes the millennial generation different is the need to break though the noise of the marketplace. Many of these talented young people are searching not only for a career, but for a purpose behind it. Companies such as Thinx and Super Sprowtz are rare and attractive because they offer a mission that is interwoven into their business model from day one. According to Miki, “We’ve taken a product that has never been done before in fashion and we’re hiring people who are faced with all kinds of new challenges, because we are blazing new ideas and breaking old taboos. However, it’s the challenges of creating a new fashion trend and simultaneously helping women around the world to achieve gender equality that gets us jazzed.”
Employee engagement ideas that work
Hopefully, the mindset of undeserved promotions and unrealistic salaries is coming to an end. Many young companies believe that you have to work and do a good job, just like previous generations; however, there’s a twist, as this generation intuitively understands digital and social media and they want to have purpose in their work and lives. According to Miki, she tries to “hire the best people and then give them the opportunity to meet their goals on their own.” An example she gave me was giving over a design project and letting them know the aesthetic, business goals, and the target audience. “Now design something that is meaningful to you.” Miki and her partners have not only created a business with a mission — double bottom line. They’ve invested in their people and have given them the creative freedom to think on their own and take ownership of the success, and yes, even the failures.Super Sprowtz participated in a music festival in Las Vegas, part of Hsieh’s Downtown project. Radha and her Sprowtz team created the “kid’s zone.” “It was wonderful seeing the team evangelizing about nutrition and enjoying team camaraderie,” states Radha. Radha goes on to say that “at the core of our company is purpose and social responsibility.”More and more social ventures are cropping up all over the world. There is a huge growing sector of double bottom line companies scaling profitable businesses and making the world a better place. The DNA of these companies is keeping true to making the world a better place and the profits will follow. “They go hand in hand,” says Radha, “but if you start with purpose you’ll find a lot of talented people who will gladly work with you”.
Why is corporate social responsibility so important?
Everyone wants to feel connection. The advent of digital and social media has created specialization, but also fragmentation, and most people need a personal touch. It’s not a one-size-fits-all community. People are realizing being a corporate leader equates to community leadership. The best kind of leadership is leading happy employees. In turn, employees and the communities they serve become a team, and ultimately, the brand.
It’s important to understand that social conscientious businesses are not welfare models. At Thinx, for every pair of underwear someone buys, “we donate seven pads to girls in underdeveloped countries. 100 million girls drop out of school every year because they have their periods and have to stay home every single month.” But instead of donating re-washable pads, Thinx subsidizes Afipads, an African manufacturing company. “We are only defraying the costs and giving Afipads the opportunity to also build their business,” states Miki.
Super Sprowtz launched a study with Cornell University in elementary schools. The program included 100 kids. The Super Sprowtz team created kid-friendly salad bars. “We made it fun and wrapped it in artwork including our Super Sprowtz heroes, a DVD playing on the TV and the lunch ladies wearing hand puppets,” says Radha. According to the study, they had an increase of 443 percent increase in kids going to the salad bars. The company now has plans to roll out this elementary school model across the country.
Super Sprowtz, together with Riva Jewelry Manufacturing, also rolled out a program in Lutheran Hospital’s waiting room. “Lutheran Hospital is our neighbor,” states Ted Doudak, president and CEO of Riva. “We decided to call them and ask them how we could help. They proposed the Sprowtz program which they wanted to start.” With childhood obesity on the rise, Lutheran Hospital saw the effects in their emergency waiting room on a daily basis. Radha and her team noticed that there was nothing on the walls that was entertaining. They wrapped the walls with the Super Sprowtz characters and added fun, engaging stories with a nutritional message on DVDs playing in the hospitals. Additionally, 10 volunteers read books to sick children in the hospitals and the program seems to be having a direct impact on families with sick children.
Recent trends in corporate giving
Giving is giving. I think as companies build they are going to think to keep talented people engaged by interweaving business financial goals and a give-back mission.
There are many traditional non-profit organizations such as Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity, Anti-Defamation League (celebrating 100 years), Red Cross, and many more that have formed strategic partnerships with individual donors and Corporate America. According to the report, “Giving Beyond Borders: A Study of Global Giving by U.S. Corporations,” 68 percent of 53 Fortune 500 companies surveyed said that when seeking non-profit partners to invest in or with overseas, organizational effectiveness was their top priority, followed by accountability (25 percent), reputation (17 percent), and size and capacity (6 percent). Corporations also cited alignment with their own philanthropic and business goals in its mission (77 percent), geographic footprint (51 percent), and focus area (40 percent) as important to a sustainable partnership.
In competition with donor money are micro-charities which are sprouting up in communities all over the world. Because technology links giver and receiver, this relatively new form of giving lets donors choose small projects to achieve big results. The general thought is you are donating directly into the situation. So you know that every dollar is being put to good use.
Billionaires with a heart
I think most of us have heard of The Giving Pledge, but if you haven’t it is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. The idea of The Giving Pledge came from the ideas and input generated in many conversations that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett had with other philanthropists in the U.S. and abroad. The Pledge encourages signatories to find their own unique ways to give that inspire them personally and benefit society.
Making a difference
More than ever before, we live in a small world, and digital and social media have given individuals, small entrepreneurs, and large corporations the ability to share with the global community. The impact can be tremendous.
Today, making a difference is not only writing a check to a non-profit or complying with your corporate responsibility program. Making a meaningful difference, leaders must integrate the process and mission into their business models and strategically align community involvement with business initiatives. That’s the formula for corporate success and changing the social paradigm.