Progress with Purpose: How Companies Can Unlock Greater Societal Impact

A common theme I heard throughout 2016 at various corporate citizenship conferences is that Business has a compelling mission to serve as a powerful force for good around the world. From responding to global humanitarian and ecological crises, to creating 21st century jobs for vulnerable populations, to leading with courage on social issues—the private sector’s impact on society continues to grow beyond its commercial markets.
 
I recently attended the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2016 Corporate Citizenship Conference, “Purpose & Progress”.  This conference’s theme challenged each of us to think critically about ways to unleash the full power of our organizations and infuse a strength of intent and meaning that goes beyond our traditional corporate citizenship activities. In communities around the world, we are grappling with challenges that are global in scope and structurally multifaceted — the Zika virus, persistent poverty and climate change. The business case for engaging in purpose-driven corporate social responsibility is clear and unmistakable. 
 
Many of the discussions focused on the need for companies to step up and voice their displeasure (and outrage) when spotting inequalities and disenfranchisement—even when government entities or politicians deem it unnecessary or unpopular. One afternoon’s session delved into this topic and showcased stories and programs from leading companies. For example, Microsoft’s corporate VP/President of Microsoft Philanthropies Mary Snapp spoke on how artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based technologies can foster trust and inclusion among diverse populations. There was also an extensive conversation kicked off by Dow’s Rob Vallentine on why LGBTQ diversity and inclusion is more important to business than ever—especially in light of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law, HB2. Microsoft, Dow and the CEOs of over 200 companies are working with organizations like HRC to repeal this discriminatory law and many national organizations, states, conferences, and sport franchises are prohibiting business in and travel to North Carolina as long as this law remains in place. 
 
During the conference’s Resilience track, we explored what is the right way to help as humanitarian crises become all too common. In recent years, we’ve seen a global refugee crisis, political instabilities, Ebola outbreaks, the Zika virus, terrorism, a water crisis in Flint, MI, and extreme weather causing hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, famine and many other troubling challenges. The underlying message from this track encouraged businesses to proactively identify their most vulnerable locales and develop partnerships with disaster response organizations that can help to engage and support employees and foster resilient communities.  (See SVCF’s free e-publication, Corporate Guide to Disaster Response and Preparedness to help get you started.) 
 
I left the conference inspired. While no one sector or organization can solve today’s challenges alone, a strong corporate purpose can unify a company and empower its employees.  In turn, this can lead to a revitalization of the company’s logistics network, attracting more customers while retaining its ‘best and brightest’ talent. If we can critically think about our organization’s purpose and align it with our corporate citizenship goals, we can start to unlock the full potential of our enterprises and cascade this sense of purpose throughout the entire supply chain—fostering real progress and lasting solutions. 
 
For help and ideas on aligning your company’s business to achieve greater societal impact, please contact SVCF at donate@siliconvalleycf.org. And if you’re a start-up, check out our “Starting with Purpose” guide on using CSR to deliver both purpose and profit.  Let’s get the conversation started.