By Amanda Ponzar
I just spent four days with some of the world’s most socially conscious and committed corporate leaders plus a mind-blowing faculty at “Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategies to create business and social value” at Harvard Business School.
First of all, I simply FELT smarter just being on campus with all these incredible people, if only for a few days. Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid and bought the HBS sweatshirt to prove it.
We grappled with values, philanthropy, strategy, supply chains, stakeholders, global poverty, complex social issues, the recession, and how companies can do good while doing good business –- and (shocker) many times, even make a lot of money doing it.
- Unilever’s Project Shakti in India, helping bottom of the pyramid markets –- some 500 million poor and lower-income people –- receive consumer goods like soap and shampoo while empowering women to become entrepreneurs and significantly increase their families’ incomes. It’s a triple win for the community, the women, and the company.
- Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women initiative capitalizes on women as “the most influential investment” you can make, since educating women improves families, communities and whole countries' GDPs. In 10,000 Women, Goldman drew on its network of business school relationships to provide practical education for small-business women entrepreneurs around the world.
- Starbucks partnership with Conservation International taught farmers in Mexico how to produce shade-grown coffee without agrochemicals and rainforest destruction, while also meeting Starbucks high-quality standards and significantly improving farmers’ incomes since Starbucks pays more for their beans. “Aligning self-interest to social responsibility is the most powerful way to sustaining a company’s success,” said Orin Smith, Starbucks CEO.
- Environmental conservation at IBM which has resulted in incredible internal cost-savings and efficiency, as well as positioned IBM as a leader, creating new business opportunities. “Green is just as much about the economics as it is about the environment,”said IBM’s Chris Molloy.
- GE’s growth strategy, aggressively investing in innovation, emerging markets and “unstoppable trends” to make significant environmental progress (ecoimagination) as well as incredible financial returns. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said GE CEO Jeff Immelt.
- Southwest Airlines One Report, merging financial and nonfinancial information into a single report, as a first step toward truly integrating CSR with all aspects of the business. (And they seem to be the only airline with 37 years of consecutive profitability, as of 2009.)
I walked away hopeful that we are at a tipping point with CSR, and that business can help solve society’s problems not just through philanthropic donations, but perhaps even more through enlightened self-interest and capitalism. I also left with a deeper awareness that social responsibility is not just for big business.
No matter who you are, we ALL can do something:
- How can you leverage your unique expertise to help the community? If you’re a graphic designer, volunteer to teach art at your local school or paint a mural to beautify the space. (You benefit by gaining new experiences and contacts.)
- Whatever your business size (sole proprietor, small biz or big), what can you do to improve your entire supply chain? Tap your employees for ideas (just as GE does “imagination breakthroughs”).
- What can you do to conserve energy and recycle more in your home and office? (You may very well save money, just as IBM did.)
- How can you adjust your purchasing behaviors to reward socially responsible companies? (You’ll probably eat healthier food for starters, plus you can help spread this movement.)
Harvard’s hope is to educate “leaders who make a difference in the world" but we don’t all need to go to Harvard to step up and make a difference right where we are, starting right now.
(Photos copyright Amanda Ponzar 2010; taken on Harvard Business School campus)