leadership-pieces The value of corporate global responsibility

How employees in multinational corporations can develop a sense of purpose and mission while leading their organization toward greater global social responsibility.

In order to break down both company and local resistance, the value of serving society must be visually and vividly presented exactly where the greatest impact is locally felt and the PR benefit to the company. That value has to be shared, amplified, standardized, systemized and spread. Then, the reward of purpose and service can be massively accepted. 

For example, working side-by-side with local frontline partners helps to learn their concerns, customs, cultures and resistance when looking at appropriate technology, supply chain concerns and strategy. It is applying new technologies and business thinking to old development problems in healthcare, clean water availability, education and poverty. An example is Kenya, where now 80% of all money flows through mobile phones, something that didn’t exist several years ago. 

Another example is just exposing a local problem like indoor air pollution, which is the fourth-biggest killer worldwide through respiratory diseases. This could get a 100% home electrification project started in an easy and inexpensive way.

Attacking corporate resistance

These examples are not just throwing money at problems, but exploring what can be done locally, what positive acceptance or negative resistance there is and then come up with solution concepts. They could utilize e-learning capabilities for training doctors, nurses or teachers, use smartphone technology for fund transactions, personal identity creations/confirmation and insurance services.

Another way to counter local resistance is to partner with universities, business schools and other education organizations for recruitment purposes. Young people could be particularly attracted to socially responsible companies.

This concept of large corporation employees seeking purpose is growing, and support groups are forming. For those employees looking for more global responsibility but lack support from their employers, organizations like the League of Intrapreneurs can help. They can create movements within their organizations by connecting people from within industries and across sectors. What they are doing is fighting a “corporate immune system” with a rigid company culture. To fight this, an employee will need much support.

Resources to motivate employees

Looking at the growing mental health issues and high turnover in multinational corporations, personnel departments are looking for solutions. The pride of corporate efforts to address social and environmental issues might be one way to attack these personnel problems. Here are some sources that might be helpful: 

  1. Transparency International is trying to improve trust in corporations. 
  2. I mentioned them above, but League of Intrapreneurs could help when a company is looking for cultural change.
  3. For clarity of exactly who are your purpose driven, ideological employees, watch the video about What is Intrapreneurship? 
  4. If you are particularly interested in global developing world education, the article Investment in Global Education - A Strategic Imperative for Business can help.
  5. If you are just starting your career toward global responsibility and wonder if you are on the right path, talk with the Circle of Young Intrapreneurs.
  6. If you want to be in a group to explore careers with social value, look into the Intrapreneur Lab or Impaqt.
  7. If you are an employee who wants to direct your effort toward poverty, contact Business Fights Poverty.
  8. For burned out employees looking for peace of mind, consider a course from Thrive Global.

The Fourth Sector

The First Sector is profit-making corporations. The Second Sector is governments. The Third Sector is philanthropic organizations. The book The Intrepreneur: Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent by Gib Bulloch talks about a blend of all of them, the Fourth Sector: profit supported, taxes supported, and donations supported.

Consider how the UN would be operated if it was run by Jeff Bezos as Secretary General. How could it be thought of as a business development consulting company? How could an important global cause be approached from a business knowledge, investment, banking and accountancy perspective? These are the questions Bulloch asks in his book.

The first thing to think of is organizational purpose around people, planet and profits, which are becoming blurred between governments, civil society, philanthropy and for-profit corporations. Corporations, with new technology platforms and innovative financing strategies, are now taking a look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These are 17 broad goals with 169 targets and 304 indicators for each target to measure for compliance in health, education, poverty and peace.

If that doesn’t confuse you, imagine each working independent of each other, and there is no connection between them. To achieve something, you have to prioritize and decide on just one as the primary goal at the moment and make a business plan around it.

Considering the above, Bulloch thinks there has to be a better way to harness the power of the market and channel that toward the public good. Looking at the UN, World Bank and other huge NGOs, it is not that they don’t have desire and purpose. Their problem is their ability to execute, particularly when you compare the ability to execute by major corporations.

One tool is to bring in both purpose for global and social good and income generation, profits, and return on investment. Ask for and provide financing that only funds the most underserved, neediest people but explore long-term returns on those funds. These are sometimes called “social impact bonds.” The funds can be rated on detailed results, like the percentage improvement of taking a child from birth to a healthy, educated, economically productive citizen twenty years in the future.

‘Hybrid’ organizations as the Fourth Sector

What is needed is an organization that, in its charter, is tasked with solving social problems up front and working strictly in the private sector to achieve that. It blends the best capabilities regarding (1) present and newly developed technologies in businesses, (2) approaches, knowhow and support from government, and (3) volunteer work and donations through NGOs.

To develop this Fourth Sector, social impact bonds that attract private investment, entrepreneurship and technical innovation toward essentially public goods would be one very important method. This could turn a social problem into a business opportunity. This investment could lead to giving talks to international development charities, but with return on investment, not straight donations, in mind.

In addition to the above, it might be an idea to look at retiring executives that want to give back and offer the needed skills they developed over their careers. For many of them, being helpful is far more important than direct financial reward. They could provide services at little cost to a government or non-profit company.

At the opposite extreme, mid-executives that see that the current methods of doing business will not generate prosperity in the developing world could be attracted to this fourth sector concept.

Example of Kenya’s poverty

Bulloch asked to consider who has had the biggest impact on poverty in Kenya over the past five years: the United Nations, a series of NGOs or Vodafone?

The first two are directly involved in poverty issues, but Vodafone is not. In spite of that, Vodafone’s partnering with local private sector organizations drove up banking service availability and raised e-learning to advanced levels while reducing costs to a fraction of what it was in the past. This generated the training of thousands of nurses faster and cheaper than any standard classrooms could. It was a Vodafone spin-off, Safaricom, that made all the difference through its mobile network. The difference was that Vodafone had valued technology that the other two did not. We have to find a way to spread corporation’s technology and know-how to where it is greatly needed.

The Kenya case started with mobile connections, personal communications, identity creation and credit standings and digital fund transfers. Then, that determined where electricity was needed. From that understanding, the need for the appropriate solar electricity generation and distribution was decided. More electricity distribution leads to longer hours of educational instruction, studying and learning. Education of healthy workers created a stronger and more skilled labor force. 

Seeing all these successes, the whole system can become a role model for other regions, countries and rural communities. Also, the beauty is, the more this process is replicated, the less risky and costly the investments are, the faster there will be returns on their investments.

The above resulted in business consultants going to local communities and seeing what they are doing now. Within each consultants’ expertise, viable solutions were developed, collaborated on locally, and developed with local partners. The same team jointly executed the project and then maintained and improved on it afterward.

How to approach corporate resistance

For any new project, there will always be people that will try to block progress. I had to overcome some management resistance in my overseas sales training proposals. I wrote about how this was done in my article, A 5-step plan to encourage your team to make changes on your project. Those steps could be helpful when building a more socially responsible corporation as well.

I have given many proposals and concepts for multinational corporation employees getting socially responsible projects going in their organizations, but how could those ideas be made more visible, understandable and imagined? If people can't invasion this corporate transition to social responsibility, nothing will happen. I will talk about how to possibly do that in the next article.