recycle A movie to scale corporate social responsibility

If you can envision it, you can make it happen. This "movie concept" shows how organizations can be socially responsible.

In the movies, multinational corporations don’t have an image of being heroes. They are usually the cold money addicted bad guys. So, how could you visualize the transition of a financially craved corporation to a socially responsible organization that positively contributes to the world by, for example, reducing the burning of fossil fuels, eliminating poverty, or expanding remote child learning worldwide?

The book The Intrepreneur: Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent by Gib Bulloch gives a suggestion to make a dramatized movie with all its twists, plots, setbacks, villains, heroes, shocks and rescues that illustrate the transition of a corporation for global good. It starts with one powerless but idyllic, ambition driven employee that explores a worldwide business strategy for global good.

Bulloch takes on huge, powerful global corporation resistance. He uses the strategy of identifying supporters, enemies and those with no particular opinion to determine his support team. Bulloch thinks doing good globally will win over the employees’ hearts and minds, including using crowdsource funding.

Let me play with this movie scenario concept a little and call our hero “Bob Prosperity,” a middle executive in a global publicly traded corporation: Bob wants to take on his multinational corporation's resistance to becoming more globally responsible. He uses a strategy of identifying strong colleague supporters, learning of enemies, and determining those with no particular desire to support or object to his team's efforts. Bob thinks that doing good globally will win over passive employees’ hearts and minds. Also, he believes he will get a lot of crowdsource funding support and the company need not invest much.

Movie Act 1: Initial company working environment

The movie presents a toxic environment throughout the company which is short-term profit driven only. Employees are very competitive for promotions and uncooperative with each other.

This working environment has created mental health problems, high turnover, high absentee, many work accidents and low trust levels company-wide. Even at the board level, no one cares about environmental damage or anything outside of company profitability. All this makes Bob mentally stressed.

Movie Act 2: Concept introduction stage

Bob wants to overcome his shame, discomfort, and emotional stress, and starts to crave a greater purpose for his life and career. So he studies the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To find where he could make the greatest impact globally, he also reviews the Human Development Index (HDI).

After much study, Bob proposes a research project to study viable activities that offer greater corporate social responsibility to a board director and gets a small budget to study the concept, because this board director is getting pressure from the shareholders regarding the company’s toxic working environment. The director thinks the company has to rethink its global responsibilities, and explore where it should invest and innovate for the years and decades ahead to improve company pride, maintain profitability and create a happier working environment.

Movie Act 3: Exploration to generate a sense of corporate pride (year 1)

Most of the top management hate Bob’s global responsibility ideas, as they think it is wasteful and counter to a profit-making corporation. But with a very small budget, he starts non-threatening studies regarding the concerns of local communities, suppliers, employees, mid-managers, bankers, government officers, labor union representatives, charities, NGOs, researchers, scientists, university professors and others, to learn what should be done.

When Bob explains these activities to business colleagues within the company, most think these activities are too idealistic, considering promotions, profits and sales far more important. But Bob finds a few people who share his desires, goals, and concerns. They also have a strong need to work on projects that they would be proud of.

Movie Act 4: Project proposal (years 2-3)

After much study, Bob proposes to that director of the board to place all efforts on global carbon-free energy generation and conservation initially as a pilot, low budget project. The initial goal is to profitably bring clean electricity to every home in a specific town and to use their energy wisely, particularly somewhere in Africa or South Asia, where it is most lacking. That project should profitably impact the human development dimensions identified by HDI—namely, a longer and healthier life for citizens, better education for children and a decent standard of living for those in developing countries.

Movie Act 5: Pilot project (years 4-5)

To keep in-company resistance down, they decided to keep the budget minuscule and targeted hitting the breakeven point after only one year (instead of the three to five years norm). As the company had an office in Accra, Ghana, they chose that English-speaking country as their pilot test-case project location. They decided to offer low-cost, clean electricity to all residential homes through locally assembled solar power generation systems, battery storage and battery recharging stations. The electricity fees to the user had to be below all existing sources of energy.

They chose Kumasi, Ghana, as they could partner with local leaders there. The city has agriculture like cocoa and manufacturing in textiles, clothing and furniture. In addition to that, it has a gold mining history and is a major commercial trading hub, including exports. With all those economic activities, the city has a growing education and healthcare sector.

The team sets up a microfinance system from multiple development sources as well as cloud sources like Kiva investors that believe in getting rid of fossil fuel burning in all developing countries.

To ensure lighting for evening study and education for children, they first targeted electrical lighting for families with small children, so they will have extra evening study time. Another project was to provide mobile electrical lighting to home visit healthcare providers to make visits as productive as possible. 

For homes located outside the electrical grid, they offered inexpensive batteries and convenient charging stations, which could be funded by microfinance worldwide. Lastly, they demanded that all indoor fossil fuel burning gradually stop, and electrical systems installed to reduce indoor air pollution which causes disease in young children.

Movie Act 6: Pilot project goals (years 6-10)

To keep in-company and local resistance down, within ten years they started tracking human-centric results regarding longer and healthier lives, improved education, particularly among girls and improved economic standard of living

It turned out to be an overwhelming success with government, development financing, philanthropic support. On top of that, they hit their breakeven point on schedule, and it cost the multinational corporation nothing after a year and a half, particularly after employees who requested to be transferred to this project and work locally in Kumasi agreed to take a decrease in salary.

This gave the company and all direct stakeholders a great public relations boost. Employee morale skyrocketed, and the working environment became far more pleasant. 

This positive outcome resulted in duplicating the project in other villages throughout Ghana. On top of that, employee requests to take a cut in pay and work on these projects increased fivefold, some even saying they would leave the company if they couldn’t work on a socially responsible, greater global good project. 

This led to a wide range of clean energy source development, including wind farms, marine nuclear power vessels, geothermal projects, energy saving building development projects, just to name a few. In this hypothetical movie, projects spread to all developing countries worldwide.

From movie pitch to reality

What Bulloch suggested in his book is to take success stories like this to a company like The Skoll Foundation who invests in movies with a positive theme. The Skoll Foundation invests in social entrepreneurs and innovators for solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Through its production company called Participant Media which creates films that inspire social change, it must make movies so exciting, thrilling and entertaining that the broader socially concerned investing public will be greatly drawn to it on a massive scale. Further, for corporations, it must weaken the sole desire for profits and strengthen the desire for social responsibility, so that it makes them proud. Therefore, what about a corporation transitioning to a global good movie story?

With the above thoughts, I hope that multinational corporations take a leadership role in attacking problems like global poverty, pollution including sanitation and fresh water availability, fossil fuel burning reduction, spreading education availability, healthcare availability, just to name a few. 

As now, this responsibility should not totally fall on the backs of governments or charities. Corporate involvement has to be so powerful that not just employees, but customers, students and normal citizens are inspired to invest their time and resources into the movement, as it not only is socially good, but makes business sense as well. Some of the biggest developing world and industrialized world’s challenges could in fact be huge business opportunities in disguise.