Written by: Lindsey Kneuven | Chief Impact Officer, Pluralsight One
Over the last 15 years, there has been an evolution in the way that philanthropy is integrated alongside core business objectives. This is a result of a strong business imperative to prioritise positive social impact and ensure the quality of social and environmental outcomes.
Embedding social impact into the core of business means building a strategy that brings the company’s mission fully to life by harnessing their core assets. This includes skill sets, technology, resources, products, and human capital represented by the business.This approach has increasingly become a ‘must’ for founders, customers, consumers and employees alike, with millennials, in particular, prioritising it when assessing a potential employer. In fact, the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018
found that 40% of respondents believed that the primary goal of businesses should be to ‘improve society’ rather than to make profits.Investors too are seeking to hold a stake in companies that are driving measurable, evidence-based social change. One way that embedded social impact models can drive financial success is through a more efficient workforce, and the evidence is compelling. A recent report by Project ROI
found that involvement in social impact initiatives can increase employee productivity by 13% and engagement by 7.5%. However, the important factor is that investors today are largely interested in companies which are creating tangible social value that lasts, not just impressive commercial outcomes.When it comes to moving towards truly integrated social impact, it is also imperative that any undertaking is done strategically and meaningfully. Take Google.org, for example., which Google has used to weave purpose and social impact into every strand of their operating model. Rather than using a CSR department, Google instead has built a mechanism to create social outcomes sustainably into its core.
The role of technology in social impact
As businesses have taken this more intentional approach to social impact, a range of different models have developed, from private foundations, to CSR programmes and embedded social enterprises, all designed for different purposes, with varying outcomes. Many companies are exploring how to apply technology for good – it has staggering potential to be applied for good, and is well suited to keep pace with the complex challenges faced by communities, and can do so at scale.To realize that potential, the private sector must engage with the social sector and communities they are endeavouring to support, drawing from their expertise, avoiding repeat failures, and creating together to harness the power of both sectors’ expertise. Tech for good cannot be a ‘nice to have’ or a superficial focus.The human consequences and opportunities are real. We must keep the gravity and urgency of these types of solutions in sharp focus. What’s more, it is important for organisations to track and measure the impact of their interventions, in order to understand if and how it has made a positive impact, and how it can be strengthened over time in response to evolving needs.
Combatting ‘dead-aid’ through collaboration
Although tech-supported initiatives have great potential, it is only through collaboration and partnerships with NGOs and the humanitarian sector that their implementation can become truly impactful. Quickly deploying tech while not truly understanding the needs of a project can result in ‘dead-aid’, where ineffective investment fails to have the desired positive impact, and will not provide a long-lasting benefit for the community To avoid this, companies should resist the temptation to be prescriptive and instead apply the same quality, rigor, research and depth as they would for technology-based solutions and innovations in their commercial business.This evolution from one-off product contributions to partnership-based models and sophisticated tech for good strategies have gained momentum in the US and the UK, and is increasingly happening worldwide. For example, the India Companies Act has been implemented in India, requiring international companies with a registered presence in India to contribute 2% of pre-tax revenue to local non-profits.Oman and South Africa have also implemented similar requirements, as governments around the world are increasingly structuring policy to ensure community investment. Rather than deploying charitable resources to comply with these policies, this presents a great opportunity for companies to engage with local non-profits to co-create tech-enabled solutions that meet regional needs.
Implementing an effective Tech for Good strategy
Before jumping in to implement a tech for good strategy, it is important to understand that philanthropic expertise and strategy is required to create powerful outcomes and engage teams. a dedicated, scalable program must be deeply connected to both external humanitarian need and the internal resources and budget of a company. While there is room for companies to develop high-value employee-led initiatives, these should align to rather than form the backbone of a company’s impact strategy.Once an expert team is in place, a company must outline their mission, objectives and resources as they relate to their social impact goals in order to determine how the company’s core values align to the needs that exist. By doing so, they can determine what they are best placed to offer and ensure that their social impact strategy is authentic and can be woven into every aspect of the business.At Pluralsight, our goal is to democratise skills worldwide, and our mission statement reflects an inherent commitment to social impact, which led to the creation of our social enterprise, Pluralsight One. Pluralsight One leads global social investments and volunteer strategies, and advances advocacy efforts around Computer Science education.As we outlined in the first ever Pluralsight One Impact Book
, one key area of focus for Pluralsight One is to enable non-profits to upskill their teams and advance their work. For example, our recent partnership with the Malala Fund offers financial commitment and product grants for both the Malala Fund team and the individuals they support.If you’re evaluating how your business can embed social impact into your business model, auditing your resources, studying the needs that could benefit from those resources, and then collaborating with outstanding NGOs and the communities they are built to support is a wonderful place to start. Your partners in the social sector will be critical to ensuring that as you develop a programme it will have a long-lasting impact that is scalable, relevant, measurable and closely aligned to the core values and goals of the business and community you serve.