Driving Social Impact at Traditional Companies

If we could all work for progressive companies with environmental sustainability goals, human rights policies for their suppliers and paternity leave, all while achieving quarter over quarter revenue growth, we probably would. However, many of the employees most passionate about creating lasting social change through profit driven companies work for organizations that are stuck in tradition: profit is the only bottom line. As a change maker, this is the perfect position to be in to truly drive social impact in the community (global or local) and create a cultural shift within the company that values the triple bottom line.

I work for one such traditional company and am driven to do my job effectively (I am not in a formal CSR or sustainability role) while creating goals and metrics for purpose driven policies internally and in my community.

Overcome with energy to create a purpose within my brokerage firm, I started by assessing our employee policies and our community engagement by utilizing the free B-Corp Assessment. This assessment is comprehensive and measures a variety of areas of the organization such as profit sharing and retirement policies for employees, parental leave, environmental sustainability, community engagement, hiring and training practices, diversity and many more aspects.

After completing the assessment, B-Corp provides insight on the scores per section and ways to improve the score. The recommendations are segregated by level difficulty to implement, which is extremely helpful when approaching management with policy change recommendations. In fact, many of the changes your organization can make to be a purpose-driven company are not only low cost to implement, but can actually save money for your organization. The misconception with purpose-driven companies can sometimes be that these organizations are only for Silicon Valley-type companies with adult playgrounds and multi-million dollar charitable foundations. Sure, renovating office space to be LEED-certified or 401(k) matching is costly and would require long term financial planning, but other initiatives aren’t: prioritizing a certain percentage of new hires to be made from areas in the community with historically lower income; Dedicating a percentage of outsourced professional services to be provided by minority-owned businesses (attorneys, computer programmers, auditors) does not add any cost to the organization but sends a strong message to the community and the employees that the company cares about creating opportunity and enhancing the livelihood of the community that has helped the company grow.

Currently, I am an army of one within my company related to social impact policies. However, after implementing practices and policies within my professional scope and dropping small crumbs of ideas to other department heads within my organization, I can feel a momentum slowly building within my firm. I’m practicing guerilla activism; a slow infiltration of for-purpose practices into a traditionally-minded corporation that will eventually be a key pillar.

No Margin, No Mission

"No Margin, No Mission." Those words struck me today while listening to Alexandra Villoch, President and Publisher of the Miami Herald on a private tour for the Miami Fellows cohort. I googled the phrase later and apparently it's a common business school mantra. New to me, I immediately scribbled it in my pocket-sized notebook to reflect on the power of those words when speaking about social impact companies. According to Villoch, the mission of the Miami Herald is community impact; To improve people's lives through journalistic excellence. The paper's mission is emphasized in every department of the company: the newspaper printers and delivery drivers are aware of an investigative article that leads to an arrest, the advertising department is informed of the article that  uncovers government negligence. Villoch's leadership and communication compounds a sense of purpose with a coordinated effort to drive revenue, profit, quality and innovation to fulfill and continually enhance the livelihoods of the Herald's employees and community members.

engagement

The correlation between an organization's higher purpose and its contribution to employee retention and engagement is not new. Many employers, however, continue to miss the point: millennial employees state that having meaning in their daily work (83%) and feeling a strong sense of community (56%) are most important at a job as surveyed by PwC. In fact, 56% of employees feel energized when business leaders communicate the company's social impact. In stark contrast, the study shows that business leaders prioritized reputation for innovation and growth (72%) and distinction from competitors (66%) as the most important messages to employees.

Earning profit and having a social purpose are not mutually exclusive. Social impact is not limited to writing a check to a local non-profit either. Community impact can be achieved by recruiting new hires from low economic areas of the city, or prioritizing employee demographics that are consistent with the community in which the organization is located. Impact comes in the form of creating a paid apprenticeship program consisting of young people who were the first in their families to graduate from college, or actively recruiting at veteran job fairs. Impact can mean transitioning an office to electronic files to reduce waste, making the office building more energy efficient, or creating an employee volunteer incentive program. The list goes on and on. Employees will thank their organizations with higher engagement and retention levels, creating a cycle of business excellence.

Life Rebalance: Haiti

 

Spending last weekend in Titanyen, Haiti gave me exactly the life perspective I had been craving. I needed a sense of adventure traveling to a difficult place; I needed to be reminded of how a billion people on earth still live; I needed to get out of my head. The colors and dust and honking tap taps gave me that dose. Now I'm back to the real world reflecting on my weekend in one of the world's least developed nations, recalling truisms I learned while backpacking through Asia 7 years ago. In the spirit of this blog, the reflections below will be those I can apply in my professional life:

 1. People are people are people. No matter where in the world you are, how rich or poor, all people want the same things in life: love, acceptance and safety. There are several studies on the hierarchies of need and intellectualism, but from my travel experience, the majority of humans want to be loved by a family member, a friend, a significant other and to love someone in return (and even better if there is at least one person from each relationship category). Every person wants to feel accepted by their family, friend or significant other and usually also by a group in the community. "Community" is used loosely. It could be an online community, a tribe, a huge family of cousins and children, a religious group, whatever type of community is important to that individual. Every person wants and needs to feel safe. Safety and stability are directly related to the love and acceptance, but extend to physical safety associated with the ability to afford food, the safety of an environment free of emotional or physical abuse, disease, gangs, war.

 When we remember that all people, in the core of their beings, are the same we can empathize with each other more. Our colleagues and bosses have these same needs and when one of these needs feels threatened, their reactions will manifest into gossiping, screaming at a colleague or subordinate, retreating into an apathetic mental state where they feel safe from criticism, and so on.

2. If you are reading this blog, you are so so lucky!! I assume that you are living in a developed country with access to a computer and an internet connection. If you were born in that country, you are so unbelievably lucky. Lately, I've been stressed out about my exorbitant student loan debt, mortgage, not being able to afford a house (I live in a condo), my mom's medical bills associated with her cancer treatment... but in the end, I was born in the US by complete luck and happenstance, and because of that I will always survive. There are people in the world who literally STARVE to death or are murdered because they want to vote for their president. I will never know that visceral worry of extinction because I am American (and the same can be said for Europeans, Canadians, Australians, Japanese, etc). I am so thankful for that.

 

3. Integrity is ALWAYS more important than profit. We can't always control where we work and our companies may make business decisions that prioritize profit over quality, environmental safety, or at the expense of a neighborhood or group of people. To the extent possible within a company or industry, always act with integrity through your work and how you interact with co-workers and your staff. At the end of the day, people will remember those that always acted with integrity versus people who did not. I work in the finance industry where profit is the sole reason the industry exists, but while I work I try to empathize and connect with my colleagues and try to make as positive an impact in my community through my company as much as possible by using local service providers and vendors, training finance employees in the Miami community to spot human trafficking violations through financial transactions, and more.

Reflections from Mom's Hospital Room

I'm writing this post from a hospital room. A more appropriate time to emphasize the importance of health seems impossible, so here I go:

My mom is 55 years old and has always painfully driven nutrition into her family like a bald screw (aka, she wore us thin). Her mom died of inflammatory carcinoma when she was only 59, so, paranoid, my mom never let me eat nitrates  ("Bologna gives you cancer!"), food coloring, sugar, dairy except on special occasions requiring ice cream. Forget about how unfair my childhood was as I tried to barter food at school  and fast forward to adulthood. Even after avoiding known carcinogens, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25 with no statistically significant family history, and now, my mom sits in a hospital bed waiting for pathology results, three blood transfusions later to replace what was lost to hemorrhaging, knowing that the 12 cm carcinoma in her pelvis has spread its nefarious cells to her lymph system. I picture an evil black octopus battling with her white blood cells who blast one of the nasty black tentacles attacking her organs only for it to regrow instantly.

While this battle ensues, I reflect on how valuable health and family and optimism are; how precious each day is. She spent so much of her time being stressed to such a high anxiety level that she had psoriasis on her hands and scalp, she would comfort binge eat vegan food, and analyzed her stressful events with everyone. Her stress stemmed from many places: her desire for perfection, financial worries, raising three stubborn children, but also enduring an extremely stressful work environment. She worked in a worthwhile job helping to place foster children with families, but her office was full of unhappy co-workers who made the environment anxiety and suspicious-ridden, unproductive and toxic that permeated throughout the culture from the top down. I have no doubt that this negativity had an impact on her physical health.

As I reflect on her advanced cancer that spring itself on us without warning, I implore myself and everyone in the world:

1. Enjoy every moment of the day-- you truly never know how much time you have left. If you are reading this, you have access to internet and a computer. You have enough leisure time to read this blog post. You're doing better than hundreds of millions of people in the world who don't have those things.

2. Give people a break! Stop judging yourself and others. We're all just trying to get by.

3. Just be nice! Seriously-- it's that simple. Take a deep, long breath before snapping at someone and then be kind; or at least don't be cruel!

4. Be happy--  if needed, focus on being happy for only the next hour, and then the next hour and the next... If you are surrounded by negative people, get away from them. If you are working in a negative or dangerous environment, apply for a new job every day until you get a new one. It's really truly not worth it.

5. Eat veggies! (Thought I'd throw that one in there!) Don't get so fastidious about your diet that it stresses you even more, but eat food that makes you feel good and stop eating food that gives you indigestion, makes you sleepy, or makes you sad and guilty. Simple. Done.