Corporations and Social Entrepreneurship: A Shift
Why are corporations such as Unilever, Kimberly Clark, and Siemens starting to take action on specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? In other words, why do they consider it within their corporate best interests to pursue solutions to global issues such as poverty, gender inequality, and the impacts of climate change?
For many years, through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, corporations have donated money and employee time to address various social and environmental problems, both globally and in their own backyards. While CSR efforts have achieved some progress in environmental protection and ethical labor practices, sustained positive impacts and economic development often require deeper and longer engagement.
In addition, the CSR benefits to corporations’ profitability are mostly peripheral. A robust CSR program can enhance a corporation’s reputation, which can indirectly boost the bottom line. But now, many corporations are discovering that expanding or augmenting their CSR programs to encompass social entrepreneurship—particularly to support social enterprises engaged in addressing SDGs—makes better business sense.
A convergence of factors is contributing to corporations’ shift toward social entrepreneurship. For example:
- Corporations are becoming more socially conscious and more aware of the interconnectedness of global conditions with their markets and their business prospects. They see that they have a vested interest in working to preserve the planet and improve the lives of poor people living in their backyards.
- Corporations realize that in sheer numbers, less-developed markets represent greater opportunities for sales of their goods and services.
- Workers of the millennial generation expect to do work that has meaning in addition to generating profits. Corporations seeking to attract and hire the very best young people need to engage in ways that this new generation of workers will believe have meaning.
- Corporations see that by engaging their personnel in the development of social enterprises they are also building leadership within their management ranks. As important, they are investing in the human capital of potential future employees.
Another factor is highlighted by the striking intersection of Laudato Si’, the 2015 encyclical from Pope Francis, and the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted a year ago at a historic U.N. Summit.
As I discussed in an earlier article, Laudato Si’ and the U.N. SDGs share not only objectives toward addressing global poverty and the negative effects of climate change, but also a powerful potential catalyst toward achieving those shared objectives: social entrepreneurship.
Already, a number of corporations are participating directly in the training, mentoring, and ongoing support of social entrepreneurs worldwide. Some Miller Center examples include:
- The General Electric healthymagination Mother & Child program is supporting and training social entrepreneurs who are focused on improving the health of women and children in sub-Saharan Africa. As part of a special cohort of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Accelerator program, 14 African social enterprises are receiving intensive, one-on-one mentoring from Miller Center mentors as well as training in the use of GE products and services aimed at improving maternal and child health.
- Seagate Technology engaged Miller Center to train local Seagate business leaders in Thailand as mentors for local social entrepreneurs.
- The eBay Foundation sponsored a GSBI Xchange program to systematically transfer Miller Center’s social entrepreneurship methodologies to partners worldwide for local use. Miller Center collaborated with seven partners in nine countries to train more than 100 early stage social entrepreneurs.
These examples illustrate some of the ways that for-profit enterprises can use social entrepreneurship to improve their own financial prospects while addressing global issues of poverty and climate change. Can you imagine the possibilities if the pope, the U.N., and the world’s leading corporations move in the same direction to address the most daunting challenges facing the poor and the planet?