How to Scale Your Company’s Societal Impact | Net Impact

How to Scale Your Company’s Societal Impact

Jennifer ChenThis post is part of our Voices series, featuring Net Impact leaders around the world who are making a difference on their campuses and in their careers. They’re sharing their insights and their inspirations, in their own words.  

At a time when the social and environmental stakes are the highest they’ve ever been, leaders often need to break boundaries to bring lasting change. As the theme of the recent 2014 Net Impact Conference, this message was echoed across the more than 100 keynote and breakout sessions. And with attendance by more than 2,500 enthusiastic students and professionals, it was hard not to feel the infectious energy to move forward and tackle some challenges then and there.

For me, that energy focused on the intersection of business and society. As a team member of CECP, a coalition of 150 CEOs who believe that societal improvement is an essential measure of business performance, I often think about the factors that make companies successful in helping to solve societal challenges. Through the many conversations in which I participated, two essential ideas were strengthened:

Make the business case for corporate societal engagement internally. Then make it again. What I’ve heard from corporate citizenship and sustainability leaders at some of the world’s largest companies is that you can’t make the business case enough internally. This theme was reiterated by Jim Hanna, Director, Environmental Impact, Starbucks in one of the breakout sessions. When Jim first interviewed with Starbucks he heard a pervasive message that the company invested in green initiatives because it was “the right thing to do.” When Jim joined the company and tried to sell an internal team on a project that would create more efficiencies within Starbucks stores, the message that this was “the right thing to do” wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until he repeatedly brought forth the business case, including the resulting financial savings, that his plan started to gain traction.

Leverage your business competencies to tackle social problems while producing win-win results. Companies such as CECP-affiliated Toyota have been tapping into their business expertise to help nonprofits for years and know that the benefits reach both the community and their own business operations. In the session titled The Power of Partnership: Raising the Bar on Corporate and NGO Collaboration, Latondra Newton, Chief Social Innovation Officer of Toyota North America, recounted how the company used its expertise in manufacturing, known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), to make St. Bernard Project’s work of rebuilding homes in New Orleans more efficient following Hurricane Katrina. The result? The time it took to rebuild a home dropped from an average of 116 days to 60 days – a 48 percent improvement. Toyota was also able to help the Food Bank of New York City develop a procedure and make other improvements to serve more people in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. All the while, the relationships Toyota formed with these organizations has helped the company bring countless lessons back to improve its own operations and overall business.

In order to achieve impact at the scale necessary to take on our world’s toughest challenges, we need corporate change agents who are fluent in both the language of social impact and business. These leaders know that integrating these two areas today is key to breaking boundaries and seeing a more socially just and environmentally sustainable tomorrow.

Jennifer Chen serves as Events and Marketing Associate at CECP, a coalition of 150 CEOs who believe that societal improvement is an essential measure of business performance. She is instrumental in the planning and execution of CECP's signature events, Board of Boards and the CECP Summit, as well as the annual Excellence Awards. She also plays a key role in elevating CECP's brand and managing its outreach to stakeholders. She engages companies in efforts to celebrate their corporate societal engagement stories; and develops, designs, and manages content for CECP's print publications, e-newsletters, social media, website, and blog. Jennifer is Membership Chair of the Net Impact New York City Professional Chapter and is a proud graduate of Boston College.