Many of these institutions are re-evaluating their goals, recognizing that while change has occurred, we are still on a path towards the true seismic shift we all expected. We are running out of time, though.
In 2015, the United Nations created the Sustainable Development Goals, (“SDGs”), a set of 17 critical priorities that businesses, governments and civil society must work around together to create a healthy, resilient and thriving planet for all people, nature and animal life that live here. The release of the SDGs gave these actors an opportunity to reframe their 2020 goals, and look towards 2030, the year the SDGs are targeting for their finish line. 2030 becomes the new beacon for many of the same goals that were set back in 2000.
Has your business examined the SDGs? Have you considered what role you play?
We cannot deny, nor should we, that businesses need to make money as a first priority. At the end of the day, businesses exist to provide customers with goods and services. That said, businesses of all sizes have a role to play in society, too. The SDGs allow businesses a roadmap, of sorts, or even a menu of options to consider, as they evaluate this role. To play even a small part in advancing the SDGs, businesses will need to prioritize what's possible. It won't be easy to land on a solution for no poverty, or clean water and sanitation for all, or zero hunger in isolation. Collaboration will be essential. Now is the time to take a look within, however, to consider what role your business does play, and how your goals can align with the SDGs.
So where does one begin?
Working through these steps should give you a good sense of what elements within the SDGs are feasible for your company to commit or contribute to. It will take all of us working together to address the SDGs. Change is possible if we focus and act with intention. Let's make the next ten years count.
I can’t stop thinking about the immigrants at the southern border of the United States. Images from the news haunt me. Stories of neglect and utter deference for people’s humanity disgust me. Feeling powerless to the enormity of the situation, from the violence prompting families to leave their homes in Central and South America, to the sheer lack of civility portrayed by the American people, I do what I know how to do best – I figure out ways to encourage economic support in the places where these people are fleeing.
I tweet and retweet news that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is turning to the private sector to help build sustainable markets in places like Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala (despite funding cuts on the public side). I share ideas with corporate executives who are considering new and innovative ways to source products or services from different parts of the world where labor is needed and costs are lower. I help create partnerships for companies that do, still, provide them with profit but also provide a sense of long-term investment for communities where poverty has taken such a strong hold that the only solution is to migrate and face our borders.
I imagine the families I’ve met, not just in South and Central America, but in East Africa, in SE Asia, in the Middle East, in the Pacific, and think creatively about how market-based solutions could provide some semblance of economic advancement such that not only is migration held at bay, but violence too.
I am an idealist, no doubt. I am someone who believes in the power of Purposeful Profits and the ways businesses can use their purchasing power for good (consumers, too, by the way!) I am also someone who reads between the lines when USAID releases their strategy calling for ‘self-reliance.’ This means that as the U.S. Government retreats from its position of aiding those communities that cannot support themselves, and focuses investments on humanitarian and emergency assistance, funding to match private sector investment that helps propel ‘self-reliance’ in places where USAID operates is of crucial importance. Matched funding from the private sector will allow a dollar spent by U.S. taxpayers buoying local communities in places in economic turmoil to be matched by a dollar (or more) of private sector market building, with the hope that these two dollars will provide a return of three, or four or five or ten dollars into the future.
I believe it’s possible. I am seeing it happening, and it means that if the private sector continues to come to USAID with a dollar in hand, USAID will match that dollar and help countries find the self-reliance that encourages fewer families to face the horrible decision of staying or leaving their homes.
If you are working in the private sector, or WITH the private sector in any way, consider how to pair your investment with that of the U.S. Government. It does not have to be through USAID. MCC, State, USDA and others are keen to work with the private sector to advance economic scenarios in developing economies. The results will benefit these communities in the end if we all work together towards this common goal.
As published via LinkedIn
It wasn't the first time I heard this, and I know it's not the last. During a standard prospecting call with a well-known impact fund (i.e. nonprofit) based in Europe, a potential client emphasized his need for investors, not just donors. "We are trying to transform lives here, not just put a bandaid on them" he indicated, ensuring I got the point. Not only did I get the point, but this notion of transformation, investment, impact and long-term change is rearing its head in virtually every call I have with potential and existing clients.
"We are not a nonprofit, we are an impact fund." "We don't just implement projects, we change lives."
He continued to share with me the rationale for investment, why a rate of return on this fund's projects is better than putting money into a similar European government fund, and why the projects this fund is leading are poised to systemically transform communities in several parts of East Africa. He sent me prospectuses, investor profiles and testimonials.
I kept thinking, but you are a nonprofit, not a stock or debt instrument.
He repeated one more time, before we ended our call, why corporate donors in particular would want to invest in his fund. "We offer a higher ROI than most impact funds in our area of expertise. We can guarantee measurable impact within 5-years."
Guarantee impact? Definitely music to a corporate social impact investor's ears.
Catch the drift here?
The .org is effectively dead. What is growing in its place is the impact fund.
Whether it's due to declining donor engagement, mission creep, donor fatigue or something else, the role of the nonprofit is slowly declining. Nonprofits are rebranding themselves, or coming up with new models to engage more innovative sources of funding and longer-term investment. Donors want a return, they want to show shareholders that valuable dollars go towards true impact, not just into another nonprofit-led, 3-year project. Gone are the days of bilateral philanthropic money handovers by corporate philanthropists to special causes or charities. Employee engagement is the new volunteerism, and you better believe that this engagement program deliver on business aims at the same time. Impact, purpose, mission, cause. The words are all jumbling together but the aim is the same. Organizations want to make a difference and they want to see their money spent wisely.
What does this mean for nonprofits? It means funds are harder to come by. It means being more direct with messaging and prospecting. It means figuring out how partnerships with companies, governments and foundations can be game-changing and not just about a tax write-off.
We have seen an insurgence of social enterprises popping up in developing communities, identifying ways to create lasting change and market-led programming. My company is getting inundated with requests from small social entrepreneurs in every corner of the world, wondering how to tap into the evolving funding pools from USAID, MCC, DFC, corporates or foundations that are keen to turn a dollar into two. Economics are driving a sea change whereby "market-led" is a priority. Traditional .orgs that simply provide handouts must evolve.
Harsh? Maybe. But it's true.
To my .org friends out there, don't lose sight of what your work is doing to change the world. Figure out how to shift gears and focus on the long-term gains. Make sure your messaging is resonant with the changing winds of donors and keep in mind that these donors also want to be investors.
They want to see a changing world... One where they make money too.
Do you ever think about how to improve the challenges our world faces when we can control so little outside of our own actions? Have you considered how the efforts you put into making a change jive (or not) with those of others? Whether you are a business owner, nonprofit executive, leader at a large company, entrepreneur or any individual trying to make a positive impact, it seems near impossible sometimes that we will be able to make a dent in our greatest challenges if we don’t do so by working together.
I’ve spent my career trying to solve problems that seem near insolvable. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a stalwart champion for effective collaboration to address these challenges given their complexity and scope. Ensuring every person on this planet has access to basic necessities, for example, like water, food, shelter and education may seem like a moonshot project, but it doesn’t have to be. Effective collaboration can truly make a difference.
It may be easy for someone like me to talk incessantly about partnership for problem solving, though, when that’s what I do every day. For others not used to working with partners to find solutions to challenges big or small, collaboration may not come naturally. I’m often asked how organizations can begin finding the right partners to work with if collaboration is a need or of interest. It’s a really important question actually. To put it simply, I often look at partnership through the lens of comparative advantage.
What is comparative advantage? Comparative advantage is a way of measuring degree of skill and strengths. For example, if one nonprofit is skilled at fundraising, and another nonprofit is able to do fundraising well, but isn’t as skilled as the first nonprofit, than the first nonprofit has the comparative advantage. This means that as the two nonprofits enter into partnership, the first nonprofit should really be the one managing fundraising, and the second should be working on a skillset where they have the comparative advantage (maybe M&E).
Comparative advantage helps you think about the types of skills that you bring to a partnership, versus where skills are needed to advance a certain mutual goal or deliverable.
Through comparative advantage, collaboration can be more structured, and thus roles, responsibilities and deliverables are easy to agree to. This makes goal delivery more effective and efficient, and helps us get out of our silos as well.
If this notion of partnership with a focus on comparative advantage, is interesting to you and yet you still are quite sure where to begin, start by thinking about what skills you bring to a partnership and what skills you still need. Helping you think through some of this is what we spend a lot of time doing at Connective Impact Once you get started focusing on collaboration, whether using comparative advantage of your own set of tools, hopefully you will land on a solid approach to find your own set of moonshot goals to address and overcome.
In December, 2017 my company, Connective Impact, became a B Corporation. Are you familiar with B Corps? Maybe you’ve seen the big, bold B label indicating a company has been certified as a B Corp? Perhaps you’ve heard B Corp Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario share why being a socially and environmentally minded company is so important both to the consciousness and bottom line of Patagonia. You may have even seen the B Corp logo when eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. B Corporations are certified companies balancing purpose and profit. They are companies as big as Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Kickstarter, or Eileen Fisher, or as small as Connective Impact, using business as a force for good. Does it matter whether businesses care about purpose? Do conscious missions drive profits? Can businesses shape a new paradigm to advance opportunities that heal us or advance us?
You can read my take in my book Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact.
You can also see mention of the role purpose and mission play in corporate decisions the world over if you pay any attention to how companies are evolving in the new generation of millennial leaders. What a company says, does, invests in, produces and how it advocates (or not) for certain issues matters. The B Corp movement is deeply involved in advancing the message that business can and should be a force for good, politically, socially, environmentally and economically.
As a B Corp, and a woman-owned business, Connective Impact is also part of a unique group of companies run by B Corp Female CEOs (18% to be exact). As one of these unique creatures, I was invited to attend a convening at Eileen Fisher’s Learning Lab in upstate New York with 100 other B Corp Female CEOs to discuss how we, as women leaders, can effect the greatest change with our businesses, within our communities and our partners. Over the course of 1.5 days we worked within working groups, in small listening sessions, brainstorming about inspiration and challenges, fears and opportunities. We addressed ways to engage on political issues like climate change and gender equity, we discussed ways to shift capital so women-owned businesses (and especially diverse-women-led businesses) can get better access to funding, we talked circular economy, peer-to-peer networking and business development. We had delicious food and even more delicious dialogue.
To kick off the day we heard from Eileen Fisher herself, a pioneer in the mission-driven business space, as well as Nancy Green, CEO of Athleta and Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power. These women leaders shared unabashedly their own inspirations, sense of fears, struggle with balance and feelings of opportunity for the future. Capping off their presentation was the signing of the We the Change Manifesto (see below), which we all signed in support of a paradigm shift led by women-owned businesses.
The day was about focus, intention, authenticity, honesty and shifting power. It was about Purposeful Profits, women support, collaboration at its finest, and a commitment to make a change for future generations that is built on respecting our planet and each other. There’s nothing more pertinent in the notion of being a B Corp that that.
If you aren’t yet familiar with the B Corp movement, visit BCorporation.net.
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, a partnership strategy advisory firm helping mission-driven companies advance social, environmental and economic impact through collaboration, and author of ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact and Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact.