Civics Inc.: How every business can help promote a healthy democracy

Civics Inc.: How every business can help promote a healthy democracy

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

This is the biggest election year in history, as citizens in countries representing half the the world’s population head to the polls. At home, the 2024 U.S. election will once again put destabilizing pressure on American political processes and institutions.

We know that the moment demands more than our attention; it demands urgent action. Employers hold outsized potential to promote civic participation and protect our democracy, but for many leaders, that work feels more fraught than ever before.

Developed from the insights and experiences of business leaders and democracy experts, this report is designed to meet businesses where they are. It provides a strategic framework to help employers customize their efforts around three goals and five core assets.

Three goals for employers to pursue in service of healthier democracy:

  • Encouraging and enabling civic participation
  • Promoting information accessibility, transparency, and quality
  • Supporting issues that protect fundamental rights and protect democracy

Five core assets that all businesses can leverage in pursuit of these goals:

  • Workplace policies and benefits
  • Employee engagement and people infrastructure
  • Corporate products and services
  • Political contributions and advocacy
  • Corporate and executive voice

What else is included in the report?

  • Talking points for making the business case for democracy, provided directly by corporate leaders and democracy experts
  • Dozens of real examples showing how businesses are promoting civic participation and a healthier democracy, paired with detailed implementation guidance
  • Peer-vetted recommendations for partner organizations on a wide-range of needs

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Skilling the future workforce: 8 recs for corporate leaders

Skilling the future workforce: 8 recs for corporate leaders

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

Private sector engagement with skills-based hiring is increasing in response to employment gaps and escalating economic precarity. Between 2017 and 2019, 46% of middle-skill and 31% of high-skill occupations experienced material degree resets. And in 2022, 79% of HR professionals reported that scores on skills assessments are just as or more important than traditional criteria in hiring decisions.

These are positive trends from an economic and a social perspective. Skills-based hiring is critical to increasing equity and diversity in the workplace, as traditional credential-based hiring tends to screen out, disqualify, or exclude applicants without a four year degree.

While increased commitment to skills-based hiring is an important step toward a more prepared and more inclusive workforce, many companies are learning that in-demand skills do not exist in adequate supply. Some of those businesses are taking it upon themselves to develop the skill-based talent pipeline that will be necessary to power their organizations, industries, and broader market into the future.

To better understand how companies are investing in the skills-based training ecosystem, before hiring even comes into frame, we dug deep with nine organizations on the cutting edge of workforce development.

Through our conversations with leaders and practitioners, we uncovered a depth of contributions to changing and scaling the learning systems that are preparing workers for quality jobs. Our report compiles eight recommendations to provide guidance for private sector employers who are committed to skilling the future workforce and ultimately contributing meaningfully to a more just and equitable workplace. 

The eight recommendations:

 

  • Decide if you aim to be influential at a systems, sector, or company level
  • Position your strategy correctly within your company’s infrastructure
  • Lean into (and use) your company’s strengths
  • Build a well-balanced partner portfolio
  • Design for replicability and scalability
  • Mind the non-skills gap between learner and earner
  • Engage in pre-competitive transparency and collaboration
  • Bring rigor and patience to impact measurement

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Seven critical design choices for corporate impact investors

Seven critical design choices for corporate impact investors

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING

As the global impact investing market surpasses $1 trillion USD, a small yet growing number of companies are adopting the strategy.

Corporate impact investors are motivated by the limitations of traditional philanthropy to fundamentally alter the structural disadvantages of capital markets, the desire to diversify their social impact strategies, the proven possibility of competitive financial returns, and intensifying pressure on the private sector to help finance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Regardless of their motivation, what these enterprising companies are discovering is a world of opportunity and constraint, one that requires intentionality and conviction when designing an impact investing approach that best serves the organization and its goals.

To support the aspirations of would-be and nascent corporate impact investors, NationSwell went behind the curtain with four successful and well-established leaders in the space. We dug deep into their investment philosophies, models, and mechanics with the intent to pinpoint the most fundamental design choices that determine a program’s shape and direction.

This report summarizes our learnings from these four investors, organized around a short but load-bearing list of questions that any new corporate impact investor will need to resolve with clarity. Each question is followed by further explanation of its significance, illustrations of how the four model organizations answered it for their own purposes, and additional guidance from NationSwell on how to approach the choices at hand.

The seven fundamental design choices:

  • What is your impact investment thesis and how does it align with company priorities?
  • Where do your investments originate within the enterprise?
  • Are you investing directly in companies or indirectly through funds and intermediaries?
  • How are you reaching beyond traditional networks to source investment leads?
  • Who should be at the table when making investment decisions in order to optimize for efficacy and efficiency?
  • What will be your level of involvement with investments after cutting a check?
  • How will you measure and report the impact made through your investments?

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Commercial products deployed for social good

Commercial products deployed for social good

CURATED COLLECTION

This Curated Collection explores a range of ways that companies are creating or repurposing products in service to their social impact strategies. It includes a non-exhaustive selection of representative and innovative examples of impact-oriented products, organized in categories based on how they are used.

The collection includes the following categories: 

  • Products used for fundraising 
  • Product grant programs 
  • Sustainable product; 
  • Special initiative products

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Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging: U.S. certifications and recognitions 

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging: U.S. certifications and recognitions 

CURATED COLLECTION

From the Great Resignation to the Great Reshuffle, one thing is clear: workers want good workplaces alongside good jobs. For employers, however, it can be a challenge to signal their value to prospective employees or retain current talent in a tight labor market. Although external validation can never capture the true experience of what it is like to work at any one place, certifications, awards, or other public recognitions can offer employers the opportunity to pursue and promote excellence across a variety of DEIB dimensions.

This Curated Collection provides social impact leaders in the private sector with a roundup of United States-based certifications and “best of” recognitions related to different aspects of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). 

The collection includes the following: 

  • Certifications achieved based on company-submitted applications 
  • Recognitions achieved without needing to apply

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Datasets for economic mobility

Datasets for economic mobility

CURATED COLLECTION

Wealth inequality and income inequality in the United States are significantly higher than in other OECD countries. And economic mobility is rigid. The likelihood of an individual moving from low wealth status to high wealth status over the course of their lifetime is low. Income disparity and wealth inequality are rooted in an array of social and economic factors, including race and geography. These factors create what is known as the economic opportunity gap.

This Curated Collection provides social impact leaders in the public and private sectors with a roundup of data-driven tools to strengthen their decision-making processes in addressing the economic opportunity gap. The resources provide specific consideration for indicators of racial equity and social justice and factors that promote mobility for disadvantaged groups across neighborhoods, communities, and states.

Resources include (but are not limited to) the following: 

  • Tools that allow companies to benchmark themselves against others on strategy and progress; 
  • Datasets that support deciding which communities would benefit most from company investments to increase equity;
  • Resources that encourage companies to prioritize racial and social factors that affect indicators of wealth (e.g., access to education and employment, and asset ownership).

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Insights for impact: 2022 edition

Insights for impact: 2022 edition

This year-end report synthesizes the key learnings from each of NationSwell’s 2022 research publications and highlights several Studio projects with widely-relevant research deliverables. They cover a range of evergreen and emergent topic areas, including ESG, DEIB, community-centered philanthropy, corporate civic engagement, the future of work, catalytic cross-sector partnerships, and more. By focusing on solutions over exposition, and elevating the most urgent ideas, NationSwell’s insights reports showcase our deep commitment to valuing your time and delivering what you need to lead at your best.


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Bringing community engagement into physical retail

Bringing community engagement into physical retail

NATIONSWELL PRIMER

A growing number of retail-based companies are piloting and scaling in-store models for connecting more deeply and authentically with their local communities. Those efforts are motivated by the desire to drive economic growth in underserved neighborhoods, create space for community engagement and artistic expression, and modernize stores for evolving consumer expectations. While individual approaches to community-based store models vary, there are several themes and patterns that stand out. 

This one-page primer names five common approaches to creating community in retail stores, with examples of each model. 


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The state of play: U.S. philanthropy

The state of play: U.S. philanthropy

Philanthropy provides risk-tolerant capital in a way that government and business cannot. It is a necessary ingredient to solving the world’s social and environmental problems. A new wave of giving that can propel projects forward with equity and justice at the fore is increasingly contingent on funders not only donating their financial resources but also embedding the values of trust-based approaches into their overall strategy. This trend report describes five key trends for U.S. philanthropy in 2022:

The trends: 

  • Funders have increased their giving over the last two years, sometimes significantly, but growth in nominal giving hides the fact that funders are donating less of what they earn
  • Trust-based philanthropy found its foothold in the midst of crisis; today, funders are sustaining and evolving those principles
  • Funders are doing more to prioritize racial and social justice in their giving, yet BIPOC voices remain too marginalized in decision-making 
  • Funders are realizing philanthropy’s potential to support climate interventions, but their actual investments are incommensurate to the challenge
  • Collaborative approaches are gaining momentum and proving their impact, even among institutional funders; collective investing models adopt a power sharing approach, taking learnings from individual giving as well as trust- and place-based initiatives

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How the Bush Foundation’s $100 million community trust funds are decolonizing philanthropy

How the Bush Foundation’s $100 million community trust funds are decolonizing philanthropy

Spurred by the global resurgence of the movement to demand bolder action against structural racism, the Bush Foundation designed an innovative approach to redistribute wealth to Black and Native American communities. Called community trust funds, the model disburses $100 million dollars through two steward organizations from these communities. Those steward organizations will use the trust funds to support educational attainment, home ownership, and entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals. The full report describes the Bush Foundation’s Community Trust Fund approach in five steps:

  • Issue a social impact bond to dramatically increase funding capacity.

By relying on debt financing to fund new grants, the foundation was able to urgently increase its support to the Native American and Black communities while still investing in other projects using their endowed assets.

  • Engage directly with community members to design a funding strategy.

The Bush Foundation structured a deep engagement process with 28 community members including leaders, elders, and experts on reparations and philanthropy. Their guidance helped the organization arrive at a community trust fund model for investing the $100M bond proceeds in Native American and Black individuals.

  • Invite expressions of interest from potential steward organizations.

The Bush Foundation cast a wide and inclusive net to invite interest from potential steward organizations. Their request for proposals focused on organizations’ capacity to credibly steward the funds and their demonstrated ability to engage deeply with community members in informing their work.

  • Select two steward organizations with guidance from community members.

The Bush Foundation recruited a representative community panel with understanding of the lived experiences and needs of the Black and Native American community to advise their selection process by interviewing finalist organizations. They helped identify NDN Collective and Nexus Community Partners as the two steward organizations for $50M community trust funds.

  • Provide initial funding and guidelines to steward organizations for their program design phase.

The Bush Foundation provided an up front $500,000 to each steward organization to support their work designing a grantmaking program for each community trust fund, as well as support around grant management, evaluation, and legal issues. The design phase funding is in addition to the $50M each steward organization will receive to seed their community trust fund.


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