Key learnings on the theme of business for good
NationSwell’s 2023 Summit brought together the most cutting-edge and committed leaders in ESG, social impact, philanthropy, and other select fields. Across a full day of programming, participants elevated exciting and promising ideas and initiatives, reflected and revitalized, and gleaned actionable insights, practices, and collaboration opportunities to propel their leadership forward.
One of the main themes of the day was business for good, through which presenters and guests explored how to better center their values, prioritize human connection, and bring forward a “Better + Bolder” version of themselves.
Below are key learnings from the NationSwell Summit on the theme of business for good.
Individuals most affected by social issues are often those closest to solutions.
Identity is core to the impact that individuals and organizations drive, and often has an outsized impact on sociopolitical progress. Often, those most affected by societal inequalities are instrumental in deeply understanding and responding to pivotal issues. For example, as Thea Gay (NationSwell Fellow) noted, current efforts toward mitigating climate change are often driven by those who are most vulnerable to environmental injustice, such as youth and LGBTQ+ communities. Relatedly, as a Black woman, T. Morgan Dixon (Founder and CEO, GirlTrek) is closely aligned to her organizational mission of healing and transforming the lives of Black women through walking and self-care. Leaders must embrace the aspects of their own identity that prepare them to identify and adopt solutions to societal challenges, while also acknowledging when it is most appropriate to seek out and invest in others.
The intersection of business, leadership, and advocacy requires continual self-reflection.
Whether a business leader or social activist, it is vital to think deeply about who you are and how your identity shows up in the work you do. As your work evolves, your own self discovery will take new forms, and you may realize that working toward social impact for other communities is tied to advocacy for yourself. Bringing humility and self-reflection to your day-to-day work can create trust within your organization and create a narrative of meaning behind the work you do. During past inflection points, Hamdi Ulukaya (Founder and CEO, Chobani) has embodied self-reflection by asking for direct feedback from his entire staff on his leadership. He notes that success is a powerful influence and that course correction from your community is vital to staying true to your vision.
The social impact field is ripe for harnessing the collective power of technology and talent.
The potent social power of technological advancement, particularly around AI, is illustrated by the White House’s recent request that technology CEOs limit the risks of AI. But AI carries significant opportunities alongside its risks. As more talent enters the technology field, there are opportunities to mobilize platforms and employees for social good. For example, Sid Espinosa (Head of Social Impact, GitHub) notes that GitHub has created a huge network of passionate new developers that are eager to play a role in using technology for impact. Given the immense and growing power of technology and AI, organizations should anticipate headwinds and tailwinds relating to their own operations and consider how they can connect dots between their work, the evolution of the technology field, and social good. At GitHub, this perspective resulted in a partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council, through which the company used its AI capabilities to deliver cash transfers to Ukrainians during conflict.
- Doing business for good often means seamlessly integrating – and responding to – information about the social and economic environment in which a company carries out its operations.
Contributing financial resources toward advancing social impact is important, but can only go so far. To achieve organic and sustained impact, business leaders must assess the context in which they operate – often including characteristics outside of their control – and use that awareness to advance their goals. For example, in 2016, Hamdi Ulukaya (Founder and CEO, Chobani), identified refugee rights as a pivotal issue in the U.S. As such, there was a significant number of refugees in close proximity to Chobani’s manufacturing facility in upstate New York. Hamdi was able to increase their hiring of refugees to 30% of their total workforce, achieving a win-win for the company’s social impact agenda and the community within which it operates.
- Making a business case for investing in social impact is effective at generating buy-in, but doing it “meaningfully” creates sustainable change.
According to Hamdi Ulukaya (Founder and CEO, Chobani), business is the most powerful platform for creating meaningful, sustainable change. Through the Tent Partnership for Refugees, he has found that CEOs often respond positively to understanding a clear business case for investing in an area of social good. For example, he cited that hiring refugees leads to high retention rates and demonstrable return on investment within two years. However, sustainable investment and long-term impact is escalated by business leaders who are dedicated to the meaning behind an issue. For some, this may be found through personal motivation, while others can look to their consumers and employees to lead the way.