As Executive Director of the Dow Company Foundation, a NationSwell Institutional Member, Kristen Bovid leads Dow’s Business Impact Fund, an initiative that “designates corporate contributions toward new, business-aligned global citizenship initiatives that solve social problems through Dow’s technology and expertise.”
NationSwell spoke with Bovid about the specific ways that her work with Dow supports and advances social good, how the fund has evolved, its impact and more.
NationSwell’s Anthony Smith: What is the Dow Business Impact Fund — and how does it help support and advance social good?
Kristen Bovid, Dow: We designed the Impact Fund to create shared value. It’s a competitive grant program for which employees are allowed to submit ideas annually, and we have more than $2 million to invest in these projects each year. The rest of our grant portfolio is more traditional philanthropy, and this fund is about making both social and business impacts. We’re looking for projects that create social good and align with our sustainability commitments.
NationSwell: What are some examples of partnerships you’re investing in, and what has the impact of those investments been?
Bovid, Dow: A recent project allowed us to team up with a major agricultural solution provider to empower Oliver’s Village, a nonprofit organization in South Africa, with gardens to support self-sustainable agriculture. This supported their efforts to build capacity revenue from their produce and become less reliant on donations.
Another example is Project Yba, which is in Brazil. Dow has farmland in the rainforest, and the goal of this project was to help reinforce the concept that a standing tree is worth more than a fallen tree. To do that, we helped build up the opportunities and biodiversity mapping of our farm work alongside nonprofits and community members to allow them to access our farm in a safe and sustainable way. Working with the nonprofits, the community members learned how to extract some seeds from a tree, extract the oils and use that to sell it to major corporations, which generates sustainable income for the local communities while preserving the rainforest.
NationSwell: How do you choose grantees? What factors do you look for? What indicators do you look to?
Bovid, Dow: We invite employees to submit concept notes to describe their project ideas. Every year, we receive more concept notes than we can fund. We invite the project leads with the best ideas to provide a full proposal and presentation to the selection committee. Dow leaders representing different geographies, businesses and functions comprise the selection committee.
The Committee evaluates proposals based on social impact, the business impact for Dow, business/strategic alignment, implementation and risk, the strength of partners, measurement plan and alignment to Dow’s sustainability commitments. We consider all of those factors to decide which are the strongest projects. This year, we invested just over $2 million. This allows us to try a new model locally and see if it works. If it works, then we can invest further and scale it.
NationSwell: When the fund was started in 2016, it focused solely on water and plastic waste. How has that focus expanded? And what are your focus areas for 2022?
Bovid, Dow: We launched the Impact Fund focusing on specific Dow business units but quickly realized that the fund is flexible enough to create shared value with any of our businesses. We now allow any business – and any employee – to submit an idea for the Business Impact Fund. These projects are opportunities for us to explore new, innovative ways to expand our markets and address critical social problems. Right now, we’re especially interested in projects that help support decarbonization.
NationSwell: How do you get internal buy-in on initiatives like the Impact Fund?
Bovid, Dow: When we first created the fund, it was challenging to convey our envisioned impact. We are fortunate that Dow is committed to creating social good and supports innovative ways to deliver new outcomes. We tried something new and now our Foundation board and business presidents see the impact a project can have on their business and society.
So far, the fund’s projects have achieved very promising outcomes: 928 jobs created; 10,695 MT materials recycled; 34,591 MT CO2 emissions avoided; >1.6MM people impacted.
The fund allows businesses to test new models, deliver social impacts, and drive employee professional development. Once we award businesses a project, they truly start to understand the value of using Impact Fund investments to pilot an innovative idea. Often, after their project finishes, project leads go on to submit more ideas for the fund.
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