Navigating Trying Times: Find and Follow Your Social Impact "North Star"

Mandy Ryan - Managing Director, Corporate Social Engagement
Changing Our World

Imagine this: You’re a corporate citizenship professional at a company with a focus on STEM education for underserved youth. A global pandemic hits, putting millions out of work, closing schools and making the concerns of any specific STEM program seem…small. Or a series of killings of unarmed Black people sparks a global reckoning with systemic racism, demanding that we all examine our own role in dismantling it. Or both.

As you wake up each day to a world grappling with these issues, you might be asking yourself: Are we still focused on the right issues? Are we tackling them in the right way? What lessons from recent months should we be infusing into our social impact work?

If your company’s goal is to advance STEM education for all, how can you not consider the role of racial inequity in education? Or the health, safety, and well-being of students and educators?

These questions can seem overwhelming, but they are made much more manageable by following a clear social impact “north star”: your company’s ultimate social impact objectives – not just the cause areas you address, but the end goals you seek and the principles you prioritize. When thoughtfully defined, your north star guides authentic corporate actions and serves as a filter through which all decisions flow. It guides both proactive, long-term investments and timely responses to unforeseen issues.

Changing Our World developed the Purpose Compass to help corporate citizenship professionals find or assess their own social impact north star. The practical guide takes you through three lenses – business assets, social needs, and stakeholder priorities – and outlines for each one the questions to ask, intelligence to gather, and how to gather it. It distills important considerations and key steps gleaned from decades of experience into ten brief pages citizenship practitioners can use in whatever depth they need – as a jumping off point for comprehensive strategy planning, or simply as a checklist to recalibrate an existing strategy in light of a changing environment.

Approach in Practice – Examples We Admire

  • Reacting appropriately to the issue du jour: When COVID-19 hit, financial services company USAA sprang into action, returning money in the form of dividends, credits, and reduced fees directly to its members, and donating more than $2 million to help nonprofits provide meals, emergency financial assistance, and more for military families impacted by the pandemic. Because of the company’s clear north star – its commitment to serve military members and their families – USAA was able to act quickly to address urgent needs:
    • Through the lenses of social needs and stakeholder priorities, USAA identified the impacts of the crisis on military families, especially financially.
    • An assessment of business assets within the context of COVID-19 led USAA to leverage not only philanthropic dollars but also its business model to provide relief, for example by reducing auto insurance rates.
  • Connecting values to actions: On June 23rd, less than one month after the killing of George Floyd, Peloton CEO John Foley shared this message announcing the company’s four-year plan to invest $100 million to fight racial injustice and promote health and well-being for all. Encompassing pay raises; recruitment and development of diverse employees; efforts to expand access to services; anti-racist corporate policies; and community partnerships, this plan activates Peloton’s commitment to equity and its value, “Together We Go Far.”

Although early in its journey, it’s clear Peloton has laid the groundwork to move from general ideas about its role in society to well-defined, actionable priorities and programs. By aligning the social need for racial equity to its unique business goals and assets – democratizing access to fitness – and stakeholder priorities (with a focus on BIPOC employees), Peloton has connected its stated values to tangible action and impact.

We know that in this time of great uncertainty and change, many corporate citizenship professionals are taking a step back to assess their programs and determine their path forward. We hope the Purpose Compass serves as a resource as you do so.  

Mandy Ryan
mryan@changingourworld.com
direct: 617.897.8208

Find the #PurposeCompass Twitter Moment here, or download the recap here.