Dear Universities, Show us what you’ve got!

Note: This blog was originally published on RECODE and was reposted with permission of the author.

Photo from York University

We live in a volatile, uncertain and complex world. With threats of climate change, rising income inequality, social unrest, resource scarcity and ecological degradation predicted to affect society’s progress, leaders and the institutions they run must play new roles to realize a sustainable future.

Breakthrough innovation is essential, requiring paradigm shifts and pivots in how we operate and function as a society.

Advanced education institutions – universities, colleges and polytechnic institutes – are ideally positioned to accelerate and scale the transition to a just and sustainable world. They already significantly contribute through their traditional teaching and research functions. Now we need them to intensify their efforts to tackle global challenges by going beyond teaching and research. Institutions must embed their social mandates into everything they do including within their administrative roles, capital projects, physical assets, and relationships.

Fortunately, community engagement is a burgeoning area of practice within advanced education. Myriad departments, centres and projects are involved in this nascent field of practice, with individual professors and institutes working with community partners on critical issues.

Problem:

Despite a plethora of activities and pockets of great practice, a strong and strategic institutional commitment is often lacking. There is an absence of a narrative or framework that recognizes their importance, and that motivates, accelerates and scales social innovation – and celebrates its social impact.

Solution:

Mobilizing institutions to contribute more holistically and consistently to social innovation and the communities they support starts by taking a community lens to an institution’s assets. These assets, or instruments, can be multi-purposed to achieve greater community impacts than their conventional counterparts. Investment for financial impact? Great. Investment for social and financial impact? Better. Procurement that achieves price, quality and convenience goals? Necessary. Social procurement? Better. And on, and on.

This is already happening.

SFU and McConnell Foundation commissioned me to write this report on “Maximizing the Capacities of Advanced Education Institutions to Build Social Infrastructure for Canadian Communities” to understand the state of play in which institutions harness non-traditional assets (including but beyond teaching and research) to contribute to social well-being. As shown in this diagram, institutions are starting to embed their social objectives into their financial, physical and relational roles alongside their traditional research and education objectives.

This paper identifies no less than thirty such opportunities available to institutions. There are likely more. Check out this one-pager for the preliminary list.

To use the examples above, note these investment, procurement and hiring initiatives within BC institutions:

  • Social Investment: Simon Fraser University set goals to reduce the carbon footprint of its investment portfolios by 30 percent by 2030 – in line with Canada’s national climate commitment. UBC’s investments include $265 million in social housing and another $117 million in greenhouse gas emission reduction projects.
  • Social Hiring: University of Victoria has an Employment Equity Plan with a goal to improve the participation of members of designated groups such as Indigenous Peoples, Visible Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in all jobs and at all levels where they are under-represented.
  • Social Procurement: The grounds and gardens at Vancouver Community College are maintained by Mission Possible, a maintenance company that employs inner-city residents and assists those with employment barriers to reach their full potential.

Academic institutions are also developing solutions-generating social infrastructure such as social innovation labs like Radius and thought leadership platforms like Clean Energy Canada. These innovation hubs are mobilizing talent, resources and relationships to ideate, test and scale essential societal solutions.

Notably, the private sector has much to offer the post-secondary sector on its social innovation journey. This guide for companies on social hiring, social procurement, living wages and social innovation can be easily tailored to advanced ed. Equally, companies seeking to embed their social purpose throughout their operations will be fast on the heels of educational institutions, learning and scaling their successes within their for-profit business models.

The public and private sectors have much to learn from each other. All post-secondary institutions are inherent drivers of social progress: the time is now ripe for a community pivot. The complexities of this era call for advanced education institutions to reconceive conventional assets and instruments to serve an even higher purpose.

We have no time to lose. Universities: show us what you’ve got!

For more insights on maximizing the capacity of advanced education to build social infrastructure, read this paper.

 

Changing the lens, the focus, everything

This post was originally published on the Strandberg Consulting Blog on February 6, 2015. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author — explore her website for more on CSR 4.0. 

For 25 years, I’ve developed CSR strategies. And now I see that CSR is becoming business as usual.

You’d think I’d be celebrating. But I’m not – because CSR has stalled.

This struck me in 2012 when I developed the Qualities of a Transformational Company for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility and started tracking corporate innovation in CSR (see 38 case studies of transformation in action at CBSR’s website). That’s when I saw where we needed to be.

As identified by KPMG, the World Economic Forum and others, CSR as practiced over the past decade has not realized the commercial or social benefits necessary to address the global mega-forces that will affect the ability of business and society to thrive in the medium to long-term.

Our pace is too slow. The change we are realizing is incremental when it needs to be transformational.

Leading businesses sense this limitation and are looking for a new type of CSR.  They want to go beyond what I call “CSR everydayism” to set their course on a path to social purpose.  They want to go beyond value protection to value creation – to set and pursue corporate goals that resonate with employees, customers and communities, and that realize growth opportunities for their firm.

To aid my clients and others on this journey, I have created a Social Purpose Continuum (1.0 Philanthropic — 2.0 Strategic — 3.0 Integrated — 4.0 Social Purpose).  I am using this tool in education and strategy sessions to help leaders redefine their sense of what is possible. For example, in strategy sessions, when faced with the options to pursue a philanthropic (1.0) or social purpose (4.0) approach, boards and executives prefer the more impactful, engaging and innovative social purpose vision (once in a strategy session I was even asked what it would take to become a 5.0 company!).

This tool helps companies move from one-off ad hoc (low impact) donations to the foodbank (for example) to building a social quest – such as inclusion – throughout their hiring, employee and community relations, procurement, investment, capital projects, products and operational practices.  Building their social purpose throughout their business model results in a more sustained and scaled impact – and is more likely to drive business benefits as well.

Social Purpose Continuum-TW

Feel free to use the tool – and provide your feedback. It will be updated with new insights as I test drive it with companies who aspire to transformational leadership.

As one of my clients said in reviewing the tool, “This changes the lens. This changes the focus. This changes everything.”

Let’s keep pushing for the change we need.

SiG Note: Download Coro’s Social Purpose Continuum here. For more on social purpose business, check out our Corporate Social Innovation section, as well as the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. 

Harnessing the market for social good

coro-blog-jan31-2014

c/o Strandberg Consulting

The Canadian social marketplace has been on the drawing board for about 30 years. You might even ask, “What is a social marketplace?” It’s a mechanism where the power of business and market transactions are leveraged to enhance social well-being.

Architects from government, civil society, and business have piloted and prototyped innovations, but still there is no blueprint for large-scale activation. Today we have social finance, social enterprise, social hiring, and social procurement as offshoots of this effort. But these ideas are still in their infancy and their engineers struggle to achieve scale and impact.

Tackling scale and impact barriers

I recently tackled one of these scale and impact barriers – social finance capital – in research I conducted for Employment and Skills Development Canada. The research focuses on challenges and solutions for non-profits, charities, real estate data providers like Imbrex, and investors related to supply and demand for social finance capital.

The research found that social finance investments – which fund organizations to improve their social and environmental impact – have grown from a modest $85 million in 2000 to $5.3 billion in 2011. While this is a healthy jump, the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance called for a shift of 1% of Canada’s $3 trillion in assets under management into social finance, which would yield $30 billion for investment in social enterprises. That’s a $20 – 25 billion gap from where we are today. Back when I was on its board of directors, Vancity Credit Union offered one of the first retail customer “social finance” investment offerings in 1993 – a community deposit product that channeled customer funds into local social enterprises. It has taken 20 years to grow the Canadian social finance market to 15% of its potential. Clearly we need a national strategy to build social returns into our marketplace and the research recommends this.

I encourage you to read the full report, but here are some intriguing findings:

Non-profit business model enables scale

Non-profits are more entrepreneurial than expected. They have experience with loans and risk capacity and they can leverage grants as strategic capital to launch or grow their social businesses. Their strong community relationships are a competitive advantage while their desire for mission control is admirable, but a hurdle for ROI focused investors.

Place-based investor focus limits scale

Many prospective social investors seek to generate community-level, or place-based, social benefits. Grassroots investment is important, but it’s easier to make an impact on top social issues such as youth unemployment or home care through national-scale social venture models.

Investment readiness

The research also generated an “investment readiness” checklist of critical success factors for non-profits and charities pursuing social finance and the investors that fund them. This can be a handy tool for those who want to help close the $25-billion gap.

Growing Canadian social procurement capacity

The report includes a number of recommendations for intermediaries and capacity builders who want to achieve greater impact with social enterprise and social finance. A top recommendation, in my mind, is to grow social procurement capacity in Canada. I imagine a future where organizations include social sourcing in their procurement toolkits as a way to meet their supply needs and advance social benefit. If we can find a way to link buyers, sellers, and investors, we can create a true social marketplace, one with built-in positive social returns.

This post was originally published on Coro’s Blog on January 31st, 2014. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.