Pro Bono in Canada

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the Toronto+Acumen blog.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

October 23-29 was Global Pro Bono Week! The week is a global campaign that celebrates the thousands of professionals who volunteer their skills and professional expertise to support non-profits all around the world. The global pro bono movement has long been ignited and attracts new international partners every year.


What exactly is Pro Bono?

As defined by the Taproot Foundation (a global expert in pro bono), pro bono is “using a volunteer’s core professional skills to provide free professional expertise to organizations serving the public good’.

Pro bono is a subset of skilled volunteering that gives non-profits access to business and legal skills and experience as needed, , such as developing and implementing new business strategies or improving organizational infrastructure.

For example, volunteering  one’s management consulting experience to increase donations for a food bank would be a pro bono service. Volunteering at a local food bank’s kitchen to collect or distribute food would be what the Taproot Foundation describes as hands-on volunteerism.

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Source: Taproot Foundation

What is being done around the world?

In 2015, there were 50 events hosted in 19 countries by 27 organizations during Global Pro Bono Week. Examples of events include seminars, information sessions, pro bono ‘speed dating’ and pro bono ‘marathons’ (similar in structure to tech hackathons).

Examples of events from this year’s Global Pro Bono Week include:

France – Intercompany Pro Bono Marathon, hosted by Pro Bono Lab

Pro Bono Lab organised a large Pro Bono Marathon, teaming employees from 10 companies to support 10 non-profit organisations with capacity building services (such as consultancy in finance, strategy, management, marketing, communication, law or web).

India – Online tools to Work smarter – get your answers now!

This session highlighted online tools that help non-profits optimize their time and resources. The session focused on free tools for project management –  tools that help create and capture data/reports and present them in a creative manner.

Canada – Canadian Pro Bono Tweet Up

On Monday, October 24th, there was a virtual discussion of pro bono giving in Canada with corporate and social profit leaders from across the country.

Check out more tweets from this national conversation here!

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Why should you get involved?

It is becoming abundantly clear that pro bono work benefits all involved. For professional service companies, there are endless reports depicting the value that pro bono opportunities have on attracting, retaining and engaging talented workforces (especially millennials), as well as enhancing brand and public relations. The following report details a strong business case for pro bono services, as well as case studies). Moreover:


Pro bono can also be immensely useful for developing  business innovations. Innovation has been described as “the application of knowledge in a novel way”. As pro bono engagements are an opportunity for employees to apply their skills in a different environment, it can be thought of as a catalyst for innovative thinking.

“Our fellows not only provide value for society at large, but also gain global perspectives, new ideas, and skill sets that ultimately inform business innovation.” – Robert L. Mallett. Previously President of the Pfizer Foundation.

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Source: Business Value of Pro Bono Source: Taproot Foundation

What is next?

Many leading Canadian organizations are convening together to spark a pro bono movement that can grow and scale throughout Canada. While there a strong volunteerism culture in Canada, there still exists an immense opportunity to deliver high-quality, high-impact pro bono services to social change organizations.

“Volunteering continues to be fundamental to Canadian society with more than 13 million volunteers contributing more than 2.1 billion volunteer hours annually (equivalent to 1.1 million jobs).” – Statscan

There are a plethora of ways one can develop and engage with the pro bono marketplace in Canada. One can work with their organizational leaders in implementing a company wide pro bono program, work individually on pro bono engagements, or help with advocacy efforts.

Within Toronto, Endeavour is a fantastic resource for those wishing to engage in pro bono projects. We also encourage you to visit Taproot’s website to learn more about pro bono. We are also seeking champions to help grow the pro bono movement and marketplace on a national scale (contributing to a variety of initiatives, including needs assessment, corporate & non-profit engagement, awareness building).

If you are interested in this, please feel free to contact Allyson Hewitt (‎Senior Fellow, Social Innovation – ‎MaRS Discovery District), at You can also follow her on twitter @AllysonHewitt and #ProBonoCDN for more updates on Canadian pro bono.

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. 

Services to the public and a new role for business

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the Conferedation of British Industry’s Public Services Network forum on 1 October, 2014 and on Collaborate on 13 October, 2014. It has been cross-posted with permission from the authors.

Lord Victor Adebowale

Public services is too narrow a concept to capture the shift that government and the policy world need to make. Instead, we need to be talking about ‘services to the public,’ and re-thinking all of our roles within a new delivery landscape.

This might not sound controversial, but the consequences are. They could re-shape the public services market and the role of business in society. Here are three reasons why, three starting points for reform, and three things business should be doing about it.

1. The Landscape is getting more complex

The operating context for public services is becoming increasingly complex — both in terms of the scope of social need and demand, and the means through which these needs can be addressed. Our work with the Institute for Government found that, in areas of multiple or complex social need, commissioning arrangements are often undermined by a lack of proper citizen engagement and can be distorted by payment mechanisms that one provider called “blunt instruments” designed to control cost and shift risk to the detriment of citizens. Those with the most complex and pressing needs can be affected most.

2. Managing demand needs a whole-of-market approach

Our research suggests that around 75% of citizens think that government has a role to play in improving living standards, finding a decent place to live, and being in meaningful work. Yet government is only one player in a diverse market, and traditional service solutions are clearly not enough. We need to work across the sectors to find better ways of meeting demand upstream, with business in particular playing a stronger and more socially aware role supporting employment, mobility, and new enterprise within communities. The JRF’s Julia Unwin argues that the high street is, in some senses, becoming the new front-line of public services. She points to a broader truth about our shared responsibility for identifying and meeting social need.

3. We aren’t even getting to first base with the public

Citizen engagement is both absolutely essential and frequently misunderstood. Our research with Ipsos MORI shows that only 14% of citizens feel they have a stake in the public services they receive, and only 24% felt their needs are regularly met. We should be depressed about these findings. Yet they should not just only be a spur to service improvement — a majority feel that the way people are treated is just as important as (and indeed intrinsic to) the outcome. In the wake of scandals in the public services market, business must take a lead in embedding values of dignity and respect in the delivery of public services.

These issues are fundamentally they get to the root of what a service to the public should feel like and what the role of business should be in delivering them. Values, respect and an absolute focus on citizens and communities are vital. How can we incentivise this?


Here are three starting points:

1. Create proper platforms for citizen-driven commissioning

We cannot effect demand management, behaviour change or collaborative commissioning without real insight into the needs, wants, assets and aspirations of communities, with citizens themselves leading this process. Creating the right conditions and methodologies to do this is a vital first step which the public sector should lead, learning from smart emerging practice in places as diverse as Oldham, Suffolk, Derbyshire, Wiltshire, Haringey and Sunderland.

2. Prepare ourselves to collaborate better

We don’t pay enough attention to our readiness to collaborate – and this is a crucial barrier to making it happen in practice. We frequently prioritise structure over culture. In the health service for example, it is curious that far less attention has been afforded to the individual and collective valence of clinicians, managers and public leaders to work together. Without this, structural change will struggle to change cultures and frontline practice — something Collaborate will be addressing in our forthcoming Health Collaboration Lab.

3. Encourage future leaders to think across sectors

Collaborating in public services requires a different form of leadership – less command and control, more adaptive and distributed, and more attuned to the need for give and take without complete control. This is well-trodden ground in theory, and in the private sector. For the public sector (in which management and risk is undoubtedly more complex), adopting this stance in a period of extreme uncertainty is difficult. Yet we are seeing emerging examples in local government and much enthusiasm for the value of ‘leading across the sectors’, as a recent Collaborate report with the Clore Social Leadership Programme sets out.

Dr Henry Kippin

So far so consensual (though hardly widespread), and no doubt something business can sign up to. But like most collaborations that have value, there is an inherent stickiness too. Acknowledging and addressing this will be a true marker of the willingness of public service businesses to lead a new, values-driven way of delivering.

It’s also wise to use a virtual office service if you are running your business from home (like lots do now) and we use a great Glasgow virtual office for ours as it’s for a business in Scotland so works just great.

Businesses need to re-think their responsibilities to the public upon which they rely.

Enjoying the patronage of the public is not something that should be taken lightly. Citizens value dignity, treatment and respect as well as outcomes, and it is not enough for organisations delivering services to the public to say “we weren’t contracted to do that,” or “we just deliver.” Shared responsibility means holding ourselves to account on principles of inclusiveness, re-distribution, fiscal integrity and public value. The best businesses will (and do) embrace this agenda, just as the public and social sectors should too.

There are important implications at different levels. At the macro level, the CBI is right to call for a culture of transparency and honesty about public service contracting and delivery — particularly as the unintended consequences of poor contracting decisions in some big areas of public spending become apparent.

At the local level, businesses can and should be stepping up to the plate to be part of a more collaborative growth setup — working far more obviously with local authorities, skills and education providers, and the social sector in communities. And at the micro level, there is a clear need to create closer, more engaged and more co-productive relationships with citizens, playing out at ground level the values we espouse in the boardroom.

Better relationships between business, state and society must be at the heart of our future model of services to the public. But let’s not wait for the perfect roadmap to be drawn out in Whitehall. The best of the private sector will make value-driven change happen now, and we are supporting them in their efforts to do it.

Listen to Lord Adebowale speak at our last CBI Public Service Network event:

Hamilton: Canada’s human capital edge

Note: This post was co-written with Geraldine Cahill, Communications Manager for SiG National. 
When you think of Hamilton, Ontario, what comes to mind? The Hammer? Steel Town? Smokestacks?

When we visited Hamilton in February, we saw a beautiful city nestled between the soaring Niagara Escarpment to the south and Lake Ontario to the north, surging life science and health academia and businesses, and a downtown core poised for growth and change. The most striking thing of all was the conviction and passion of our hosts about Hamilton and the potential of its people.

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce believes it might be time to unleash this potential by adding a citizen-led social innovation lab to the city’s arsenal. Let that sink in for a moment. At MaRS Solutions Lab and Social Innovation Generation, we regularly receive requests from governments and community organizations for advice on setting up social innovation labs, but this is the first time we’ve had such a request from business owners.

Business turns to labs

In 2012-2013, Geraldine Cahill and her colleagues undertook field research about Hamilton’s social and economic challenges as part of the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation. When the results of the study were presented, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce was sufficiently convinced of the value of a social innovation lab that it wanted to explore the idea further with a broader group of Hamiltonians. Thanks to Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, and Doug Ward and Paul Lakin, members of the chamber’s Science, Technology and Innovation Sub-Committee, we found ourselves introducing social innovation labs to a room full of business owners, academics, community leaders, political leaders and civil servants at McMaster Innovation Park.

Click to see our presentation on building a Hamilton CityLab
Tensions and uncertainties

Like many contemporary peer cities, Hamilton is grappling with tensions and uncertainties.

  • In October 2013, the Toronto Star ran an article on Hamilton’s economic and social rise, quoting its mayor Bob Bratina as saying: “We’re now at the tipping point of a new city—one we all knew could exist.” Within the same article, a young McMaster student was quoted saying that she feels the political leaders in Hamilton are distant and need to be more in touch with the public. This sentiment was heard repeatedly during the field research on Hamilton.
  • In December 2013, the unemployment rate in Hamilton stood at 5.9%. This is a very strong number compared to unemployment rates in other Canadian cities of a similar size. Yet few newcomers to Hamilton are settling in the city permanently. The thousands of graduates from the city’s university and colleges don’t stay. What kind of a Hamilton do newcomers and graduates want?
  • According to Statistics Canada data from 2011-2012, 60.4% of Hamiltonians are overweight or obese, a figure that is significantly higher than Ontario’s 52.6% and Canada’s 52.3%. McMaster University researchers and McMaster Children’s Hospital clinicians have joined forces to tackle childhood obesity, combining expertise in genetics, metabolism, biochemistry, physical activity and other areas to develop new ways to prevent and treat obesity-related diseases with help from other sources like tophealth news. But will this be enough?

All of these issues are highly complex and seemingly intractable. There are no easy solutions that experts, stakeholders and citizens can all agree on. These are problems that we can only solve through trial and error. However, this necessary experimental approach seems impossible for government with its current structures, especially in an economic climate of decreased public resources and increased scrutiny. But the capacity for society—businesses, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs and individual citizens—to solve problems is at an all-time high. People are better educated and have access to more technology and information than ever before.

Private capital for social good is more available than it has ever been. Social innovation labs (#PSILabs) likeMaRS Solutions Lab capitalize on this emerging problem-solving capacity to meet complex social and economic challenges with society.

A history of experimentation

Hamilton has a long history of experimentation, adapting and thriving against overwhelming odds. In fact, rising from the massive losses in its steel industry, Hamilton is the most diversified economy in all of Canada. Hamilton Health Sciences is now Hamilton’s single largest employer, while corporate construction projects have topped Canadian cities two years in a row.

At our presentation, the passion and readiness of the Hamiltonians in the room was apparent. There was a flurry of questions, from how quickly we could get started and how much it would cost to what the team would need to look like. Discussions about what was possible had already begun. We felt the rare willingness to collaborate across organizations and sectors. There was tangible excitement about even our most audacious suggestion of a challenge: to transform Hamilton into a city of innovators and entrepreneurs in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, arts, logistics and agri-food—essentially to become Canada’s cutting-edge human capital hub.

After the presentation, Keanin Loomis took us on a tour of Hamilton. From the top of Stelco Tower, the panorama of Hamilton was breathtaking.

“I wish every Hamiltonian could see this,” said Keanin, pointing to the sweeping view from the knife-edged escarpment to the sparkling waterfront, “and be excited by how much more we could be!”

We believe that a social innovation lab will help drive and capitalize Hamilton’s ambitions. Is a social innovation lab right for your city?

You can view our presentation on building a Hamilton CityLab here.

– Jerry & Geraldine

This post was originally published on the MaRS Blog on March 7th, 2014. 


Making Systems Thinking More Than a Slogan

From climate change and deforestation to collapsing fisheries, species extinction and poisons in our food and water, our society is unsustainable and it is getting worse fast. Many advocate that overcoming these problems requires the development of systems thinking. We’ve long known that we live on a finite “spaceship Earth” in which “there is no away” and “everything is connected to everything else.” The challenge lies in moving from slogans about systems to meaningful methods to understand complexity, facilitate individual and organizational learning, and catalyze the changes we need to create a sustainable society in which all can thrive.

Here, I’ll describe how the world operates as a system — and how businesses can respond effectively to the challenges we face.

systems thinking map

Systems thinking is used in the World Economic Forum report (2011)

The World as a System

Systems thinking helps us understand the structure and dynamics of the complex systems in which we live, from organizational change to climate change, from physiology to financial markets.  The structure of systems must be understood broadly, including physical elements (such as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the time delays in a supply chain), institutions (such as markets and governments), human behavior (such as the way we make decisions) and the mental models that shape how we perceive and interpret the world. These elements interact and coevolve to generate the world we experience.

All too often, however, we treat problems in isolation, ignoring the networks of feedback that bind us to one another and to nature. We often blame policy failure on “unanticipated events” and “side effects.” Political leaders blame recession on corporate fraud or terrorism. Managers blame bankruptcy on events outside their organizations and beyond their control.

But there are no side effects — just effects. Those we expected or that prove beneficial we call the main effects and claim credit. Those that undercut our policies and cause harm we claim to be side effects, hoping to excuse our failure.  But “side effects” are not a feature of reality; they are a sign that the boundaries of our mental models are too narrow, our time horizons too short.

For example, governments in many nations “solve” water shortages for irrigation by subsidizing electricity so farmers can install more powerful pumps. But the short-run success of that policy merely causes the water table to fall faster, requiring still larger pumps and still greater subsidies.


Avoiding such self-defeating interventions, in business and in sustainability, requires us to consider our actions in the context of the broader systems in which we are embedded.


Researchers have identified important characteristics of systems to help us manage them more effectively and sustainably. Complex systems, from an ant colony to a business to a society, are:

  • Governed by feedback: Our decisions alter the state of the world, causing changes in nature and in the behavior of others, which then feed back to change our own behavior. Cut prices to gain market share and your competitors may respond the same way, leading to a price war. Suppress forest fires and fuel accumulates in the forest, leading to more damaging fires.
  • Subject to delays: Feedback processes often involve long time delays and accumulations (stocks and flows). Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion accumulate in the atmosphere, causing the world to warm and the climate to change. Emissions are far higher than the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere. Just as a bathtub continues to fill as long as the flow into the tub from the faucet exceeds the flow out through the drain, stabilizing emissions will not stabilize the climate. Limiting dangerous climate change before the end of this century requires emissions to fall dramatically, starting now.
  • Nonlinear: Effect is rarely proportional to cause. Complex systems can cross “tipping points” that cause dramatic and often irreversible changes in their behavior.  Take a few fish and fish stocks recover; take too many and the fish stock collapses. Warm the planet enough and greenhouse gas emissions will rise as bacteria convert carbon in melting permafrost into CO2 and methane, further warming the planet in a vicious cycle.
  • Characterized by trade-offs: Time delays in feedback processes mean that the long-run response of a system to an intervention often differs from its short-run response. Ineffective policies often generate transitory improvement before the problem grows worse, while policies that can create enduring value often cause worse-before-better behavior.
  • Counterintuitive and policy resistant: In complex systems, cause and effect are distant in time and space, while we tend to look for causes near the events we seek to explain. Our attention is drawn to the symptoms of difficulty rather than the underlying cause. As a result, many seemingly obvious solutions to problems fail or worsen the situation.

These and other principles have implications for the way businesses can become more successful — and sustainable.


How Business Can Respond

Systems thinking offers several key lessons for business.

1) Expand the boundaries of our mental models. Most of our current sustainability efforts target symptoms of unsustainability rather than the causes. Our vehicles burn too much oil and generate too much CO2, so we target that symptom with standards to raise the efficiency of new cars. But the resulting reduction in oil demand will lower oil prices, undermining the incentive for people to buy efficient vehicles or cut oil use in other industries.

By expanding the boundaries of our mental models, we can identify the potential for such “policy resistance” and design more effective policies. Raising the price of CO2 will encourage auto companies to design more efficient vehicles and encourage consumers to choose them without the need for complex regulations, while simultaneously offsetting the drop in world oil prices.

2) Recognize constraints. Many of us are overstressed and operate in overstressed organizations. Trying to do too much means we are often unable to marshal the resources we need to kick-start improvements in productivity, quality and sustainability. The result is a self-reinforcing trap of low performance, overstressed resources and failed improvement programs. Firms that succeed in quality and sustainability free up the resources needed to improve by slowing down and focusing on the long-term.

Similarly, we live on a finite world. Therefore, “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. Striving for perpetual growth while we degrade the carrying capacity of our world is self-defeating.   Forward-thinking firms understand that destroying the environment also destroys the possibility of profitable enterprise.  They are working to provide products that last longer and offer greater value; to take responsibility for their operations and products over their full lifecycle, including takeback and recycling; and to provide services to support the wellbeing and fulfillment of their customers instead of simply selling more stuff at lower and lower margins.

3) Move beyond technical solutions. Technology offers hope that we can build a more sustainable world. But market failures limit the efficient allocation of capital and resources, including creativity and innovation. And there are long lags from problem recognition to innovation, commercial viability and scale up. Technology often generates unintended consequences: for example, taller smokestacks reduce local smog but increase distant acid rain.

Innovation in markets, institutions and governance is essential to realize the full potential of technology. Externalities must be priced. Market failures must be corrected. We can make technology more effective by improving market signals, through regulations that create level playing fields and prevent a race to the environmental bottom, and through monitoring to prevent free riding and unintended consequences.

4) Confront our values. Our guiding values offer the most important leverage point for enduring, sustainable change. Recently, I asked MBA students how much money they needed to be happy. The average response was $2 million per year, and about half said more is always better. Most would accept lower income — as long as they could make more than everyone else. But obviously endless material growth on a finite world is impossible, and everyone cannot be richer than everyone else, no matter how clever our technology.

Those who are currently affluent must confront the culture of consumption, the conflation of having with being, that is destroying both the environment and human well being, while supporting the legitimate aspirations of billions around the world to rise out of poverty.

5) Recognize that we can make a difference. People often feel powerless in the face of huge, complex systems. But understanding how systems work helps us to find the high leverage points that make a difference. People often recoil from climate science because they fear that what they do can’t possibly matter. But we’ve created more astonishing change before, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the peaceful end of Apartheid.

The abolition of the slave trade and slavery in England can serve as a model for action on climate change and sustainability: a few committed individuals found the high leverage points and ended an institution that had existed from the dawn of history, one that nearly all assumed would always exist.

History shows we can do it. But will we? That depends on you.


Businesses Embracing Systems

More and more businesses are developing the systems thinking capabilities of their people, and realizing large benefits.  For example, using systems thinking,

  • A major oil company has generated documented savings of several billion dollars to date, while improving safety and environmental quality.
  • A shipyard went from cost overruns and project delays to an award-winning yard in great demand.
  • Businesses bootstrap steady improvement in quality, productivity and sustainability by reinvesting initial savings in further improvement.
  • A high-tech electronics firm redesigned its supply chain, improving customer service with the use of a new sales funnel strategy and delivery reliability while cutting inventory.
  • A global automaker built an entirely new service business and is now the market leader in that rapidly growing segment.
  • A major university implemented maintenance projects that boosted energy efficiency and sustainability while more than paying for themselves, creating resources for still more projects.

Systems thinking can be powerful, but too often remains an abstraction.

The challenge for us all is to develop our systems thinking skills, to help others develop their capabilities, and to bring systems thinking into our everyday lives: to move beyond slogans and on to action.


Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) website in their Thought Leader blog series. It has been reposted here with permission from the author. NBS Thought Leaders offer guidance on sustainable business models for the 21st century. Thought Leaders are leading academics and practitioners: world experts on sustainability issues.  Dr. John Sterman is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and has been widely honored for his research and innovative use of interactive simulations in management education and policymaking.

Creating Shared Value: What does it mean for the nonprofit sector?

When JS Daw & Associates announced our new role as certified Shared Value consultants, it prompted much feedback – from notes of congratulations to specific questions and queries about specialized services. But one email stood out – “What does this mean for the nonprofit sector? How will it affect fundraising? How will it affect our role in community?” These are important questions. I firmly believe that Creating Shared Value (CSV) offers exciting new opportunities for nonprofits to collaborate with companies for mutual benefit, to build truly meaningful and impactful partnerships and advance positive social change. If you plan on starting a nonprofit organization check out how to get a 501c3.

Creating deeper strategic partnerships

shared_value puzzle

c/o Jeroen de Flander

Today most nonprofits view corporations as funders. Even though many nonprofits call their funding relationships “partnerships,” they simply are not. Funding relationships are transactional exchanges in which financial support is given to fund community work. Occasionally in-kind talent and time is provided from employee volunteers. While these relationships are important and beneficial, the full value of a mutually beneficial partnership, which is based around common goals, is not realized.

Creating Shared Value is a new form of corporate community involvement. Shared value is created when companies generate economic value for themselves in a way that simultaneously produces value for society by addressing social and environmental challenges. Companies that undertake shared value initiatives need community partners to help them reconceive markets and services; build clusters; or reduce the costs in their value chain. Shared value initiatives require the expertise, experience and knowledge of the community sector. At its heart, shared value requires cross-sector collaboration and deep partnerships.

Providing new support beyond philanthropy

Shared value initiatives represent new resource development opportunities for nonprofits. However, CSV will never replace traditional philanthropy and strategic giving. The billions of dollars companies already contribute to community organizations will not be lost, nor are these contributions likely to shrink.

Shared value initiatives will be an addition to what most companies already do in community. Shared value allows companies to generate value for themselves as they identify the immense human needs that must be met, large new markets to be served, and the internal costs of social deficits—as well as the competitive advantages available from addressing them. Their nonprofit partners, vital to the success of shared value initiatives, will benefit from additional resources spent by companies to build value for themselves and the community.

Accelerating social value and impact

Shared value engages companies more deeply around social issues. It holds the promise of greater resources for the nonprofit sector and a multitude of innovations to address today’s most urgent social needs. It also accelerates and expands the potential for social impact as major corporations launch initiatives that reach millions of people at a pace and scale that have rarely been achieved by the nonprofit sector alone.

Nonprofits are a critical piece in identifying opportunities for social change, but they are often not able to scale to the appropriate size. Most NGOs are not set up to affect millions of lives. If you combine NGOs’ local knowledge with a company’s ability to scale up, you can really create value on both sides of the equation. By the same token, companies must listen to NGOs so that they take local circumstances into account, and they don’t go to the wrong places or do the wrong thing.

Seize the opportunity

Shared value is a management strategy for companies that are focused on creating measurable business value by identifying and addressing social problems that intersect with their business needs. The shared value framework creates new opportunities for companies, non-profits and governmental organizations to leverage the power of market-based competition to address social problems.

Creating Shared Value will enhance the relationship between companies and nonprofit organizations. It creates a mutual interdependence and heightened accountability for delivering results. In the end, companies are part of a broader ecosystem that contributes to creating societal value. Business must work with governments and with NGOs to build better societies and better communities.

Creating shared value is here to stay. Its growth and wide spread adoption is inevitable. Nonprofits can seize this opportunity. They can embrace the change and realize new advantages for their organizations and their communities! At the same time, shared value demands a delicate balance between social needs and corporate profitability that must be carefully monitored and challenged when necessary.

Keep an eye out for a related future blog posting on the JS Daw Blog: Can nonprofits create their own CSV initiatives?

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the JS Daw Blog. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.

Breakthrough Capitalism: “We are more than consumers, more than tax payers”

A UN Global Compact survey reported that 81% of CEOS believe sustainability issues have become part of their company’s strategy and operations.

Most people would see the survey as a positive sign for sustainable business. Volans’ Executive Chairman, John Elkington does not.

A few short weeks ago, John shared these survey findings to a crowd of Canadian business leaders and posed the question: if CEOs are ‘accounting’ for sustainability issues in their core business, why are we experiencing escalating pressures on our environmental, economic, political and social systems?


John Elkington speaks to business leaders in Toronto, Canada.

The Volans team believes that part of the answer rests on the shoulders of executive level corporate leadership. Around one thousand companies control half the value of all the world’s publicly listed organizations. The power of some of the largest corporations and their leaders has become colossal in magnitude.

In response to the expanding dominance of business, Volans catalyzed a movement called Breakthrough Capitalism. Breakthrough Capitalism is a global call to action for corporate leaders to “reboot” capitalism through radically re-envisioning their business models. Volans has hosted Breakthrough forums in Berlin, London, Singapore and most recently Toronto.

In early November, Canada’s Breakthrough Capitalism forum challenged Canadian business leaders to rethink the way they do business in context to increasing global complexity. In his opening address, John Elkington acknowledged the increasing linkages between systems such as the food-energy-water-finance nexus, where one system cannot be fully understood without considering the others.

Toronto’s event brought together leaders from a cross-section of industries including financial services, energy, consumer goods, food, health, media and retail. The day was heavy on interaction and light on speeches. It opened the space for candid dialogue, questioning and brainstorming. Participants were asked to understand their business in relation to projecting three future world scenarios: Breakdown, Change-as-usual, and Breakthrough as depicted in the video below.

Following a fairly morbid discussion, participants recognized that the Breakdown and Change-as-usual scenarios are one and the same. Both will result in over-consumption, resource depletion, widespread poverty, and failed governance. The only distinction is that Breakdown will reach systems collapse sooner. Consequently, managers were quick to agree that the only viable way forward is the Breakthrough scenario.


What does Breakthrough mean to Canadian Business Leaders?


1) Executive Leadership

All participants agreed that buy-in from the top is critical. One only has to look at the likes of Paul Polman at Unilever or Jochen Zeitz at Puma to understand that executive level leadership holds immense power over corporate strategy.

2) Aligning Language

From shared value to corporate social responsibility, conscious capitalism to constructive capitalism, corporate social innovation to sustainability, the field is a cacophony of competing language. It’s painfully ironic that each movement is attempting to achieve the same goal of making the world a better place. Participants accept that language needs to converge in order to shift the movement from the periphery to the mainstream.

3) Creating Opportunities to Act

During the afternoon, the forum broke out into four groups prepared to hack the assumptions and models driving their respective industries. These breakout groups gave attendees permission to dig deep into the heart of their business and posit potential solutions.


Hal Hamilton, founder of Sustainable Food Lab, facilitating a breakout session.

I.     Accountants

Generating a storm of new ideas and next steps, the accountants led the way for actionable solutions. Real time performance indicators, responsible resource stewardship, long-term thinking, and embedded sustainability education represented a handful of the accountant’s proposed objectives.

II.     Consumer Behaviour

Marketers wrestled with their dependence on ever-increasing consumption in order to meet their sales growth objectives. Group participants agreed that enabling consumers to align their social and environmental values with their purchases is the future of responsible consumer behavior.

III. & IV. Food

Solutions that bubbled up from the food systems group included creating a “sin food” tax, mitigating food waste, educating consumers, investing in local food, and collaborating along supply chains.


4) Personal Transformation

Although much needs to be done at the office, change must also start at home. Too often we ask the world to act differently and forget our own role in embracing the change we seek. It was widely recognized that we should be mindful of our own values and beliefs, and channel that energy beyond our workplace to permeate all aspects in our lives. Sandra Odendahl of RBC captured this spirit in her closing remarks: “We are more than consumers, more than tax payers. We are citizens.” As citizens, it is our duty and privilege to care for one another and support a healthy environment.


Sandra Odendahl

What Now?

It’s up to us – business leaders, civil society and government – to push one another forward. As the CEO of MaRS Discovery District, Ilse Treurnicht, declared, “It feels like the world expects more of us than we expect for ourselves.” Let’s cut loose from the status quo and rise to meet the demands of wicked problems. We are ready. It’s time for a breakthrough.

Re-engineering the business model: leading companies show the way

A company committing to have a net zero carbon footprint by 2050 is transformational. As is targeting to have 50% of sales come from green products by 2015.  Companies around the world are stepping up with solutions-driven strategies built for the long-term. These businesses exemplify the qualities of a new kind of company known as the Transformational Company.

The Transformational Company framework was developed by CBSR as a guide for businesses who recognize the need to scale up their corporate responsibility and sustainability efforts in order to address systemic societal risks, challenges and opportunities. The framework identifies 19 qualities that represent a global consensus on the new standard for sustainability; the consensus highlights the imperative for companies to rethink their core purpose and customer offerings, to focus their efforts on solutions to systemic social, economic and environmental problems, and to go beyond “zero harm” to create net positive benefits.

Transformational companies commit to act outside their own operations, and the foreseeable future, to become word-class sustainability leaders in their region or sector. The following examples provide insight into how the transformational qualities are being mobilized.

Transformational Quality #4 Restorative

Generate net positive benefits for society, the environment, the company and shareholders, advancing local and global resilience.

Kingfisher is Europe’s largest home improvement retail group and the third largest in the world. In 2012, Kingfisher announced a new corporate social responsibility plan called Kingfisher Net Positive.  Net Positive was launched “with an ambition to contribute positively to some of the big challenges facing the world, while creating a more valuable and sustainable business for our stakeholders”.  The initiative is fundamental to the future of Kingfisher, as the company believes the businesses that will succeed in the future are those that today show leadership on the sustainability challenges facing the world.

To achieve the Net Positive objective by 2050, Kingfisher has set targets across the business until 2020 and focuses on four priority areas: timber, energy, innovation and communities. Each of Kingfisher’s priority areas is tightly linked with business goals and achieving each target will create measurable business benefits. Attaining Net Positive will enable Kingfisher to secure crucial resources, unlock new opportunities and drive growth.

np_CBSR_restorative example

Transformational Quality #2 Sustainable Customer Offerings 

Integrate sustainability into the full life cycle of product and service design, use and disposal, and advance sustainability through continuous improvement of core products and services

Phillips is a diversified health and well-being company, focused on improving lives through innovations.  As a world leader in healthcare, lifestyle and lighting, Philips integrates technologies and design into people-centric solutions. Through their EcoVision program, Philips has set targets to increase their sustainable customer offerings. In 2012, Green Product sales increased to 45% of total sales ($15 billion USD), which is on track to reach the target of 50% in 2015.

green products sales_CBSR

To be considered a “Green Product”, it needs to be a leader in at least one Green Focal Area, identified as energy efficiency, packaging, hazardous substances, weight, recycling and disposal, and lifetime reliability.

green product categories_CBSR

To reach their goal of 50% of total sales generated from Green Products, Philips is committed to continuously improving the environmental performance of their products, which includes designing for energy efficiency, chemical content of products, life time reliability, and recyclability. To support the growth and development of green products, Phillips invested EUR 569 million in 2012 in Green Innovation and is on track to reach their target of EUR 2 billion by 2015.

These examples illustrate how companies can challenge and transform today’s dominant business model. Adopting the transformational qualities allows companies to anticipate the challenges and embrace the opportunities that flow from being a market pioneer, while creating long-term shareholder and societal value. On November 6, the CBSR Summit will advance dialogue and action on the Transformational Company and feature keynote speaker John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development.

Editor’s Note: The day following the CBSR Summit, John Elkington and the Volans team will be bringing together business, government, investors and entrepreneurs for Breakthrough Capitalism at MaRS on November 7th to help a new form of capitalism find its wings.

5 Trends in Corporate Social Innovation


c/o Case Catalyst

Businesses are doing social innovation. But some of them are doing it without referencing the words social or innovation when developing their strategies and projects. From our vantage point in London, UK, we have seen the following five trends as big corporations begin experimenting with new ways of working towards a triple bottom line – and changing the systems in which they operate.

1. Pre-Competitive Collaboration 

Hyper-competitors are joining forces to change a system as a united front. Consider it a ‘coalition of the willing’.  For example, Nike, Adidas, Puma and 13 other highly competitive apparel companies came together to launch the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals project, focused on developing a shared roadmap on how to eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their linked value chains.

2. The Finance Frontier

Companies are increasingly seeing the financial system in which they operate as an area ripe for disruption. Puma has done this by publicly disclosing their EP&L statement (Environmental Profit and Loss), which values their use of natural capital across the supply chain. Unilever is pushing back on the financial status quo by refusing to provide quarterly earnings guidance to investors.

3. From Open Innovation to System Innovation

Truly disruptive innovation requires more than just changing the rules of the game. It requires new team formations, new stadiums, new equipment and new referees.  Doing this well will involve more than a wide-reaching ‘open innovation’ platform.  By working with stakeholders across the system, they can drive innovation within (and beyond) the system in which they operate.  For example, Nike has partnered with NASA, USAID and the US State Department to run LAUNCH, uncovering truly radical sustainable innovations in fabrics and materials.

4. Looking Back to Looking Forward

At key milestones – including 50-, 75- and 100-year anniversaries – companies are celebrating by projecting the impact of their company at the next milestone. SwissRe is celebrating their 150th birthday with an ‘Open Minds, Connecting Generations’ project to engage employees and stakeholders around what comes next.

5. The Rise of the Corporate Venture

My personal favourite trend of 2013 is the rise of Corporate Venture Capital units within companies. These internal Venture Capital teams are increasingly setting their sights on areas that have traditionally fallen into the social investment camp. At the recent Global Corporate Venturing Symposium, the discussion included investments in health care services, sustainable products, renewable energy and providing access to emerging economies.

Editor’s Note: Charmian Love and the Volans team aim to help a new form of capitalism find its wings, mobilizing breakthrough capitalists from across the business, government, investment and entrepreneurial spaces. They call it Breakthrough Capitalism and their team will be bringing together Canadian breakthrough capitalists at MaRS on November 7th where we hope a new trend begins!

Corporate Social Responsibility is Dead: Long Live Corporate Social Innovation

As Harvard’s corporate strategy guru Michael Porter points out, over the past century the boundaries between business and social issues have undergone dramatic changes.  One hundred years ago a large business enterprise might have been the social patron, providing housing, education or other forms of welfare for its company town residents.  But over time the scope of corporate responsibility retreated.
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