The Civic 50: Creating a Framework for Real Shared Value

Jan 17, 2014 3:00 PM ET
Campaign: Stakeholder Voices

Companies are connecting the dots between their community work and their business bottom-line.

Nearly three years after Michael Porter and Mark Kramer published “Creating Shared Value” in the Harvard Business Review calling on businesses to create economic value in a way that also creates social value, we are now seeing a growing number of companies step up to turn that vision into reality.

While Porter and Kramer’s article bemoaned the fact that “most companies remain stuck in a ‘social responsibility’ mind-set in which societal issues are at the periphery, not the core,” many companies have recently shown that they are increasingly integrating social issues into the core of their business strategies.

We can see this clearly in this year’s The Civic 50 survey, issued by Points of Light and the National Conference on Citizenship. The Civic 50 was created to measure corporate civic engagement and to recognize top S&P companies that make socially responsible practices and community leadership part of their corporate culture. Businesses recognized as The Civic 50 set the standard for how a company’s time, talent and resources can best be used to improve quality of life in the communities where they do business. [GE has made the list for the second year in a row.]

A few findings from the survey show how companies are connecting the dots between their community work and their business bottom-line:

  • Businesses believe that community engagement programs make employees more valuable—employee skill sets have expanded as a result of employee volunteering
  • Employees are being evaluated on both business performance and their participation in community work
  • Businesses are seeing that a strong, strategic community program has bottom line benefits—improving a company’s brand, recruitment and sales

Best Practices for Shared Value
Indeed, with companies like those in The Civic 50 stepping up to improve the communities in which they live and work in a serious way that drives business success, we are starting to see a framework and best practices for how companies can achieve real shared value.

“We are encouraged by the results of The Civic 50 survey, which show that increasingly community engagement is recognized as being core to business success,” said Neil Bush, chair of the Points of Light Board of Directors, and Michael Weiser, board chair, National Conference on Citizenship, in a joint statement. “We hope the best practices of The Civic 50 will serve as a valuable resource for other companies that want to transform their business, make a greater commitment to their communities, and change lives.”

Those best practices include:

  • Institutionalizing corporate policies and practices related to civic engagement
  • Tracking the impact of corporate civic engagement on sales, recruitment, retention and skills development
  • Incentivizing community involvement throughout the organization—and holding employees and leadership accountable for success. Increasingly, more companies are adding community work to employee reviews
  • Volunteering in companies is on the rise and increasingly, more companies are donating expertise through pro bono support and skills-based volunteering
  • Helping their small business and local enterprise counterparts succeed and providing them with the necessary resources to do so

Institutionalizing corporate policies and practices: At IBM, the Corporate Responsibility Executive Committee includes representation from Community, Legal, HR, Supply Chain, Environment and Government Relations. The day-to-day work is carried out by a Corporate Responsibility Working Group drawn from all these areas of the company and with global membership. The Working Group convened more than 20 times in 2012.

Corporate civic engagement and the business bottom-line: As a winning Civic 50 company, GE has demonstrated the many ways community engagement can enhance business drivers—especially employee skill-development and overall brand. For example, when GE’s corporate audit staff met in Miami for leadership development training, they also carried out a Junior Achievement volunteer project. Over 600 employees participated in the project, and they said that it improved their team work, project management, negotiation and presentation skills. 

GE’s brand was also bolstered considerably with its quick and effective response to Superstorm Sandy. When New York’s Bellevue Hospital Center lost backup power during the storm, service teams from GE Healthcare helped doctors and nurses evacuate and transfer patients and equipment. Elsewhere, GE employees worked long hours to help utilities restore power and volunteered to clear out flooded homes and businesses. In total, the GE Foundation donated $5.8 million in support of Superstorm Sandy relief-and-recovery efforts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Additionally, as part of its Developing Futures(TM) in Education program, the GE Foundation has been advocating for businesses and communities to support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) scheduled to go into effect in 2014 in 46 states. GE sponsored a two-day convening and met with business leaders and public officials to explain the impact the CCSS will have on the future workforce. These events occurred in 9 cities reaching almost 900 business leaders, further enhancing GE’s brand in communities.

Holding employees and leadership accountable for success: Thirty percent of all employee evaluations at Western Union are based on the “WU Behaviors,” reflecting strong value of ethics, integrity and community engagement. Responsible behavior includes community engagement and shared value, based on criteria including developing shared value products, leading local fundraising events, volunteering for the Western Union Foundation or in the community. As part of their performance objectives—which are the basis for professional evaluations and bonuses—all Western Union employees are asked to create a “Social Ventures” objective, aimed at reinforcing each individual employee’s commitment to using business assets to deliver business and social results. 

Volunteering in companies is on the rise: Members of Capital One’s Brand team developed a pro bono National Brand Campaign for Give an Hour (GAH), a nonprofit dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of returning military troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. For the far-reaching campaign, team members developed television and print PSAs that appeared in Times Square and in Time Magazine, Newsweek, O Magazine, Men’s Fitness and the GAH website. The pro bono brand team’s efforts resulted in an 80% increase in volunteers from 2,000 to 10,000 within a 4-month time period.

Helping small businesses and local enterprises succeed: Hershey runs a program that sends agricultural and social text messages to rural Ghanian farmers via mobile technology to educate them on up-to-date agricultural practices to help them maximize their yields and incomes. Outcomes are significant, including cocoa-yield increases of more than 40%, income increases of more than 50% and school attendance increases of more than 25%.

With all of these inspiring examples of companies stepping up to meet the needs of their communities through their community involvement programs, we are beginning to see how many in the business community are moving away from a “social responsibility” mind-set where social issues are at the periphery of business, to one where they are closer to the core of business strategy. What will we see with 2014’s Civic 50 list?

Read more about The Civic 50 on the GE Citizenship website.