Game Changing Business Leaders Discuss Future of Citizenship #SB14sd

Jun 17, 2014 6:20 PM ET
MSLGROUP SB14 Future of Citizenship: Are You Ready? Panel

Game Changing Business Leaders Discuss Future of Citizenship #SB14sd

By Scott Beaudoin, Global Practice Director, Corporate & Brand Citizenship, MSLGROUP

As a business citizenship strategy and communications consultant for nearly two decades, I couldn’t help but notice how far business has come in understanding the value of putting people, planet and purpose at the center of business strategies on the first days of Sustainable Brands.

Sustainable Brands is an international community of learning and action focused on understanding and leveraging the role of brands in shaping a flourishing future. The Sustainable Brands Conference is ground zero for sustainability, brand and innovation professionals who come together from around the world to be inspired, engaged and equipped to succeed by building the better brands of tomorrow.

However, as we continue to be reminded – the journey hasn’t even begun. We have a long way to go. It’s because of this, MSLGROUP strives to continue to re-imagine, redesign and regenerate Business Citizenship™ and the role it plays in enhancing corporate reputation and building brands of the future.

After launching our award winning PurPle (Purpose + People) Business Citizenship methodology in 2012, we set out to re-imagine the business roadmap to citizenship – understanding the expectations of millennials and how it will effect business in the future. See MSLGROUP’s Chief Strategy Officer Pascal Beucler’s blog on this “Why and How Businesses Need to Partner with Millennials, To Better Manage Resilience, Relevance & Resonance in Troubled Times.

To truly understand the business implications of the findings in MSLGROUP’s Future of Citizenship 16 country study of 8000+ Millennials which will be released later this summer, we brought together business leaders from Sodexo, ConAgra Foods, the former head of corporate responsibility at Avon Products, Inc. and CSRwire.

MSLGROUP SB14 Future of Citizenship: Are You Ready? Panel

John Friedman

John Friedman heads corporate responsibility communications for Sodexo worldwide. He also is the Vice Chair of Sodexo’s Intergenerational Network Group. An award-winning communications professional and internationally recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years’ experience in communications and a decade in corporate responsibility and sustainability. John has been recognized by Triple Pundit (#2), the Guardian (#14) and Fast Company’s Brandfog blog as a ‘leading voice’ in sustainability; his insights are regular features on Huffington Post, CSRwire’s Talkback and ‘Sound Living with John Friedman’on EcoPlanetRadio.

Kori Reed

Kori Reed is Vice President, Cause and Foundation, at ConAgra Foods, one of North America’s leading food companies, with brands in 99 percent of America’s household, including Healthy Choice, Hunt’s, Orville Redenbacher’s and more. In this role she is responsible for integrating the company’s cause of fighting child hunger across the company, from philanthropy and employee engagement to product donations and cause-branding platforms. Reed joined the company’s corporate responsibility team in April 2006 as Executive Director of the ConAgra Foods Foundation. Under her leadership, the ConAgra Foods Foundation embarked on a strategic planning process that today guides the company’s philanthropic giving strategy, which is focused on two core areas, child hunger and nutrition education.

Susan Arnot Heaney

Susan Arnot Heaney is an independent consultant in corporate responsibility, cause marketing, philanthropy and communications. She spent nearly 16 years with Avon Products, Inc., serving in numerous roles for both the corporation and the Avon Foundation, which is a public charity. During her tenure she had the opportunity to develop and lead many award-winning global programs, including the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, SpeakOut Against Domestic Violence and Hello Green Tomorrow, which was Avon’s first environmental engagement program. In her final role as Executive Director, Corporate Responsibility, she was tapped to develop Avon’s corporate responsibility practice, including strategic policies, communications, CSR reporting, stakeholder engagement, mobilization and fundraising.

Joe Sibilia

Joe Sibilia is the CEO of CSRwire, a digital media platform for the latest corporate social responsibility and sustainability news for journalists, analysts, investors, activists, academics, public relations and investor relations professionals worldwide. A trusted brand since 1999 for the latest news, views and reports on business sustainability as well as its members’ most trusted CSR advisor, the CSRwire team works on a wide range of traditional and social media services and solutions to support its members’ marketing and communications strategies.A visionary of the socially responsible business movement, Joe is the founder and former CEO of Meadowbrook Lane Capital (MBLC), described by the Wall Street Journal as a “socially responsible investment bank” specializing in turning values into valuation. Through MBLC, he worked with a number of socially responsible companies and has been widely recognized for his work in attempting to take Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream private, while creating a private stock exchange for responsible companies.

The Discussion Context

MSLGROUP’s Future of Citizenship study clearly shows that Business Citizenship has been redefined in society more squarely focused on what today’s millennials (“The Game Changers”) see as the driving force for change today and tomorrow – Business. We call this Business Citizenship™ where today’s millennials NEED, not want companies and brands to lead the effort to solve the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues. In fact, their future depends on it as they have lost trust that governments can do it on their own. They also want businesses to make it easy for them to get involved in the change. They want to drive change together.

There are four clear themes coming out of the study all centered on the confluence of millennials’ Heads (rationale), Hearts (emotional) and Hands (actionable):

Today, Business Citizenship is less about talking and more about DOING. Millenials will force business to go beyond purpose and more strongly connect citizenship actions to what the business stands for.
Millennials expect businesses to get narrow and deliver tangible citizenship impacts NOW. For business, it’s less about long-term macro issues and more about short and long term MICRO ISSUES.
Millennials no longer rely on governments to make a difference while business is on the sidelines just protecting the people and the planet in their business practices. They want BUSINESSES TO LEAD.
Business Citizenship requires a new contract – a citizenship partnership with Millennials who EXPECT to be a part of the change and understand that getting it done requires doing it TOGETHER.

The MSLGROUP Future of Citizenship Global Study Data Proof Points
  • 2 out of 3 millennials believe businesses should be getting involved in societal issues
  • 70% believe businesses can make a greater impact addressing societal issues
  • 60% support businesses that are helping on societal issues
  • 65% recommend a company based on its involvement with society
  • 67% wish it was easier to know which companies were doing good
  • 58% want businesses to make it easier for consumers to get involved in societal issues
In Millennials’ Own Words

To better get into the heads and hearts of Millennials, MSLGROUP shared quotes from millennials captured from around the world – quotes that reflected the data in the study and further brought their expectations to life. Six quotes were shared with the 140+ attendees and four panelists.

“Our generation has witnessed the disastrous effects of what happens when businesses focus solely on profit. We see businesses that have incorporated a truthful purpose in their strategy as leaders of the future.” – Sarah, 27, U.S.A.

“Enough with big talks. It’s time for businesses to roll up their sleeves and get to work. It’s okay to start small, but to make sure your involvement is targeted, effective, relevant and actually needed.” – Xiang, 22, China

“It’s easier to believe the issues can be solved if they’re simpler, more tangible issues. Micro issues = macro credibility.” – Asya, 26, India

“We expect and demand a global footprint with local impact. Not just ‘help children in Africa.’ We want to donate a roof, schoolbooks. Something tangible and meaningful.” – Sophie, 29, Netherlands

“We’ve seen firsthand that government on their own are slow…businesses have resources available and are capable of making decisions quickly.” – Adrien, 24, France

“If we collaborate and join forces, we can make a big impact. We want to work on change. We want to work for a business that is making change. We want to vote to make a change and we want to get together with people to make a change together.” – Anne, 30, U.K.

The Panelists Respond: Key Highlights

We began the discussion with John Friedman, CSR communication lead at Sodexo. Sodexo is well known for creating the Better Tomorrow Plan- a purpose led sustainability commitment across its business. Friedman stated that meeting Millennials expectations today requires a collaborative effort with a simple message. “Message to our employees, suppliers, clients and consumers – A Better Tomorrow Starts Today – and it starts with you,” said Friedman “All people have a role in being a responsible company.” Friedman went on to say that a relevant message also needs to be clear with consumers to engage them in the effort. “Empower people to make choices that improve their quality of life.”

A key finding in the study was that Millennials want more action from business. Over the last several years businesses have communicated commitments to more sustainable practices and social impact. Now millennials want to see their commitments in action. Joe Silbia from CSRwire commented on how press releases will remain part of citizenship communications but business needs to develop more fresh and relevant ways of communicating and engaging millennials in action. As Friedman noted, “Leadership position is based on performance not (just) press releases.” Susan Arnot Heaney added this piece of advice for businesses, “Go beyond teams doing community projects in company t-shirts: Be strategic and imbed CSR into business.”

As all panelists agreed, imbedding business citizenship into the business can be a very challenging journey. Heaney outlined a way for businesses to start. “Focus on intersection of what is important to the planet, what is important to your stakeholders, where you can have impact. Find – Fit – Focus. Decide what you want to be as an organization — a true change maker, or just do enough to keep stakeholders engaged. Either is fine.” Heaney went on to say, “Don’t let CSR be “an island off the coast of the business.”

Kori Reed at ConAgra Foods knows how effective it can be connecting citizenship actions closer to the business. ConAgra Foods has been committed to ending childhood hunger in the U.S. for over 15 years through its Foundation work. Recently Reed has connected those citizenship actions to ConAgra Food’s brands and the company has been successful in commercializing their efforts through the “Child Hunger Ends Here” consumer campaign. Since that time, more consumers are engaged, more progress is being made in the effort and the company’s reputation has grown exponentially. “We corporations have a number of levers we can pull as well as competencies in problem solving. Daily, we are problem solvers and hold ourselves accountable to deliver results. We are capable of leading a plan for social change,” said Reed. According to MSLGROUP’s Future of Citizenship study, this is predominantly why millennials NEED business to lead in solving the world’s most pressing problems. They simply know they have the resources and the power to drive change.

The study also found that millennials want businesses to focus their efforts on a micro level. It’s not enough today to say you’re focused on macro issues like health, environment or education. They specifically want to know what you are actually doing within those macro issues. Heaney used an example of Avon’s Hello Green Tomorrow where the company aggregated all global fundraising to restore Atlantic rainforest in Brazil and tropical forests of Indonesia, but also created local events so people see impact down the street.” Fieidman added that business must “Keep message local/small but explain how it fits into their global focus.”

Perhaps the most critical finding in the study centered on millennials desire to be part of the change business is making. A new contract between business and millennials where a citizenship partnership is created to solve issues together. Reed said, “Our insights show that once people are aware of a problem, they want to get involved. In many cases they don’t know what do to do or how to start.” This reflects the study as well, where millenials are looking for business to make it easy for them to get involved. But, once they are involved, Friedman points out that it will be important to “show them the results of their actions.” After all, today’s millennials are “change makers” and they must see results to know change is happening. “We know we can’t end any issue alone” said Reed. Business welcomes millennials involvement. Heaney agrees saying, “We cannot lead without followers.”

Five Key-Takeaways:

1. The time for talking is over. It’s time to start moving on your ACTIONS. Millennials expect it.

2. Tell millennials what you are actually DOING, not just where you are going.

3. Give them plenty of OPPORTUNITIES to get involved in the journey.

4. Make it EASY for them to be INVOLVED along the way.

5. And they will reward you by becoming your ADVOCATE.

If you would like to discuss the MSLGROUP Future of Citizenship study in more detail or learn how the information can help you in your Business Citizenship strategies and communications, reach out to Scott Beaudoin @