I never thought I would feel any sympathy for corporates, but these days I do. Well, sort of. Because it’s no longer enough to manufacture cars or deliver parcels. Corporates are being expected to do more. They’re being expected to do good.
Now I know most of you are saying, yes, and it’s about time! And I couldn’t agree with you more. It is, after all, about time that some of the world’s profit takers and widget makers did SOMETHING to set the world right.
But let’s be honest: it’s not really in the corporate DNA to do good. So a lot of them end up screwing it up. A lot. By writing fat cheques for causes they know little about, putting a fresh coat of paint on a crumbling building or taking selfies with smiley poor kids. Feel good – sure. Do good – not so much.
But imagine if they got it right? Imagine all those networks, all that skill, all that money, supporting the world’s change makers? It starts me dreaming. About corporates possibly doing good correctly – or at least with integrity:
Start at Home. Literally.
Yes, in your own country. Please, please don’t support kids or causes in Zambia or Laos when you’ve got poverty, abuse, neglect and poor social services in your own back garden. Not exotic, I know, but oh. so. necessary.
Still, I’m talking about starting even closer to home. In your own company. Don’t even think about trying to help people “out there”, unless and until your own house is in order. In terms of wages, employment policies, environmental impact, just to name a few factors. Do good by your own staff and customers and you will be doing good in the world, already. Bottom line: make sure that your most powerful social statement starts with your own corporate conduct.
Keep your Chequebook Closed.
I know it feels good to come in like the savior, I really do. The magic wand waver. We’ve all been there, trying to make a problem go away. But if money were a magic wand, the headlines wouldn’t be what they are today.
So don’t give money. Yes I said it! At least not to start with. Build relationships with the individuals and organisations you’re trying to help, understand their cause and their context, and then – only THEN – make available everything you’ve got other than money. Your people. Your skills. Your access to other people and skills. Finally, if you do find out that money truly is THE stumbling block, write the cheque. The small cheque. Not the giant one people stand around for photo opps. Because unless you’re building a new hospital ward, those giant cheques usually aren’t going to make things right. And they might even make them a whole lot more wrong.
Support the World’s Troublemakers.
Yes, you heard me right. Troublemakers. I know we all want the photo op with some saintly Mother Theresa figure. But let’s be honest, Mother Theresa was a Troublemaker. Most world changers are. They speak up. And out. They have enemies; they’re accustomed to naysayers. They’re bad asses. And they need people to stand beside them, behind them. To have their backs as they risk it all to upset the status quo. So why don’t you be brave, take a risk? Find an innovator or an activist who is changing his or her world — and start a conversation about how to work in solidarity with them.
Be a Bridge
To a wider network or audience, an amplifier of a message, a telegraph conducting change across continents. A lot of those Troublemakers I talked about are just looking for ways to leverage their message, to make their cause go viral, to find a marketplace for their products, an audience to hear about their progress. As inequality increases – as cultural divisions appear to deepen –that bridging is not only crucial – it’s the catalyst. And it doesn’t have to cost a cent.
Most corporates look to support “fundable” organisations: “I”s dotted, “T”s crossed and all of that. I get it; we all want to make sure our partners are legitimate. Except that some of the most meaningful social change is taking place outside of “legitimate” organisations. Through movements, big and small, of people united by a concern – and usually without being paid – try to change their world. So don’t let the lack of a bank account or a board be a stumbling block. Find that movement of Troublemakers. Then see my advice above.
Be a bridge.
Have their backs.
It’s true that the world doesn’t need corporate saviors.
But one Big Corporate Best Friend might just be all one small world changer needs to make a Big Difference.