It’s really not a lot of fluff … or mumbo jumbo … or fairy dust. Yet, it’s a mystery to many.
For a woman who has spent her entire life as an attorney and business executive in both the business and nonprofit worlds, I’m stumbling. I’m speaking a new language to many, as foreign as the “legalese” that I had to educate myself out of. My whole life has been about words and messaging and yet, there are moments that I feel like I’m failing miserably. So, help me. Be my interpreter and help me close the gap from my interpretation of social impact, corporate social responsibility (CSR) or social innovation to yours, particularly if you are new to this space.
When I use the word sustainability, I find that many associate it with one thing only – environmental impact, not length of time. They see tree huggers and recycling bins, LED lights and solar panels, not business in it for the long haul, caring about and sustaining stakeholders. When I use the word social, many automatically attach the word services to social and place themselves squarely in the non-profit space. When I use the word impact, many go directly to the purpose of the company and do not include both the positive and negative effects of their product or service to the entire ecosphere that it touches.
They understand the words corporate, either as entrepreneurs or employees of corporations. And pretty much everyone was trained on responsibility and accountability as a child, even if they choose to ignore it. No one is too mixed up with the word innovation, it represents something new and exciting. It’s the word social that has thrown a monkey wrench into the works. When you add that word to the pot, it feels like fusion cooking – neither here nor there. Who gets Chinese/Italian combos? But, when you open your mind to the odds that the flavors just might blend together with heritage and possibility, it can be exciting and life changing.
The operative word, the common denominator, is social. But somehow, we have not transcended from “they” to “us”, from “she” to “me. The vast majority of people think of social welfare, social services, social work, social security, social medicine, all of which go directly to classes of people - the poor, sick and old. We feel bad for them, but we aren’t them and there are government agencies and non-profits that deal with their issues, right?
Wrong. It’s time to look at the definition of the the word social because each, and every one, of us is very much included.
”Relating to society or its organization; tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others; marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates …”
Nothing in this definition is exclusive rather, it is broad and inclusive. But where does this word fit into our perception of business given its primary purpose is to generate income for its owners?
Business cannot run without human beings who show up as employees, investors and customers. Business is human beings, not the piece of paper filed at the Secretary of State’s Office. Our actions touch the lives of many other human beings because we are all connected. If we subscribe to the “do unto others” approach at all, then clearly, we are responsible and accountable for our actions to the human beings we impact, as are they to us, even if we never meet them in person. This includes their quality of life – their right to have, and access to, education, happiness and fulfillment, the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food that will nourish them, all provided to us by the planet that we live on.
When we speak of social responsibility or social impact, we, as a collective in our businesses, take ownership of the fact that we do not live singular and solitary lives. We rely on others to provide us the key components that we cannot produce ourselves. We don’t get to hide behind a piece of paper called a corporate charter and escape our social responsibility or our social impact - whether we do right or whether we do wrong. We don’t get to pawn it off on non-profits who struggle to find funds by tugging at the heartstrings of others who feel fortunate and donate in gratitude, relieved that they are not like “them.”
Not unlike the aspen trees that grow in a community that shares a common root and nutrient system, we are connected at every touch point. Their society is healthiest when made up of trees at all levels of maturity, relying on each other to subsist. Even if a tree dies, the root system remains intact, sending up replacements nearby which is why they are the first to repopulate after a fire. They were considered the largest living organism on the planet with one organization exceeding 100 acres in size, every tree connected, every tree sharing. At least, that was before we realized that we, in fact, are just as connected, healthiest when we ensure that our entire community is well and living in abundance and, knowing that we can rely on each other for sustenance and support.
Cross the bridge to me, beckon me to come your way or meet me on the bridge,
Copyright © 2019
Linda Lattimore – all rights reserved