Social Entrepreneurship: Shaping the (Right) Way to Do Business

Strong business goes hand in hand with strong community
by RaeAnne Marsh

“The driving force is simple. We believe you must give back to the communities where you make a living,” says Howard Fleischmann, co-owner of Community Tire Pros & Auto Repair. He and his wife and co-owner, Pat, believe this is everyone’s responsibility and are among many business leaders in our community who put that belief in to action. “Our actions help support our company beliefs and culture; you cannot ask your teams to support social responsibility unless as a company we show the same dedication.” Quoting Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Fleischmann notes that team members watch and learn by how the company acts. “We are setting the stage for success in business, community support and involvement. Bottom line is affected when team members feel like a part of something bigger than just us.”

Adam Goodman, president and CEO of Goodmans Interior Structures, also emphasizes employee engagement. “People don’t come to work at Goodmans because they love selling file cabinets; they come to be part of something larger than themselves, something that is making an impact on the community.” He underscores the point, stating, “We don’t do any of this to generate a return on our investment; we do it because it is the very purpose of our company. Put another way, supporting the community is why we exist.” Goodmans sponsors numerous programs and is often asked what the impact is on the business. “When I am forced to answer a question like this, I like to say that customers only care about our community involvement if we are the low bidder. If attracting new customers was our motivation for investing in the community, we would have stopped doing it a long time ago.”

Kelly Vickers, vice president of corporate social responsibility for Alliance Residential Company, refers to a lot of research that shows current and prospective associates as well as other stakeholders deeply value a company-wide corporate social responsibility program. “We know that CSR programs give our associates something meaningful to connect to and be a part of. We receive so much feedback from our associates about how proud they are to work for a company that has such a focus on CSR and how excited they are to participate in these programs. It’s amazing the compassion our associates have and the desire to give back in their communities or even volunteer internationally.”

Some entrepreneurs get into business for a cause. Paper Clouds Apparel, a Phoenix-based for-profit business founded to support nonprofits and organized to provide employment for people with disabilities. Social purpose came first, as well, for Phoenix resident Gwen Dafnis, who recently became a representative for Crowned Free. “I came across Crowned Free while searching online for opportunities to get involved with raising awareness of human trafficking. When I discovered the opportunity with Crowned Free, it just spoke to me on so many levels. I just knew I needed to be a part of this amazing group and do great things.” Citing slavery statistics – every 36 seconds, a child is sold into slavery, and there are more people being bought and sold today than in the 300 years of the Atlantic Slave Trade – she says, “It’s important to me, while wearing and marketing Crowned Free’s styles, to educate people about how human trafficking is happening in our own backyards. I explain to every single customer how they are making a difference in lives of those who have been rescued from human trafficking; with every purchase they make, we help support and empower survivors. I also share with them that many of our products are actually made by survivors.”

Programs and Impact

Many businesses create opportunities within the mission and purpose of their core business. GoDaddy, for instance, runs seven different programs under GaDaddy Cares, allowing employees and customers the opportunity to give back to the community, says GoDaddy head of Social Responsibility Stacy Cline. “Over the past two years, GoDaddy Cares has shifted our strategy to align with the vision of our company to shift the global economy toward independent ventures. Through this strategy, we have created GoDaddy GoCommunities, a community and philanthropic program, to empower aspiring and existing entrepreneurs in underserved communities to succeed at every stage in their journey.”

GoDaddy is partnering with leading nonprofits around the U.S. and soon globally, Cline explains, to provide community-based programs and virtual learning experiences. GoDaddy GoCommunities focuses on boosting the skills and knowledge of entrepreneurs through customized trainings, in-kind products, GoDaddy mentors and coaches so they can bolster their small business’s digital presence and gain other critical business skills. And GoDaddy recognized a need it felt it was well-positioned to fill. Says Cline, “There are many programs helping small business owners and entrepreneurs, yet few focus on reaching and providing opportunities for non-traditional entrepreneurs or those facing additional barriers in starting or growing their venture. GoCommunities is unique in that we partner with government, city, nonprofit and the private sector to create a robust program for any participant and, it’s 100 percent free to the businesses.”

One such partnership is with LISC Phoenix and Local First Arizona to provide a business assistance program to the businesses that are going to be impacted by the South Central light rail extension and several years of hard construction. GoDaddy encourages its employees to bring their passion and expertise to assist minority small business owners technically and emotionally in their small business journey; its experts apply skills, and expertise to deliver training, one-on-one coaching and mentorship to teach entrepreneurs how to build and maintain their digital presence.

Says Cline, “Social impact and social responsibility is good for business, good for our employees and good for the community. Giving back has always been engrained into our company culture and, through GoDaddy Cares, every employee is empowered to give back in whichever way that they see fit. While our core programs focus on small business and entrepreneurship, our other programs — like our paid time off volunteer program, dollars for doers program and matching donation program — are open to all 501c3 nonprofits that are politically and religiously neutral. This allows our employees to get involved in the causes that they are most passionate about and have support at the company level. The GoDaddy Cares programs are world-class and play a part in recruiting the best talent, retention and create a culture of caring.”

Alliance created Alliance Cares to promote the importance of community involvement. “We have structured this program around three key categories that are very much aligned with our business model and employee passions: supporting those in vulnerable housing situations, community advocacy and protecting the environment,” Vickers says. “Each year, we ensure that there are a handful of corporate-sponsored campaigns and projects that fulfill these three buckets.” To support those in vulnerable housing situations, Alliance partnered with Rebuilding Together to back a handful of rebuilding projects each year in various markets. To promote protecting the environment, it hosts an annual Earth Day volunteer project in the local Phoenix market and a company-wide campaign promoting giving back to the environment in each of its markets. An Alliance Day of Giving campaign held each November celebrates community advocacy and challenges the company’s regions to give back to their local community through volunteer efforts. The Phoenix corporate office, the headquarters of the company, also participates in group volunteer day at St. Mary’s Food Bank. “We offer all full-time employees a full eight hours of paid time off to volunteer at a charity of their choice. In 2017, we saw nearly 1,500 VTO hours used, and 56 percent of those VTO hours were used during November’s Day of Giving campaign.

“Additionally, we are always looking for ways to leverage our business relationships for the greater good,” Vickers goes on. Through a partnership with Lyft as the company’s preferred form of business travel, 1 percent of all rides goes back to the local Phoenix-based charity New Pathways for Youth. Move for Hunger, rolled out last year in several of Alliance’s markets in partnership with CORT furniture rental, encourages residents who are moving to donate non-perishable, unopened food, and CORT picks up these donations free of charge and makes deliveries on behalf of Alliance’s properties to the local food banks. According to Vickers, Alliance’s three participating markets donated almost 700 pounds of food to local individuals and families in need in the last five months of the year.

Says Vickers, “Alliance believes in social responsibility so much that we have a full-time VP of Corporate Social Responsibility that heads up these efforts, which also include our company-wide sustainability program known as Focus Green. In addition, we produce an annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report that stems from our belief that what gets measured, gets managed. The report serves as an opportunity to assess our progress and share results, seek stakeholder feedback and hone our goals for the future. We are always striving to do better and to do more.”

Other businesses have physical assets they can leverage. Says Goodman, “We are constantly challenging our employees to find needs in the community where we can leverage our surplus assets, talent and resources to help. This framing forces us to look at ourselves as more than just an office furniture dealership; we’re a collection of people with skills and expertise, warehouses, trucks, computers, office space, purchasing power and so on.” The nonprofit Read Better Be Better, for example, needs help with its annual report to donors, and Goodman notes that his company’s best-in-class marketing team can use their spare time to help RBBB design and produce the report. “Throughout the company there are dozens of short-term projects, like Read Better Be Better, and long-term projects like Good Threads, our eight-year old monthly clothing exchange for foster children.”

Fleischmann’s also leverages the assets unique to its business. “Our efforts with Helping Hands for Single Moms gives us the pleasure of seeing these moms moving forward with their lives, children and their education to become self-sustaining and viable parents,” says Fleischmann, explaining that, by giving away older but dependable cars, the company provides the moms peace of mind to be able to get to child care, work and school. “Over the last 10 years, with fellow NARPRO (Neighborhood Auto Professionals) shops, we’ve gifted auto repair and cars amounting to more than $300,000. Everybody wins and learns — community, neighborhoods, onlookers, industry, employees and impressionable youth.”

Other programs have grown out of their passion in other areas. The Community Tire Salsa Garden, where once was an empty lot, has produced and given to the community more than 4,000 pounds of vegetables and fruit over the last four years. “The greatest impact is to see a group of school children pulling a carrot out of the ground, who had had no idea where carrots came from,” Fleischmann says. “That is why we have created the Community Tire Salsa Garden. … Our engagement with the local charter school, public, neighborhood and the Kroc Recreation Center has brought enlightened kids into the excitement of growing and learning about Mother Nature.”

Rippling Outward

Doing good is not just about the individual act. Nor are businesses involved in social entrepreneurship are not looking at it as a quid pro quo. Fleischmann, referring to news stations occasionally showing interest and doing “some quick little stories,” acknowledges Community Tire does benefit from some exposure in the community but shares, “Our vendors see us in action and want to be included, either with donations or sometimes team involvement — allowing us to exceed even our expectations on giving back.”

Goodman took what had already been a strong philanthropic ethic in his family’s business and pushed it even further. “Twenty years ago, a customer told me that buying furniture was like buying a used car. You just need shop around until you get the lowest price. That was incredibly offensive to me, and in that moment I became determined to push our entire industry to strive for something better,” he relates. “I wrote an open letter to employees that outlined how Goodmans would be an inspiration to our competitors around the country. As part of our mission, I encouraged our people to offer help to any other office furniture dealer in the country that was interested in pursuing a larger purpose. Now, 20 years later, there are dozens of examples of programs that Goodmans started, right here in Phoenix, that have been copied all over the country. We have provided templates and marketing materials and step-by-step instructions for other office furniture dealers who have, in many cases, taken our ideas even further than we could have imagined. Even manufacturers have copied some of our best ideas. Slowly, we are raising the bar and changing the marketplace’s perception of our industry.”

Cline credits GoDaddy’s culture and employees with working hard to build and strengthen the local communities. “Through the GoCommunities programs, we are going into the neighborhoods near our offices and working to strengthen those neighborhoods through the power of small business. … We believe that inclusive entrepreneurship fuels local economies across the global and ultimately improves lives.”

Alliance’s Vickers shares, “Integrating CSR into more of our culture has also moved us in the direction of integrating evaluating the CSR initiatives (or lack thereof) into our vendor selection and RFP process.” It’s not just that Alliance wants to partner with like-minded vendors who also place a high value on corporate social responsibility, but its CSR programs has spurred vendors to proactively ask how they can support Alliance’s efforts even more. “They want to help and be a part of it,” Vickers says. “This further strengthens your own efforts because, when you partner with vendors who want to help you make a difference, it doubles your capacity to get initiatives across the finish line. Finding ways to leverage your business partnerships for the greater good is powerful.”

 

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