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Presentation: Socially Responsible Companies – Do We All HAVE to Change the World?

MMS Founder
MMS German Bencci

Article originally posted on InfoQ. Visit InfoQ


Bencci: My name is Germán Bencci. I’m the founder and CEO of CodeYourFuture. We’re going to cover socially responsible companies: do we all have to change the world? The reason for this presentation comes to explore the relationship between for-profit companies, and social impact, if any. The experience of being a social entrepreneur, one way or the other, aims to define a little bit your role in social impact, and create an action plan. If this is an area where you would like to see your company, your own reset of responsibilities, creating a bigger impact. First, I’m going to be covering social responsibility from our experience running the organization.

Part I: Social Responsibility and Our Experience

My background covers a few areas, first as Latin American, I think is a unique experience. Then volunteering and spending a lot of years in student organizations with different missions, and working a little bit in the arts and the humanities, on the side. Above all, professionally, working in the innovation management space, intellectual property management, traveling around Europe, meeting lots of startups and companies and research centers, understanding what companies were developing, trying to get synergies being created within the organizations I was working with, and the rest. That gave me a lot of exposure, an understanding of the opportunities, the struggles of entrepreneurship, and innovation, and competition. This is some of the areas that later on became crucial for me to be able to get into the social responsibility space. Whenever I talk social responsibility or social impact, I’m thinking of a positive change. I’m thinking that whatever effort that we’re making, is creating a difference in the area that we’re working on. It’s not enough to create something, organize an event, organize a session, and then say, we’re working with these people, or we’re working in this area. It’s like, what is the effect of that action? Everything that I have done since the beginning of CodeYourFuture is I’ve always been trying to answer that question. For me social responsibility is specifically this area. Something needs to happen as a result of our actions, of our intervention. It has to be a positive one. That’s my mantra, tangible impact.

CodeYourFuture, just to give a little bit of context and explain how we have accumulated the experience on understanding a little bit more this area of social responsibility. We offer an inclusive training, where a community of professionals are sharing their skills to other people of disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds, to help them start their careers, to start a new life mainly in the tech sector. We work with a huge range of ethnicities, of ages, of people from neurodiverse background and socioeconomic background. We work across the range. We believe that CodeYourFuture is home of the most diverse and inclusive organizations out there. Some of the key areas, the key USPs of our work. Our training is part time, is completely free. We also offer a lot of support to the participants. We will give them laptops, if they cannot afford them. We will cover their childcare, if they cannot pay for it. We will give them internet access, if it’s not good enough, or they don’t have any of this. For us it’s about lowering the barriers, as much as possible, to be able to give the tools, the resources, the training that people need to change their lives. We cover a lot of employment paths nowadays. We do software, web development, cloud engineering, QA testing, product management. It’s all about finding the right path for people.

All this experience makes sense only when we look at the cases that we have supported, like the case of Nawal. She is a refugee, came as a single mum to the UK, had never written a line of code, never been into programming, but really had the desire for change, for a new opportunity, for a career, for a new beginning. She came to the organization and started learning programming. Then, after she graduated, it’s a nearly 12-month training, she did an extra module around cloud engineering, and that was her dream area, her dream career. It clicked. It made her feel super excited. Then from there, she got a job as a cloud engineer for a tech consultancy. The second person is Mona. Mona is a case that I have mentioned a few times because it’s very inspiring. She’s also a mum. She was working. When she came to CodeYourFuture, she was working in laundry. She was ironing hundreds of shirts every day. One day she looked at her child and she thinks, “I want to give them an inspiration to be better in life, to achieve something.” I want to become a role model for my child. She joined the program, went through it. Also had never written, had no experience in programming, had a little bit of experience in graphic design. Struggled, but kept going on, kept working through, kept making progress, and never giving up. Got a lot of mentorship support from professionals. After she graduated, then she got a role as a frontend developer, using a lot of her design experience. These are the examples that for us are the guiding light of the work we do. Some of the areas that we work with, lots of ethnic minorities, the majority living below the poverty line, nearly gender equality. Most of them are not young people. They’re already mature people moving into this new field.

I give all this context to understand our experience. As part of the role we do, we have talked to lots of tech companies because our end goal is for them to get employed. Employment is the aspect that really helps in the area we work with, is the change driver. We have talked to lots of people in tech industry working across lots of different roles, head of CSR, CSI, diversity and inclusion, equity, innovation, engineering, and tech lead, and tech manager, and senior managers, and talent acquisition, and HR managers, and VPs, SVPs, all the C level. We have talked to lots of them and built a picture about what it is that people are looking for, what it is that they are interested in doing. Obviously, probably self-selection, our observation is that people want to make a difference. Obviously, they come to us with some ideas, and with some incentives, some interest in making a difference. You might be one of them. You may have some interest, some desire, and then that’s great. If you don’t, you’re more than welcome to obviously listen and see what it is, but you might get bored, because this is the clear focus for it. People do want to make a difference, but there’s always lots of reasons. Companies don’t know exactly what to do, or they don’t have a project set up for it, or a budget, or they don’t have time or resources assigned to it. There are lots of reasons that are given for that. Sometimes they talk about the company size. We’re too small, therefore, we don’t have enough resources, enough people. Or if they’re larger, and doing really well, they’re saying, we’re too fast-paced, so it’s hard, for example, to onboard junior talent. Or, we’re a little bit scared because we don’t have enough seniors. Or, when it comes to diverse hiring, it is like, we don’t have enough mentors, or we need to assign something, so we don’t have a budget. Reasons like these are given to us, but at the same time, it’s like the interest for some change. Over time, we have helped companies create some impact and create some change. These are the things that we’re going to explore.

Overall, for a lot of the conversations is, we can see that there is a subtext, at least from our point of view, maybe bias, but that’s what we believe in, is that we might be saying, people might be saying, our industry, or our product, or our company, or teams, or the skills are not fit for social impact. This is an interesting point to stop for a second and think, because for-profit organizations, a lot of talent, a lot of knowledge, but at the same time, if those companies are not clearly understanding how to work around social impact, it’s very difficult. The question is like, do they have to do it? Do you have to work on social impact? For those that want, lots of people might say, we don’t know how to be socially responsible, how to create social impact. When it comes to that point, we can think, ok, if a person working in the for-profit company sector, tech sector say, we really want to make a difference, we don’t know how. One of the solutions could be, let’s just quit our jobs, or let’s quit the products that we’re working on, and let’s work on social impact. I can already tell you, if you really want to do this, get ready for a pay cut. Is this really the solution? Then when you explore, what would be the challenge of working in the social sector. We’ll be talking about, we have to create a great product. We have to find ways to market it. We have to find channels to bring clients and to generate revenue, and to measure that product, and then we need to improve it. Does that sound familiar? Yes, of course it does.

This is a social entrepreneurship for an AI that built these beautiful pictures on social entrepreneurship, which, if we forget about the faces, it looks like our people working, getting together trying to make a difference, trying to develop something. It’s not that different. The reality is, that’s not your job. You’re working to develop a product, to have a series of clients or a series of services. You are working in a competitive market. You’re trying to generate revenue. You’re trying to constantly improve and gather feedback, and fight a tough financial climate. All of these are happening all at the same time, while you’re having in the background that thought around social impact. If we stop here for a second, and then we think, let’s listen from the people that we’re trying to support in the social responsibility area, at least the ones that we work with, of disadvantaged, low-income background. They will tell you that what they’re looking for is health, and safety, and housing, looking for jobs, for new friends. They’re looking to build a career, to work for a cool company. The differences are not that different.

Part II: What’s My Role?

If that’s the case, then, are there ways where we can find some alignment between one work and the other? In this part two, we’re going to cover what could be your potential role in here. To me, one of the most important things to aim for is to do what you love, whatever that is. If you are very happy and excited working in engineering, working in management, or leadership, or in product development, product innovation, keep doing that. Keep doing it. What we’re going to explore here is like, could that be a little bit better, so that it starts driving some other type of change, creating a byproduct in a way. Your product, and your company per se, the goal of that will not change the world. The thing that you can explore is how you’re building that product, how you’re building that service, that’s the area that really can make a difference. We’re going to explore then a few areas. We’re going to explore our business needs, humans, assets, and product and services within your organization, and understand what within those could make a difference. Let’s explain what these four areas actually mean.

Number one, business needs. Business needs means anything that relates to things like marketing, or promotion, PR. It’s all about bringing clients or bringing partners. It’s about generating revenue. It’s about hiring the people that you need to be able to do, to keep developing your product. It’s about those skills that you want to put together. All of those are business needs. Every single company has to have those ones in terms of like, the setting to create something, and then the other one is to keep that company alive and to keep it growing. The second, let’s just call it humans. What is humans? It’s a lot around the people that you’re working with. There we explore things like, how is the diversity within that, the gender, the ethnicity, the backgrounds, the experience that people bring, the culture within those individuals that are working together? That whole area is another one specifically to explore. Third one is the assets of your organization, the hardware, the software, the servers, the space. All of those are things that you need that you’re buying, that you are renting, that you’re leasing, that you’re utilizing one way or the other. That’s another area to explore. The final one is, the products and the services, the whole reason of why your company exists. Within that, you can then start looking a little bit more closely into the pricing, the tiers, the user types that you have, and the purpose of that product.

Part III: Action Plan

With all of this in mind, which is just the setting, we’re going to work on an action plan. We’re going to look into how working with what you do can make a difference still in social responsibility. Most important thing then is that, to understand, yes, you can make an impact. The thing to understand is that from our point of view, from our experience is not how most people think it is, is not through a direct path, necessarily. The most important thing that we believe needs to happen for a company to really bring social impact is to find business alignment between the purpose of the company and the purpose around the social impact that wants to be created. I will present what I call as CSIF, Corporate Social Impact Framework, something that I just invented, to give a little bit better idea around how we can create an action plan within your organization. First, we’re going to say, you have to define a purpose. Then you’re going to have to make a list of these four areas that I mentioned, the needs, the human aspect, the assets, and the services. Then we’re going to invite the employee.

The first one, the purpose. It’s very important, the company knows, decides what it is that you want to do. There are 17 United Nations development goals. I have clustered them in very high-level areas, because if organizations can identify at least one of them in which they really want to work on, then from there, they can do further work. First is poverty. That covers the area of hunger, the water, and sanitation. Second, health and well-being. Third, inequality, including gender and ethnicity. Fourth, education, decent work, and infrastructure. Clean energy, climate action, and sustainability. This area covers a number of ones, including the work that is being done on the land, on the sea. It all goes around this space of climate action and sustainability. Finally, is that peace and justice. These, to me, are the seven areas to explore and define, in which one there is the largest resonance, the largest interest that drives the organization. Might be related to the product that you’re working on. Might be related to the backgrounds of the people or the employees, or whatever reason that is, there has to be a defined purpose. It doesn’t have to be one area. It could be three. For example, us in CodeYourFuture, we work in three of those. We work in inequality, in education, and decent work. Those are our three areas. Obviously, companies, if their coverage is one of them, that’s enough. They want to do more? Sure. Try to keep focus and emphasis to make sure that you’re making a difference.

The second one is then, explore the opportunities around the business needs, the humans, the asset, and services for the purpose of that business alignment. For example, in business needs, what opportunities there are around marketing your product and your service, through the social impact, so that, for example, if you’re supporting a specific cause, you’re really aligned to them. You’re really interested. You talk about that. You’re marketing your product indirectly. You don’t talk about your product, you don’t talk about your service, you talk about that social impact. You create awareness. You invite people to participate. Within that it is like using your branding, your logo for it. Instead of doing a direct marketing, sort of an indirect. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. Because if you’re aligning that marketing need with that impact, you’re making a difference. That can also then help you then bring new clients by creating a discussion in society, in the countries that you’re targeting, to make clients feel why they should be working with you. Another really important one is for the recruitment and for the talent retention, is when companies are working in these areas where people feel much more fulfilled, they feel much more connected. It is the difference that might make them work for one company versus the other. Then finally is the opportunities of diversity, diversity hiring in terms of abilities, in terms of cultural language, and life experiences.

The second area is humans. It’s all about diversifying the team that you have built, that you work with, that you’re a part of. It’s about creating a company culture that is open, that is adaptable, so when you create a challenge of, we want to bring more diversity, different shapes, different backgrounds to that team, your culture changes. It’s affected. You may use these as a driver to move that culture in the direction that you want. Then some really important aspects around that is that lots of companies are not defining clearly the entry requirements to the organization. In many cases saying, yes, years of experience, but they’re not defining, instead of that, saying what skills, what abilities, what level of those abilities we’re really interested in working with? Finally, we have heard a lot around the mentorship part. It’s about realizing that if an entry requirement for you is that, this person needs to be mentored, this person needs to be supported in this area. A lot of that can be outsourced. Don’t think that companies have to do all of these areas.

The third one is assets. On assets, we’re talking about things like, what kind of energy you’re consuming. Is it clean? Could it be cleaner? What type of servers? What are the green credentials? The office space, how much energy it’s utilizing. How much is using sustainable materials? What kind of equipment you are acquiring. Could it be more sustainable? Could it be more coming from recycled sources? Could it be from secondhand sources? Are you ensuring that the waste disposing is done the right way, or is having a second life for the product that you’re not using anymore. There’s a lot of exploration there, a lot in the sustainability side of things.

Then, finally, is the product and the service in itself. You’d be surprised how few companies are thinking on how the products that they’re marketing, that they’re selling, could create in itself an impact in society. You could offer a discount or a free tier for organizations that work on the social impact space. Of course, then you can go back to your business needs, and then use those discounts and your free tiers to market it. Or you could then say, yes, but we don’t have any budget for any of these. Earmark it. Grab a small percentage of your profit, and as you align those opportunities, you ensure that that percentage is used on social impact activities, but you know that you’re going to have not only a social return, but also you’re going to have a return on what the company needs to grow and to sustain and to be sustainable. Within that, I think one of the areas that definitely there’s a lot of opportunities is to think less on traditional marketing and more on how you can create a message, where you are linking your own product and your own services to start a message around social impact. These are some of the four areas that we believe companies can be exploring and can be utilizing, to align the businesses and to keep doing your work, what you’re good at, what you’re expert at, while at the same time can make a difference.

It takes a village, is my third mantra, which means you cannot do anything alone, even if you’re the CEO of a company. You need to bring people along if you really want to bring change, if you want to change the culture, if you want to ensure that the values are going in the direction that you want. That includes the discussion in this area. That’s the third point of the framework. Invite employees to the journey. Ask for their opinion, create groups of discussion, and be open with them. Discuss the budgets and the initiatives, and what are the things that you want to work on. Obviously, the leadership team has to be aligned, if you want to make this company-wide. If it’s team-wide, the leaders of that team have to agree on the previous points of the purpose and the opportunities. The more you can discuss it openly, and listen to different voices, the more they will be coming, and it will make it a success. Not everyone has to be participating, that’s ok. Those that want, they should be given a voice. This creates a great sense of belonging and fulfillment, which will have an impact. It’s harder to measure but it’s not impossible to measure the impact that it may have in talent retention, in talent acquisition, in market differentiation. Those are things that you really want to have clear, and explore to see how much you can grow in those areas. This is one of our internal meetings with the community, here there are volunteers, professionals, graduates, and part of the CodeYourFuture team that works on fulfilling our mission.

Corporate Social Impact Framework (Identify Partners to Help You)

The last part of the framework is about creating SMART goals for a pilot, then define partners, and define a budget. My goals are very obvious, but they are done less frequently than you would imagine. This is not different to any work. You want to define specifically what success means for something like this. You need to set achievable goals that are measurable, and track those. If it doesn’t happen, you won’t. I will dig a little bit deeper on the partners’ part, because the same way you are likely to be working on a product or on a service that is helping other companies or other people to make their lives easier or better, to bring some differentiation in whatever work they do. It is the same thing with this area. If you try to do everything, it won’t be optimized. You have to focus on your work, on your product. You have to identify partners out there that are going to be there to help you. It’s really important that you redefine your requirements. This connects to the area of humans in your opportunities within the organization. You really want to just tell them exactly what you’re looking for. If it’s something around skills and mentorship, put those down in measurable parts, not simply about experience. Most things can be outsourced. Yes, there are challenges between what things can be discussed within the organization or outside the organization. For example, we’re working with a Silicon Valley company that told us, you need to offer them mentorship. We work with those. We work with experts that have been working in this area specifically to guide people that have joined a specific company, to be able to guide and maneuver through a specific field. Organizations can do this, but they have to be communicated. You have to really sit down with the team that wants to work in that specific area. That applies to anything. If you’re talking about climate action, it is like, what are the requirements for change? What are the things where you want to make a difference? If you want to bring certain types of equipment, certain conditions, of certain quality, all of that can be achieved. Yes, it may take some time to find the right partner, but there is a big market out there. Just work on those. Spend the time identifying and working through them, but be clear.

Part IV: Annex

In the corporate social responsibility space, business alignment from our experience is everything. For real tangible change, sustainable change, where you as a company feel that you can make it work for a long time. Long lasting, continuous intervention really makes a difference. You will change your company. You could change your culture, your purpose, the way that you see yourselves. It’s really important that, one, don’t think that you should do it alone. I’m talking about internally and externally. You have to find your right partners. First inside, like who are the people that want to help move this along. Then, outside, you want to find also the people that are going to help you achieve a certain goal that you’re going to define in a pilot. You really want to think about the purpose. What are the areas that you want to explore? Lots of organizations will be jumping from one area to the other, and it will feel like, we have to do something. If you bring this constancy to your purpose, and you work year after year on a specific area, and the whole organization is connected into that, together, it will make a difference. Then, finally, think on SMART goals. Make sure that you work on a pilot to start with, and you define it, and you communicate it, and you work through it, and you measure it, and you constantly get feedback around it. From there, you can grow it. Think like a business. Think on what you’re doing, and within that, the difference that is going to make. Do we all have to save the world? No, we don’t. You can keep working and doing what you’re doing. Can we make a difference through our work? Yes, we can. If we decide to, if we want to, then we can do it. It is not easy. If you work every single day, 1% of change, it will accumulate, it will compound, and over a year it will make a big difference. Those are the things and these are the areas that I want to share with.

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