Today we’re going to do something a little different. We will be covering a topic that is a slight departure from our normal content, but one that is very important to us as a company – the topic of social responsibility in business. Our own Buddy Waddington recently traveled abroad to participate in the world’s most socially-minded leadership conference and he prepared a post about his experience and how he feels this business movement will affect the marketing and startup worlds.
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Buddy with Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus
This fall I had the great honor of being selected as a Young Challenger at this year’s Global Social Business Summit. This is the leading forum for social business, worldwide, and brings together experts from corporations, civil society, governments, and academia. The day prior to the summit, selected Young Challengers – youth under 25 from around the world – meet to discuss the concept of social business. They then attend the main summit, armed with questions and perspectives aimed at challenging the political and corporate leaders in attendance, regarding their vision for the future. This year, the event was held in Vienna, Austria. And it was amazing.
One of the reasons it was so amazing was that it made me realize that things are changing for branding, marketing, and for startups. And I have spent a lot of time in the new year pondering this global change.
Social business is a growing concept, where basic for-profit business principles are used to solve social problems. You can imagine that the businesses and individuals present were not lacking in innovation or motivation. In talking with these socially-minded individuals from all over the world, I realized that things are changing for startups and branding because all attendees – entrepreneurs, government officials, corporate executives, and more – see the value and potential of making social impact and responsibility a core principle within business. And the emphasis on social purpose wasn’t to support a CSR initiative or to “shut the hippies up”, as the villain from the first Ironman movie would say, it was to fundamentally define the value of a business.
If you took ECON 101, you may recall that business SHOULD be fundamentally responsible and sustainable and based on a principle called a comparative advantage, wherein a successful business or partnership raises the value and, therefore, standard of life for all stakeholders involved. And these stakeholders include more than just the investor and the customer – additionally, the environment, all of the employees, and every community within the supply chain. When discussing business in its purest form, one should consider all of these entities when evaluating the true sustainability and overall value of a company.
In recent months, thinking about these fundamentals of business have helped reform my opinion of what business can and should be, especially in the startup space. Due to the recent recession and the post-internet bubble in which we live, startups are required to show true, fundamental value to their stakeholders. This has evolved from showing revenue potential to showing actual revenue flow and my recent experience makes me think that this trend will continue. In order to be successful, startups will require a real sustainable strategy and one that makes considerations for every stakeholder – customers, investors, employees, and the surrounding environment.
And I’m not the only one thinking about this. Edelman recently released their “2012 goodpurpose Study”, where they shed light upon this change. For 5 years, the PR giant has researched consumer attitudes around social purpose, including commitment to specific issues as well as their expectations of brands and corporations. This massive study confirms that “brands and companies today cannot just be responsive, they must be responsible.” They propose that purpose is a new paradigm – a possible fifth “P” of marketing.
Simply put, a company that is responsible will ultimately produce the best value. And consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs, alike, are starting to understand that. “Business as usual” is changing, which means so is branding, marketing, and the startup space.
Learn more about what my experience at GSBS 2012 was all about on my guest post for the Foster School of Business Blog.