Five Lessons From CEO’s at the Corporate Citizenship Conference
Earlier this week at the US Chamber Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Conference, CEO’s from diverse organizations gathered for a Plenary Panel titled “Lessons From the Top”. The CEOs represented a variety of industries and include the YWCA (non-profit), United Nations Foundation, and two socially-minded for-profits: Starfish Media Group and Reserveage
These are their five lessons:
Lesson #1: No CEO, or Company, Can Create Change Alone
All panelists shared a similar story of attributing their individual successes to their own eagerness to create change and the desire to use business as a way to drive progress. Dara Heron Richardson, M.D., CEO of the YWCA, said it best “I don’t lead for the sake of leading… I lead for the sake of making a difference” She explained that even if you’re leading an organization with a long history and extensive reach – like the YWCA – you are still very aware that you cannot create change alone. You need partnerships. Not just with other nonprofits, but also with foundations, for-profit enterprises, and the government.
Lesson #2: Balance Efficiency with Compassion, Align Profits with Purpose
The second lesson in this session came from Kathy Calvin, President & CEO of the United Nations Foundation. She explained that “for-profits have NOT cornered the market on efficiency and non-profits have NOT cornered the market on compassion.” The pressure on non-profits to become more efficient is driving positive changes, but she also highlighted that there should be pressure on for-profits to be more compassionate, too. Both efficiency and compassion, especially when woven together, can drive bottom line-results.
Lesson #3: Strive for Scale, Stay Focused on Impact
Former CNN anchor and now CEO of Starfish Media Group, Soledad O’Brian, highlighted the importance of working tirelessly to deliver services and support to every individual through the last mile to ensure you’re achieving success. As an example, in her company’s foundation, it is not enough to simply get people to college. Instead, it continues to support its beneficiaries through graduation to ensure that its mission is being fulfilled. However, providing personal support to all its constituents, while also trying to reach more people, is not easy. She urged everyone to push the limits to find the sweet spot between scale and support, but always error on the side of providing enough support.
Lesson #4: Avoid Silos, Especially with Partners
Lesson four came from Naomi Whittel, founder and CEO of Reserveage. Her company is a socially-minded for-profit that works hard to provide pure products to its customers, while simultaneously empowering its suppliers, like cocoa farmers in Panama. She warned that while it is easy enough for silos to form within your own company, success is ultimately a result of your up-stream and down-stream partnerships. As such, don’t only break down walls in your own company, but also across your entire value chain.
Lesson #5: Measure Impact, not Overhead
Dr. Richardson, building on her earlier point about the value of partnerships, talked about the importance of what should be measured in these relationships: “As a nonprofit, we’re asked to solve the world’s most pressing issues, yet we’re asked to do it on a shoe-string budget. Stewardship is vital, but we should be judged on our impact, not our overhead. In order to be innovative and creative, like corporations, we need resources… and that is why partnerships are so important.”
To summarize Kathy Calvin… Let’s focus on change, not charity. Lets move from hierarchical relationships to partnerships. Let’s shift from philanthropy to shared value.