Consulting for Strategic Corporate Social Impact at the Mid-Market

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At the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show early January, Intel’s CEO announced in his keynote address that all of the company’s products will be conflict-free by the end of 2016.  The key reason he cited: the company’s millennial consumers demanded it.

Companies like Intel are recognizing that corporate social responsibility (CSR) must be a decision about strategy as much as it is a decision about responsibility.  Not only are consumers looking to support businesses that are authentic in creating positive social impact, but being smart about impact can also unlock additional financial, social, and environmental value.

WSII began investing in this philosophy at the corporate mid-market, a force of 30 million employees and $10 trillion that can be leveraged towards social good.

In 2014, we established the Mid-Market Consulting Corps (MMCC) in partnership with CEO Connection’s Social Impact Committee, led by alum Kenneth Beck (WG’87) and chaired by Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s.

The MMCC empowers mid-market corporations to incorporate social impact into their core business models, while giving Wharton and Penn students direct experience with the challenges and opportunities of implementing a social impact plan.  We analyze current business practices, develop recommendations, and provide a roadmap to implementing research-based strategies through the following avenues:

  1. Creating an impactful product, service, or investment—utilizing a company’s core competencies (technology, design, food, financial services, investing, etc.) to address a specific social need;
  1. Refining supply chain and operations—responding to consumers demanding greater transparency and ownership over what people, businesses, policies, and economies they are supporting through their purchasing power;
  1. Empowering employees—making long-term investments in the company and employees through training, professional development, and/or other human resource policies;
  1. Creating innovative partnerships—reaching across unlikely industries and sectors to leveraging what they do best in an intentional, concerted fashion for sustainable, measurable impact; and
  1. Responding to consumer expectations—understanding consumers use their buying power to demand positive impact from the industry.

The MMCC’s pilot project was with Hanover Direct (HD), a high-end down product catalogue company and parent company of The Company Store and Scandia Home.  Led by Don Kelley (WG’97), HD sought to reimagine its brand marketing strategy in an age when consumers demand greater social consciousness from corporations and company operations have evolved to be more environmentally friendly.  Our team, consisting of four undergraduate students led by an MBA student, determined through initial analysis that HD’s existing ethical sourcing strategy was actually highly competitive, but invisible to the unsuspecting customer.  Furthermore, its catalogue needed an overhaul to meet the current style and environmental impact standards of the industry.

The MMCC ultimately delivered recommendations to make HD’s ethical sourcing practices more strategically visible to its socially conscious consumers and to create a more competitive and environmentally friendly catalogue product.  None of these recommendations were out of moral responsibility or for a cleaner conscience; the MMCC found that HD needed to take a more impact-focused approach to running their business or they would be out-competed.  As these recommendations were designed to be actionable and implementable within the company’s own capacity, HD was able to immediately execute on the recommended strategies.

A student recently shared with me that she came to Wharton torn between “running a company like a business versus helping the people around it.”  By practicing social impact at a business school, she will emerge understanding that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive options, and that you can use business strategies to create a better world.  That is why we do what we do.

stephaniekimStephanie Kim MPA’16, serves WSII as the Associate Director of Community Strategy.  She brings a background in international development, social entrepreneurship, and volunteer management to drive urban impact partnerships, research community development best practices, and test entrepreneurial community impact solutions.