Two undergraduate Social Impact Fellows recap a recent episode of Dollars and Change. This week’s show was hosted by Katherine Klein and Sandi Hunt. Guests included Greg Heller, Interim President & CEO of American Communities Trust; Andrew Winston, author of “The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer and More Open World;” Kirk Kramer, Partner at the Bridgespan Group; and Charles Coustan, Executive Director for World Bicycle Relief.
A few weeks ago we had a behind-the-scenes look at the makings of “Dollars and Change,” Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s two-hour social impact radio show on SiriusXM.
This week once again, we were able to sit in on a live recording featuring four industry experts from across the country.
Despite their varied backgrounds, we drew some interesting parallels between guests: they all advocated for businesses to integrate socially responsible practices into their operations. Once again, conversations highlighted the ability of businesses to drive social change and innovation, but focused on the role of top-down leadership support to enact these changes.
Businesses should think more towards long-term impact: Andrew Winston, author of “The Big Pivot,” asserted that companies need to “fundamentally change how they operate,” in our world that is getting increasingly “hotter, scarcer and more open.”
His premise: climate change is a controversial yet growing issue, resources are more expensive and difficult to obtain, and businesses are getting radically more transparent. It’s time to change.
But large companies often focus on short-term profits rather than looking to the long-term, Winston says. And part of long-term thinking naturally includes being environmentally conscious; by adjusting and refining operations, businesses can both save money and become more efficient.
One statement that he made, which was particularly striking to us, was that “if large corporations don’t address some of the most internationally plaguing environmental and social problems, they will not be able to persist.” Therefore, although socially responsible practices are typically thought to only help the beneficiaries, Winston argued that companies can also directly benefit.
Companies Focusing on Social Benefit: Greg Heller puts Winson’s ideas into practice at American Community Trust (ACT). ACT provides finance and business consulting to primarily non-profit companies to transform impactful ideas into feasible solutions. He stresses, however, that his company does not simply step in and act as the leadership in these companies, but rather as a partnering support system. He highlighted the importance of not hindering a company’s self-sufficiency by completely taking over their business operations.
Making a Sustainable Non-Profit Starts With the Business Model: Charles Couston, Executive Director for World Bicycle Relief (WBR), provides another example of putting Winston’s ideas into practice. WBR provides bicycles to villages in Africa to provide people with mobility by allowing them to travel four times faster than if they were walking.
Hearing about the impact that the organization has made so far was incredibly striking. After two years, they found that student school attendance rates increased by 28%, and academic performance increased by 59%. These statistics caused us to reflect on our society and how we use bikes. We associate bikes with leisure and recreation. To the recipients of WBR’s bikes, having access to a bike is life changing. Bikes improve peoples’ access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunity.
Moreover, a very interesting part of the business is its for-profit subsidiary that will eventually enable the WBR to be more and more self-sustaining and to not require external funding. This represents a novel, innovative initiative in the non-profit world for companies to become less reliant on donations and to develop their own revenue streams.
Building Successive Leaders is Critical to an Organization’s Success: Kirk Kramer
Bridgespan Group provides consulting and advisory for non-profits and philanthropies. In addition to providing strategy consulting, Kramer focuses on leadership development and organization. Therefore, he advocated for the importance of succession and leadership development within corporations. This idea is often underestimated, but he stressed that companies need to “focus on development rather than assessment.” Additionally, businesses should “be thoughtful about what [they] need in the future – things change rapidly.”
Kramer’s insights were particularly interesting to us because they are relatable to our own, daily lives. As students at a highly competitive university, we often find ourselves strictly focused on grades, exams, and how we will perform at the end of the term (the assessment). This is an example of short-term thinking. The value of mentors and forming relationships with professors (development) needs to become more of a focus as we seek to grow as leaders and individuals.
Kramer uses this premise in the context of businesses. He urges individuals who hope to advance in their careers to consider their skills and capabilities and to reflect on how they “want to develop,” then to approach the businesses’ leaders for suggestions on how they achieve their goals. Kramer adds, “Force your own development. If [the leaders] aren’t responsive, you should wonder if you’re in the wrong place.” By the same token, Kramer argues that CEOs and principals should be held accountable to think towards the long term and to develop the next generation of leaders.
Dollars and Change broadcasts live from SiriusXM channel 111 every Thursday morning from 8-10 a.m. EST, and is replayed throughout the week. Listeners and subscribers can hear our show, and the rest of Business Radio’s 40 hours of unique programming, on demand at SiriusXM.com.
For members of the Wharton network, an exclusive “Best Of” segment is now available using your Penn ID. Listen in at http://businessradio.wharton.upenn.edu/bestof.
Hera Koliatsos is a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and rising sophomore at the Wharton School, planning to major in finance and social impact and responsibility. In her spare time, she tutors for the West Philadelphia Tutoring project and enjoys playing tennis. She believes that everyone has a responsibility to harness their talents to make an impact.
Christianne Molina is a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and rising junior at Penn majoring in economics and minoring in consumer psychology. She is a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and a coxswain on the Penn women’s rowing team. She believes in the power of innovation and entrepreneurship to drive social change.