by Kate Vandeveld

We talk a lot about businesses and organizations that are focused on doing well by doing good. These are social enterprises that have built their business models around social impact: doing good is part of their brand DNA.

Equally as important are the existing companies that may not have set out originally to contribute to social good, but have implemented programs and initiatives aimed at doing good as they’ve developed. Though social impact was not built into their business models, the work that some of these large-scale companies are doing is incredibly impactful as a result of their scale and global influence.

The Unusual Suspects: 5 Big Companies That Are Doing Good -- via WhyWhisper

What’s more, employees are an important part of the equation.  In a 2014 report, 55% of millennials surveyed said that a company’s involvement in cause-based work influences their decision to accept a job. So integrating social impact into a corporation’s strategy isn’t just good for the world, it’s actually becoming necessary for attracting and retaining talent.

Here are five of the many large corporations that are focusing on social impact, as well as how they’re doing it:

American Express

When you think of American Express, one of the world’s largest credit card companies, social impact may not be top of mind. But the company has actually developed a number of socially conscious programs in recent years. Their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs include a Leadership Academy, a historic preservation initiative, and incentivized community service.

In 2010, American Express even launched Small Business Saturday, which falls the day after Black Friday, a day that is well known for catering to large corporations. In contrast to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday supports small, local businesses by helping them spread the word about their own products and services, and encouraging consumers to shop there instead of going big. And shopping small business is important: small businesses are better for the economy, human rights, and the environment. As a whole, American Express’s efforts to have a positive impact both internally and on a global level have been huge.

Cisco

Cisco is a multinational technology company that designs, manufactures, and sells various types of networking equipment. Though its offering is not built around impact, its focus on social responsibility is one of its core values. As it states on its website, at Cisco, "any success that is not achieved ethically is no success at all."

Cisco’s CSR programs are numerous. The company leverages its tech focus to make an impact across the following areas: access to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, critical human needs and disaster relief, environmental sustainability, governance and ethics, and supply chain standards. Its Global Impact Map shows at-a-glance the incredible work that it’s doing globally, and its 2014 CSR Report details the impact that these programs are having. Cisco also has a strong focus on work-life balance internally, and works hard to foster a strong culture of empowerment, engagement and innovation among its employees.  As with American Express, Cisco has used its tech assets and scale to do immeasurable good, though social impact was not a goal of the company at its outset.

Patagonia

Patagonia, a high-end outdoor apparel company, has been making headlines for its social impact efforts over the past several years, specifically around sustainability. Patagonia has worked to increase transparency around its supply chain, giving consumers a glimpse into the environmental and social impact of developing and distributing its clothing through The Footprint Chronicles.  It’s made remarkable efforts to ensure that everything that goes into their products is traceable and responsibly sourced, as well as fair trade certified. Patagonia also gives 1% of sales to environmental organizations all over the world.

Beyond its efforts around sustainability, Patagonia has developed CSR initiatives to increase employee happiness and promote fair labor practices. As the company’s CEO Rose Marcario recently stated at the White House-hosted Working Families: Champions of Change event, Patagonia has seen a notable increase in employee retention as a result of its efforts to offer fair benefits and showing employees that the company cares about them. We’ve discussed the importance of fairness and compassion in business, and its results are made very apparent in this case.

Gap Inc.

Gap Inc. is a large-scale clothing retailer, with over 3,000 stores employing over 150,000 people globally. But producing and distributing clothing isn’t all the Gap is about. In fact, the company’s “Do More” programs are centered around its focus on positive social impact, including providing equal pay for employees of all genders, a focus on sustainability, and a commitment to maintaining safe and fair labor conditions in their 800+ global factories.

Gap Inc. also launched its P.A.C.E. program in 2007 to provide work and life advancement opportunities to the women who make their clothes. Using company resources and leveraging partnerships with local community organizations, the P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement Career Enhancement) Program provides skills, education and technical training to the women who make up 70% of the company’s team of garment makers. To date, more than 30,000 women have participated in the program.

Microsoft

As most of us know, Microsoft is a multinational technology company that primarily develops and distributes computers and computer software. We may not be as familiar with the company’s noteworthy commitment to social responsibility. The company’s social impact efforts are both internally and externally-focused, ranging from developing a diverse, inclusive, and respectful work environment for employees to consistently working towards more sustainable operations.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Microsoft’s social responsibility efforts is its expansion beyond Microsoft itself. Earlier this year, Microsoft issued a new mandate to its contractors: If they want to work with the leading tech provider, they’ll have to offer their own employees paid time off. This concept is somewhat revolutionary, and one that only a company with as much clout and power as Microsoft would be able to pull off without losing an egregious amount business. Right now, only 12% of private sector employees are given paid sick days, which is problematic in a myriad of ways. Efforts like this will go a long way to change that in the absence of federal policy change.


These are just a few of the increasing number of powerful large corporations that are working to build out their CSR efforts and have a positive impact on their employees and our world. Do you know of others? Tell us about them! We want to talk about them. Here’s how you can do it:

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