With COMMIT!Forum behind us and the weekend to have marinated on everything it provided, let’s take a moment to reflect on the substance of the talks and the knowledge imparted throughout the two days of high intensity discussions around the current and future state of corporate responsibility.
With nearly 40 presentations in under 48 hours at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland, there was a lot to take in. And judging by the lack of activity in the hallways during each session, it seems that the conference organizers—and those presenting—knew their audience well.
When all was said and done, there were a handful of critical themes that seemed to bubble up to the top of the urgency scale. Let’s explore what they were.
Theme #1: CSR Needs To Be Communicated
We knew going into Commit that “Communicating CSR” would be a decidedly prominent message—seeing as the byline of the event itself was Brands Taking Stands—but the conference delivered elegantly on this reminder without belaboring the topic. A Corporate Responsibility program is a lost cause without the requisite means of communication around its mission, operations, outputs, and outcomes, in a manner tailored to be received by the dynamic array of stakeholders to which the company is beholden.
No matter how loud the message, if it’s not crafted with the appropriate sensibilities and delivered through relevant channels, it’s not only wasted resources, but could potentially introduce an unwanted (and preventable) liability.
Theme #2: The Role Of The 17 Sustainable Development Goals In The Private Sector Is Increasing
“The SDGs are a consensus on 17 opportunities for companies to make a difference.” –John Friedman
Megan DeYoung of Corporate Citizenship took the stage on Wednesday morning to discuss how Fortune 50 companies are mapping their CSR strategies to the Global Goals. Most notably, she conveyed that, of the Fortune 50, 38% have declared public support for the SDGs—significant for a framework that was only first made available 2 years ago. In their presentation on the Global Goals shortly thereafter, Ed Martin, CEO of GoodXChange, along with Jim Thompson, Director of Innovation at the Office of Global Partnerships with U.S. Department of State, discussed how the private sector can offer just the right amount of innovation that the public sector is looking for in order to partner together for the advancement of the SDGs.
With the UN reporting that achieving the Goals Goals will require $5-$7 trillion per year through 2030, heavy participation from the private sector must become an outsized imperative—particularly among Fortune companies, who due to their size, power, and influence, have the potential to effect perhaps the greatest amount of impact around the world.
Theme #3: Impact Investing Will Become The Standard For Traditional Investing
One of the most commanding moments of COMMIT came when Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital, took the stage during Wednesday's lunch hour to promote her vision of the future—a future in which Impact Investing, along with its cousins Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), Social Investing, Sustainable Investing, and all other similarly styled derivatives, will evolve past the “do good” qualifier and come to be seen for what it is: smart, strategic, and superior. In her words (and to a round of applause, mind you), "impact investing will become, simply, investing."
Karp’s hope—one shared by nearly everyone in the room—is that responsible investment will be seen for its business merits. That is, ‘doing good’ is not a soft practice, but rather the most intelligent strategy for effectuating the strongest and most sustainable outcomes.
Theme #4: Diversity And Inclusion Is Uncomfortable—We Need To Talk About It More And We Need To Do Better
Gender, orientation, physical abilities, race, ethnicity—these topics can be difficult to have conversations about, much less jumped at to be used as a foundation by which organizational strength can be increased. But by now it’s proven, through peer-reviewed research, that when a commitment to diverse and inclusive teams is made a company priority, everyone wins. Nearly everything good goes up—productivity, engagement, attraction, retention, even products, services, stock price, and market cap.
Just as well, preventable oversights are more prone to decrease, as evidenced in part by stories around the first facial recognition software only recognizing certain skin tones that have recently made headlines.
Towards the close of the second day, President and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council, Ronald C. Parker, held an honest and candid conversation with conference organizer and Corporate Responsibility Board CEO, Dave Armon, about the many nuances surrounding diversity and inclusion, why it can be so difficult to navigate at times, and what we can do to remain more aware and proactive in our individual endeavors in driving these efforts forward.
Theme #5: Corporate Responsibility Requires The Participation Of More Than Just The Corporate Responsibility Department
Lastly, one of the most consequential and imperative themes that seemed to stitch together the wide range of presentations throughout the course of the 2-day conference also happens to be the one most near and dear to our hearts at Unison—that of the unwavering assertion of Corporate Responsibility requiring the participation of more than just the Corporate Responsibility department.
Teams must work cross-functionally, in close collaboration with one another, to infuse the themes, messages, and goals of the organization’s societal commitments through each function of the company in order to truly realize the vision of a responsible enterprise.
To that end, Katherine Valvoda Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, and Dave Stangis, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company took the stage to relate key insights they came across in writing their twin Executive’s Guide to Corporate Citizenship books, respectively subtitled A Practical Guide to Delivering Value to Society and Your Business and How Your Company Can Win the Battle for Reputation and Impact.
Just an hour later, Unison CEO Mo Hamid built on Valvoda Smith and Stangis’ foundation and presented a framework by which corporations can manifest their corporate responsibility program through key stakeholders in the enterprise— making the case for the cross-collaborative organization as the most effective means of succeeding with a purpose-oriented strategy.
As conferences tend to do, COMMIT!Forum left the Unison team inspired, enriched, and committed even more intently to helping companies connect purpose to business results and infuse it throughout their organizations.
The COMMIT team undoubtedly raised the bar for future events, and we owe huge gratitude to Lynne Filderman, Executive Producer of COMMIT!Forum, and Dave Armon, CEO of Corporate Responsibility Board, for their flawless execution and ability to gather such a distinguished group of professionals both on stage and off. We're proud to have been a sponsor, and we eagerly await next year’s forum!