How businesses can shift from social responsibility to social change
From an article in Stanford Social Innovation Review
The book, Change for Good, shows how companies must move beyond “corporate social responsibility” and demonstrates how they can help solve social problems that have been defined as UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One of the core principles of Change for Good is including people with lived experience of social problems in identifying promising solutions and collaborating to bring these solutions to life. This methodology can create impactful and sustainable social change in society in ways that aren’t possible when executives make decisions in their boardrooms that are intended to impact the lives of vulnerable people.
Here is an excerpt:
When businesses have serious problems, they find people who have experience in successfully solving similar problems. When it comes to helping to address important social problems, businesses make decisions about how this will be done based on having no experience with the problems they are trying to help solve.
In a chapter entitled “Nothing About Us Without Us,” the author, Paul Klein, explains why businesses need to include people with lived experience and how this should be done.
There is an imperative for corporations to contribute to social change in meaningful ways and those that do benefit considerably. But most businesses decide what social issues to support and how this will be done based solely on the perspectives of internal leaders and managers who, with few exceptions, are people who have no direct understanding of the issues being addressed. This is the case despite overwhelming evidence that solving social problems depends on understanding the problem from the perspective of people with lived experience and creating opportunities for these same people to develop and implement new ideas and approaches.
The current approach, which could be described as “everything about us without us,” is one of the reasons that business-based social change programs don’t work well enough.
Until recently, involving people with lived experience in the development of social change programs has been almost exclusively limited to civil society organizations. The ways in which this has been done include participation on advisory committees, co-design of programs, inclusion in focus groups and surveys, involvement in peer-to-peer programs, and the development of tools to help guide personal treatment or life choice decisions.
In doing research for this book, Paul couldn’t find an example of a business that has adopted the approach of involving people with lived experience.
In 2015, Paul's team was helping the Home Depot Canada Foundation to develop its social change focus of helping to end youth homelessness. During the development of this program, they learned from experts in the homelessness sector, and from people who had themselves experienced homelessness, that access to employment was key to ensuring people had stable housing. They also learned that most youth-serving organizations in Canada offered “pre-employment” training to youth and that, despite a well-documented shortage of labour for entry-level positions in large corporations, very few of these youth were able to secure employment.
This discovery led them to develop HireUp, a platform to connect youth with lived experience of homelessness to entry-level positions in corporations. It was the first time they had gone beyond solely advising clients on how to develop and improve their programs, and created their own social change enterprise. They had the good fortune of hiring a young man named Cameron, who was still experiencing homelessness at the time he joined the team. Cameron was instrumental in helping them build HireUp and help to connect youth to entry-level positions at companies including Home Depot Canada, Walmart Canada, and Scotiabank, among others. During the two years he worked, Cameron was able to secure stable housing and enrol in university.
It was the first time Paul realized that they had never involved people with lived experience in the development of social impact programs for their corporate clients. Since then they have been involving people with lived experience in grant decision making and in meeting company executives.
The formation of a Lived Experience Advisory Council is the foundation for a new approach that businesses can take to improve the impact of their investments in social change. There are a number of considerations that are necessary. The following list will help ensure these are in place and that businesses and their partners with lived experience are set up for success:
Build trust with lived experience experts. Understand each individual’s strengths and personalities, and don’t push them out of their comfort zone. Assign one corporate social responsibility manager to be the principal liaison with participants with lived experience—at and in between meetings.
Ensure adequate briefing and training before your project begins. Provide communication skills, such as media training, to help them talk to people in their communities and gather feedback, and training to understand business and other language that may be unfamiliar to them. Offer briefings prior to meetings to ensure full participation. Provide use of and access to technology. Ensure that experts with lived experience have the necessary resources to participate for the duration of the process. Be sensitive to dress and attire.
Offer necessary support to ensure participants can actually be involved in the program. Ensure meetings take place at accessible locations and provide transportation or transit/taxi fare if required. Provide adequate notice for meetings. Provide funds for childcare for parents who need it. Share documents in advance of meetings to allow experts with lived experience enough time to read them. Pre-pay expenses and provide cash or gift cards for meals. Provide compensation equivalent to what would be provided to any external consultant/advisor.
Involving experts with lived experience isn’t necessarily easy. However, the personal, business and societal benefits of doing this are always rewarding.
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From an article in Stanford Social Innovation Revi, 10/08/2022