So, what does a company’s social impact portfolio of strategic efforts look like in the future?  Many have had programs for decades which respond to social and environmental concerns and natural disasters, but what about a world after a global public health pandemic?  What happens when millions and millions of people around the globe lose their jobs and need to find a path back into the workforce, become food insecure for the first time in their lives, experience devastating levels of social isolation and loneliness, or need to guide their small businesses to stay open and support their families? Companies must reassess, rethink, and re-prioritize how they create intentional approaches to address these and other issues in new ways.

As we begin to develop corporate social impact strategies for the post COVID-19 world many of the questions remain familiar, although how we think about them has changed.  Where can a company make a meaningful impact over the long-term in local communities? How can employees apply what they do best to improve lives? Within what chosen cause areas can executives play a leadership role to create positive change?

Although the end-game is not clear, now is the time to begin strategy refinement. Here are some key areas social impact professionals will likely consider as we continue to experience uncertainty, significant challenge, and rebuilding.

What’s next:  Public health will weave into social impact strategy.

In CSR, we often talk about three pillars – Employees, Environment, Community – as a way to summarize the areas of practice which naturally interconnect.  It’s time to ask, where does preparedness, response, and recovery around public and community health fit?  Will it be just an add-on emergency playbook to dust off the shelf during the next crisis?  I don’t think so. I believe consideration for public health will become embedded within each of the pillars and how a company defines its strategies, invests in practices and policies, and measures results.  How your company takes care of its employees, makes savvy decisions around climate change, and chooses to engage in community efforts will be one of our next leadership frontiers for social impact work.

What’s next:  Current signature cause programs will be adjusted.

Most companies have a social issue focus area and signature program demonstrating its social impact commitment.  As we look ahead, it is critical to better understand the shifts in needs within social issues – from education to healthcare to housing – in a post COVID-19 world.  It’s time to evaluate how your current efforts align with what’s most important to people and communities right now, and where you need to make adjustments to drive to stronger impact. Start by connecting with your nonprofit partners and other trusted issue experts to learn about the new realities faced by your beneficiaries and communities.  Ask yourself what should be done differently – How might your programs create virtual models?  How can your employees problem-solve and volunteer their skills in new ways?   It is time to ask new questions and be nimble in adjusting core signature initiatives.  It is not just about having resources put aside, it is about mapping how your company will take care of its employees, be ready to rally behind response and recovery and, most importantly, apply unique skills and expertise where it can make a difference.

What’s next: Renewed focus on values, purpose and corporate culture.

Work norms, values, and corporate cultures are being put to the test.  Today, many leaders have an opportunity and need to reshape and strengthen the glue that connects their people and fosters engagement. Now is the time to begin to refine, articulate and rally employees around your company’s core purpose. How does your work create value for others?  Ultimately, it’s about answering and living why you and your team come to work every day.

What’s next: Deeper empowerment of employees.

The strength of any company is its workforce.  There are few companies that haven’t had to make tough talent decisions while navigating COVID-19.  Putting people first will be a true test of a company’s soul especially through survival mode and while charting new plans for the business.  It’s crucial to invest in employees, at all levels, within the company, especially in those on the front-lines or in hidden roles getting the job done. Consider how your company can propel employees forward so they can be resilient, nimble, and successful in these new times. It will be more important than ever for leaders to be transparent around company strategy and decision-making, fund good benefits and programs, and create opportunities for all employees to be a part of social impact efforts.

Our human journey is being tested and challenged every day. How we as business leaders respond with empathy, tenacity, and smart business and social impact decision-making will determine which brands will survive and thrive.  Stay tuned for more thoughts on what’s next.

Onward with positivity and action!

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