Tightrope walker

Imagine the global corporate citizenship professional walking a tightrope, trying to balance the tensions of making decisions that simultaneously generate local and global social impact.  How should they weigh the issues and set priorities as they are pressured by governments,pulled by leading NGOs, directed by business priorities and guided by diverse cultural norms.  Looking back to our session at this fall’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2015 Corporate Citizenship Conference, it is perhaps more appropriate to view these executives as navigating within a complex spider’s web.


During the three-day conference, it was a pleasure for me to join Patrick Gaston, President of the Western Union Foundation, Ellen Sandberg, Vice President of Community Investment at CH2M, Lori Harnick, General Manager for Corporate Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft, and Jim Thompson, Director of Innovation at the Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. State Department to discuss strategies to reconcile the tensions that make driving toward impact so complicated.

Here are five approaches that emerged from our discussion to successfully navigate the tightrope:

  1. Collaboration and partnership are essential for all companies to extend their reach and impact throughout the world. The challenges are too big to tackle alone and the solution-related expertise is spread across numerous stakeholders.  It is important for companies to find the “right” places for their brands and businesses to shine, while prioritizing the opportunity to work together.
  1. Leadership is required at all levels to drive toward results internally and externally. Companies can and should leverage the power of their brands and reputation to convene players and get stakeholders to pay attention.  At the same time, corporate citizenship executives must often lead without authority, inspiring and empowering others to take action.
  1. Resource allocation creates ongoing tensions within every organization. Since resources are finite, companies must utilize all of the human, product, marketing and leadership assets at their disposal at both the headquarters and regional levels and leverage common objectives to find internal efficiencies to get the job done.
  1. Continuous change is the one guaranteed constant when addressing complex societal issues. Thus, corporate citizenship professionals must have a clear vision for what they want to accomplish globally and locally, have a compelling theory of change and an action roadmap.  However, it is essential to not be too rigid in partnerships or commitments and always allow for extreme flexibility throughout the journey.
  1. Leverage is a resilient strategy to expand your reach and impact. Gravitate toward solutions and organizations that have the ability to grow to scale.  Look for those ventures that apply enterprise business models, earned revenue approaches and offer innovations that can be easily replicated by others. And, craft ways to nurture and inspire the great ideas of others outside of your company.


For more strategies on connecting-the-dots to drive toward increased societal impact, read How to Use Toy Blocks to Tackle Social Challenges summarizing advice from leading practitioners from Deloitte, Abbott and Intel.

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