What’s Trending—Using Your Business as a Force for Good

This blog post is co-bylined by Sheila Herrling, SVP, Social Innovation at the Case Foundation and Hardik Savalia, Senior Associate, Standards, at B Lab—a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

It’s undeniable; entrepreneurship is experiencing a culture shift. Everyday we hear more stories about the power of business to be a force for good. It’s no longer enough for an enterprise to earn a good profit. There’s a growing expectation that it will contribute to society and to a sustainable future. In his State of the Union Address, even President Obama articulated the need for businesses to get serious about improving their social and environmental impact. He stressed how businesses can do right by their workers, customers and communities, in addition to generating great profits.

Heeding the Call–Corporations committed to positive impact

Urgent social needs—access to energy, education, healthcare, clean water—don’t show signs of decline, making it clear that philanthropic and government resources alone won’t be sufficient to address them all. Communities around the world will need committed entrepreneurs and investors to help drive the next wave of great social change and environmental conservation.

Luckily, more than 1,600 companies including Patagonia and Warby Parker have taken the lead in this growing movement, by completing an extensive certification process to become B Corps. Yet, we believe that if we’re going to make real progress on social and environmental issues, we have to empower all companies, no matter the industry, location or size, with the tools to benchmark, measure and compare their positive impact on workers, communities and the environment. After all, how can any business start to improve their impact, without first knowing where they stand?

Through our partnership, we at B Lab and the Case Foundation have created the B Impact Assessment to do just this, and it’s already being used by more than 40,000 businesses in 80 countries. We’ve also recently released an enhanced, more user-friendly version of the Assessment to make it easier for any team member—ranging from CEO, to intern, to manager—to start this exercise confidentially for their business.

Ready to see it for yourself? Check out the new assessment!

B Impact Assessment SH

The Assessment takes users on a step-by-step journey through a variety of best practices that have already been adopted by leading companies. For example, what percent of the company’s workers receive a living wage? The tool provides examples from companies like Ben & Jerry’s on how they’ve successfully implemented a living wage program for all of their employees.

We believe there’s no single way to build a better business and the initial baseline assessment is the first step on a pathway to improvement. After completing the first, quick assessment, which on average takes about 30 minutes, we encourage companies to come back and use the built-in tools to set goals, create an action plan and start implementing those best practices to realize better social outcomes.

B Impact Report

Join the Movement–Use your business to drive social change.

The B Corps community and the Case Foundation, together are proud that more than 1,600 companies have fully committed to do their part as certified B Crops—redefining success for business—and that another 40,000 companies have shown an interest in doing better. We’re excited to invite all businesses to join this movement, and measure your ability to build stronger communities, create environmentally sustainable operations or cultivate empowering employment opportunities. We invite you to use business as a force for good.

Join our upcoming webinar, Increasing Your Impact & Improving Your Score on the B Impact Assessment, to learn more about how business can measure and improve their impact.

Impact Investors and Social Entrepreneurs Speak

Over the past two years, the Case Foundation has focused a large part of our efforts to move impact investing from niche to mainstream, build awareness of the investors and entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of the capital markets to provide financial and social returns, motivate investors and family offices to explore impact investing as part of their portfolios.

This February, the Case Foundation and Arabella Advisors hosted a gathering for more than 100 journalists and communicators to discuss impact investing and social enterprise at the Impact Hub in New York City. We were joined by Jean Case of the Case Foundation, Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker, Matthew Bishop of Economist, Amy Bell of JP Morgan, Justin Rockefeller of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Clara Miller of the F.B. Heron Foundation, Ommeed Sathe of Prudential, David Bank of ImpactAlpha, Catherine Clifford of Entrepreneur Magazine, Shazi Visram of Happy Family, Andrew Kassoy of B Lab, and Tim Newell of SolarCity.

As support for the impact investing sector increases, the Case Foundation has committed to telling the stories of successful social enterprises, impact investors, and funds. Watch this new video from speakers as they weigh in on how impact investing is going mainstream.


Spotlight on Social Enterprises: Warby Parker

As part of our weekly series on social entrepreneurship with Entrepreneur.com, in partnership with ImpactAlpha, this week’s spotlight is on Warby Parker. The maker of affordable prescription eye glasses, Warby Parker is driven by a social mission and is one of the most well recognized, respected and successful social impact companies currently in operation. If you don’t own a pair yourself, you almost certainly know someone who does.

In addition to shaking up the market for glasses by providing quality frames that consumers can choose online and try on from the comfort of their own homes, Warby Parker has committed to providing prescription glasses to individuals in developing countries—where, according to co-founder, Neil Blumenthal, as many as 90 percent of the world’s visually impaired currently reside. To date, Warby Parker has provided more than 1 million pairs of glasses to those in need through a nonprofit partnership with VisionSpring that simultaneously promotes local business development.

As a certified B Corps, this company is competing to be more than just the best in the world, but the best for the world. Learn more about Warby Parker’s efforts to change the world one pair of glasses as a time.

As someone who proudly sports a pair of Warby Parkers, (the Marshall) I’m excited to invite you to get the full story at Entrepreneur.com.

Impact Investing as a Tool for Social Change

Over the past two years, we have focused a large part of our efforts to move impact investing from niche to mainstream on building awareness of the investors and entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of the capital markets to provide financial and social returns. Last year, we published the Short Guide to Impact Investing, and we partnered with Entrepreneur.com to bring “Profiles of Impact” to their readers. But we realized that one of the most powerful things we could do to build awareness was to go to the most influential storytellers – the journalists we rely on to bring us the news and highlight the most important developments in our world today.

That’s why last week, at the Impact Hub NYC, the Case Foundation and Arabella Advisors co-hosted a gathering for more than 100 journalists and communicators to discuss impact investing and social enterprise. The group heard from leading social entrepreneurs and investors about the opportunities and challenges in this growing field.

There are many definitions applied to the terms “social enterprise” or “impact company,” which are often used interchangeably. However, our CEO, Jean Case, offered one broad definition at the outset of the day. She defined a social enterprise as a company that has the intent to produce a social good, that commits to measure progress toward its goals, and that practices transparency in sharing its findings.

Here are few themes that ran through the day’s conversations. And, for more context, be sure to take a look at the Storify that we created with tweets from the day.

Optimism that Business Can (and Should!) Be a Force for Good

Neil Blumenthal, whose company Warby Parker provides affordable, stylish prescription eyewear and incorporates a Buy One, Give One model, set the stage at the beginning of the day when he said, “I hope we don’t live in a world where I have to justify every good deed by a profit motive.” Neil’s sentiments echoed those made by a number of CEOs recently, including Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Tim Cook of Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who have all told shareholders who questioned their actions related to sustainability and responsible business that they should get out of their stock.

Jean agreed with Neil, and noted that for too long in America, business leaders had only one goal – to provide financial returns to their shareholders. ImpactAlpha’s David Bank echoed her comments later in the day when he said, “there’s a god we’re all supposed to worship named ‘Risk Adjusted Market Rate Return.’” “But,” Jean said, “that sentiment is changing,” and investors are starting to look at the concept of return more broadly.

Clara Miller, who led the F.B. Heron Foundation’s charge to direct all assets (including its endowment) to social good, supported this feeling when she said, “It can’t just be that one side shovels out problems as fast as it can, and the other side is the cleanup crew.” However, no one at the event suggested that business should replace philanthropy, nonprofits or government. Instead, as Justin Rockefeller, a Trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and a founder of the ImPact said, “it is one of many tools in our toolbox to tackle social challenges.”

Financial and Social Returns are Possible

Over the course of the day, we heard regularly from investors and entrepreneurs that it is possible to make positive financial returns from investments in social enterprises. Andrew Kassoy, Co-Founder of B Lab, thinks that we’re seeing a real shift in the potential for impact businesses to grow. He said “we live in a time where you do well because you’re doing good.”

Shazi Visram, the Co-Founder and CEO of organic baby food brand Happy Family, which sold to Danone in 2013, says that hers is a great story for two reasons: “because the company changed the baby food market for the better and at the same time made investors a lot of money.”

The investors were also bullish on the sector. Amy Bell, Executive Director of Social Finance at JPMorgan, said that she’s found impact investing to be good for business. She said that JPMorgan’s “Aha!” moment came when clients kept asking for impact investing advice and products that provided market rates of return. This enabled her to scale the practice to meet client needs. Ommeed Sathe, who in his role of Vice President for Impact Investments at Prudential is leading the creation of a $1B impact portfolio, said that socially responsible investments are crucial to creating a diverse portfolio that delivers long-term value for shareholders.

The returns aren’t limited to investors. Tim Newell, Vice President of Financial Products at SolarCity, provided some important context of the potential of clean energy to benefit the U.S. economy. In 2014, he said, one in every 78 jobs added in the United States was related to solar. He also predicted that in 2015, the solar industry would add eight times as many jobs as the oil, gas and coal industries combined. His bullish forecast shows that there’s real potential for the industry not only to contribute to a cleaner planet, but also to create jobs and growth in the United States.

So, it’s not only “cool to care,” as Neil Blumenthal said. Responsible investing can also make investors money and contribute to healthier, wealthier communities.

The Story’s Not Finished Yet—and It’s Ours to Write

Catherine Clifford, who is a Senior Writer at Entreprenuer.com, asked each of the social entrepreneurs on her panel how they tell the story about their organizations and about why this growing sector matters. The panelists stressed that that many stories needed to be told—the story of impact and disruption, the story of profits, the story of fearless investors, and the story of changing business for better across the United States and the world.

Matt Bishop, the Globalisation Editor at The Economist—whose 2008 book, Philanthrocapitalism, was ahead of its time in calling for private sector solutions for social problems—summarized why impact investing and social enterprise are so interesting. He said, “this is a fantastic story, but we don’t know the ending yet.”

We hope to continue the conversation about social enterprise and impact investing to create the story together, and we hope that you will join us. Please follow @CaseFoundation on twitter for updates and upcoming events.