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4 Steps to Creating Social Impact Programs That Benefit Communities and Business

Not so long ago, there was a large disconnect between doing good and good business. While the idea of corporate social responsibility has been around since the 1960s, businesses have historically approached CSR and sustainability as a “feel good” silo or regulatory requirement — a means to improve public image reputation and mitigate risk, but not much else. It wasn't until recent years that companies discovered that social impact programs could benefit a company in more remunerative ways — increasing revenue, creating new markets, driving innovation, retaining talent, and opening the doors to new business opportunities. As such, it was rare for CEOs and CFOs to even nod their heads towards citizenship and sustainability, much less make it a priority.

A shining example of this comes from a global leader in wireless technology, Qualcomm. In 2006, the company developed a strategic social impact program called Qualcomm Wireless Reach™, which brings connectivity to underserved communities while simultaneously supporting long-term business goals. To date, Wireless Reach has benefited 12 million people and counting, with 117 programs that span across 47 countries. The growth has been massive - and it’s also been strategic: Although Wireless Reach has improved the lives of people all over the world, the program has also benefited Qualcomm by allowing the business to enter new markets, creating new markets, determining innovative new uses for their products, and establishing profitable programs sustained through funding from local governments and NGOs. The program not only demonstrates how mobile technology can have a positive impact on social and economic development, but also how doing good is good business.

Learn more about Qualcomm Wireless Reach and creating a social impact program in this upcoming webinar.

So, how can your business create a social impact program that benefits both communities and business objectives? And how can it have a massive impact? Take a page from Qualcomm’s playbook and follow these steps:

1) Identify social causes directly related to your industry.

Don’t just pick a social cause you’re personally passionate about — find one that intrinsically connects to your business. Wireless Reach did this by visiting emerging communities around the world to see how geographic, socioeconomic, educational and cultural barriers hinder prosperity. It was then able to uncover ways in which its core business offering — technology — could offer solutions to these social challenges.

If you’re stuck, a great place to start is by looking at the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations’ 15-year framework for tackling the world’s most pressing social issues, from ending poverty to protecting the planet. The UN has specifically called upon businesses to do their part in achieving the goals, starting with conducting business responsibly, and then pursuing opportunities to solve societal challenges through business innovation and collaboration. Take a look at the various targets and brainstorm ways your business could support these priorities.

2) Be clear about your objectives.

After you’ve determined the social cause your program will support, be clear about what you want to achieve in terms of social impact. Wireless Reach started by determining five key impact focuses — Education, Entrepreneurship, Public Safety, Environment and Health Care — and then developing programs that fall under each pillar. You should also identify the business goals you want to achieve, whether that’s driving innovation, forming new strategic partnerships or becoming a more sustainable enterprise. Qualcomm had the goal of bringing its products to new markets around the world, so its programs target these key regions.

By identifying your philanthropic and business goals from the start, you will have an overarching theme to guide you as you develop your program.

3) Leverage your products or services.

A successful strategic social impact program should be a showcase of your business offerings. After identifying a cause related to your industry and determining your objectives, think about how your products and services can get you there.

Wireless Reach is effectively a showcase of Qualcomm’s advanced technology innovations. For example, its fishing programs in India, Brazil, Colombia and Senegal utilize Qualcomm smartphone technology with GPS and customized mobile apps to empower traditional fishermen to improve safety and increase their productivity and incomes. To date, these programs have collectively served an estimated 10,000 beneficiaries and resulted in average monthly income increases as high as 266 percent.

4) Engage key stakeholders.

When it comes to social impact programs, who you partner with is equally as important as what you’re doing. Look for opportunities to engage with local governments, NGOs, community leaders, or other businesses and organizations. Qualcomm collaborates with more than 650 public and private organizations to make its programs a success. You may also want to look for opportunities to make strategic business connections - whether that’s a potential client, investor, or partner.

Want to learn more? On December 7th, brand consultancy thinkPARALLAX is partnering with Qualcomm Wireless Reach to host a webinar discussing how a social impact program can benefit both business objectives and communities. Join me as I host Wireless Reach’s Kyle Moss and Harim Lopez-Landin, who will be sharing their insights for developing a strategic initiative that impacts communities, governments, NGO and business development.


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