A gambling corporation may seem like the antithesis of ‘social good;’ but for BCLC, this is exactly why a gambling company should pivot to a social-purpose model: “People can look and say, ‘Hey, if a gambling company can bring in a social purpose; then, surely my company can do this as well.’”
Consumers the world over increasingly expect corporations to play a positive role in society, and they’re making their voices heard with their dollars. The pandemic and crescendoing climate and social crises have caused unprecedented investment in Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) strategies as consumers — and increasingly, governments — demand more from companies.
The gambling industry is also feeling the effects of this reality. In response, in 2020 the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) began to uncover and articulate its guiding social purpose by answering three fundamental questions:
Why we exist. What is the societal reason for BCLC's existence?
How we might uniquely make a positive impact. What positive societal impact can BCLC make that no other businesses can?
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What might and should we do to reflect our social purpose along our entire value chain? Describing the products and services that we sell is easy; but what impact do they have? What can BCLC do along the entire value chain to reflect its core purpose?
In lieu of a traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach, BCLC has adopted a holistic social-purpose model beyond the siloed, marketing-focused models associated with traditional CSR.
“For us, social purpose is a transformation for our organization – where we're constantly iterating and improving our operations for the betterment of society,” said Greg Moore, Board Chair at BCLC. “We want it to be that every person who interacts with us is better off for that interaction.”
BCLC spent a year conducting stakeholder meetings to ascertain how a gambling company could provide for the greater good. In 2021, it had a north star of social purpose:
We exist to generate win-wins for the greater good.
A gambling corporation may seem like the antithesis of “social good;” but for Moore, this is exactly why a gambling company should pivot to a social-purpose model: “People can look and say, ‘Hey, if a gambling company can bring in a social purpose; then, surely my company can do this as well.’”
Generating win-wins against social perceptions
Gambling has enduring appeal because of suspense found in the magic moment between bet and result. The bet is often lost; but an experience is always won.
But for a small percentage of players, the “magic moment” can take a dark turn. Problem gambling is the scarlet letter of the industry and is one of the reasons why BCLC was created in the first place. BCLC exists to ensure that gambling in British Columbia is safe, legal and harm-free; and to use gambling proceeds to contribute to the greater good. Since its inception, BCLC has delivered over $26 billion in benefits back to the Province of B.C. to support healthcare, education and community initiatives.
In this respect, BCLC has always sought to strike a healthy balance between gambling entertainment and player health by offering products, services and experiences that support healthy play. BCLC delivers gambling net income to the Province for the benefit of all British Columbians; and the organization’s award-winning player-health program is licensed to 11 jurisdictions across North America.
But the topic of gambling is still a polarizing one.
“People have a preconception about the entertainment and gambling space,” Moore said. “For us, this is about moving beyond that perception and informing not just players and stakeholders, but all of society that BCLC has a social purpose — that we’re walking the talk and it’s not just a slogan on a wall.”
For BCLC, universal “win-wins” mean expanding its player-health model to all aspects of operations and never saying “this is good enough;” the company’s social purpose calls on it to operate its business so that — in all endeavors, transactions and relationships — everyone comes out ahead.
Finding the sweet spot
BCLC began its quest for social purpose with a fact-finding mission to unveil where stakeholder values, BCLC values and company-leveraged assets intersect. Through this process, BCLC identified a unique social purpose that intersects stakeholder values, pressing social issues and BCLC’s unique offering.
“It’s not our role to change people’s values, because values are very personal,” said Peter ter Weeme, Chief Social Purpose Officer and VP of Player Experience. “What we are looking for is commonality — the things that people really hold dear.”
With an understanding of shared value, BCLC created a purpose-decision lens to inform day-to-day decisions across the organization — from how to interact with guests to what vendor to procure from. BCLC will consider the following as it looks at each decision as an opportunity for expanded social purpose:
What’s the win-win that goes beyond revenue for the province and fulfilling partner expectations? First win = Benefits to BCLC/revenue for the province; second win = benefit to others.
Can we amplify benefits by generating a third win?
How does the decision benefit the greater good, beyond revenue for the province?
If this decision doesn’t benefit the greater good, what can we do to ensure it does?
Does anyone lose in this decision in the short or long term? If so, how can we mitigate the loss?
How can we generate the greatest positive impact from our work?
Does this decision make players feel valued? Can this player value lead to greater impact?
“We are fundamentally changing the way that we do business and the way that we view our business,” ter Weeme said.
BCLC will deploy the unified social-purpose lens in key areas typically stored away in individual CSR/ESG silos — including sustainable procurement; employee experience; product-value alignment; indigenous reconciliation; diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); climate commitments and more.
“We had these disparate initiatives that were taking place historically; but now, we’ve brought all of this together in this framework,” ter Weeme said. “Being a social-purpose company really raises the bar in terms of expectation.”
If a company is really changing, it will turn words to action; and ter Weeme sees plenty of calls to action to begin engaging with its new social-purpose lens. This is helping rebrand the organization to the public, build new relationships, evaluate internal changes, and manage risks in a volatile social and environmental landscape. And of course, ter Weeme also expects it will lead to strengthened relationships with players and communities and greater financial performance.
Metrics ranging from commitments to DEI to net zero are being retooled to measure if BCLC is generating win-wins for the greater good. But in the end, tangible positive impacts in the communities of British Columbia and beyond are the ultimate indicator of success, ter Weeme said.
“Transparency is a really important part,” he said. “We are setting a bunch of metrics; and we are publicly sharing those in part to inspire other organizations and in part to be accountable to that.”
In a Sustainable Brands™ webinar on Thursday, September 15, BCLC presents the results of a study commissioned through Forrester Consulting to explore lessons learned from articulating and operationalizing social purpose and how those experiences impact marketing strategy and practices. The conversation will include:
Global shifts in expectations that businesses and consumers want and expect companies to adopt.
How brands must integrate social purpose thoughtfully and sincerely, particularly in marketing.
How to engage stakeholders and the different approaches to that end.
How to measure success.
Tune in to learn more about how BCLC is working to advance the social-purpose community and encourage new companies to consider purpose-driven transformation.