News Deeply, in partnership with Sustainable Brands, has produced a series of profiles looking at how brands are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. The goal is to examine trends and gather insights from a new wave of corporate citizenship – in an era when the private sector is increasingly expected to play a positive role in improving our lives and societies. This is the 5th article in the series.
Meg Garlinghouse leads LinkedIn For Good, a social impact program at LinkedIn, which leverages the world’s leading social network for professionals to make positive impacts around the world. On her own LinkedIn profile, she describes herself as “connecting talent with opportunity at massive scale to change the world.”
We caught a few minutes with her at SB’16 San Diego in June to learn more.
What problem are you attacking with LinkedIn For Good?
Meg Garlinghouse: The problem that we are trying to tackle is connecting underserved communities to economic opportunity. As you probably know, LinkedIn creates economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. We realize that not everyone has been born into opportunity equally, so we invest more heavily into those audience segments that need more access to opportunity.
How does it work?
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MG: There are three different segments that we invest in: One is what we call “Opportunity Youth,” the second is U.S. veterans, and the third – most recently – is Syrian refugees.
For the first segment, we work with dozens of youth employment organizations across the country to help them create LinkedIn profiles, connect with a network, a mentor and get access to skills.
For U.S. veterans, it’s a bit more of a formal program. On LinkedIn, you can access most features for free, but we have some premium subscriptions, so we donate any U.S. veteran a free “Job Seeker” subscription. For any U.S. veteran who’s transitioning out of the military, we give them a one-year free subscription for a higher-quality LinkedIn experience, as well as access to Lynda.com, which is our learning platform for online tutorials and training.
With Syrian refugees, we just began dipping our toes into that last fall. We started looking at how we could use our network to help newly settled refugees access jobs. We’re doing a pilot right now in Sweden, where we created a microsite called Welcome Talent. Newly settled refugees can go there to learn how to create a LinkedIn profile, and employers can post jobs specifically available for refugees.
We typically don’t like to create separate microsites, but in this case we felt like we had to create a special welcome mat for the refugees. In addition, I’ve heard a lot from employers that they’re interested in hiring refugees. But [many] don’t self-identify as a ‘refugee’ on their LinkedIn profiles, so we needed to create a system for them to find each other.
Why did you choose to focus on this issue?
MG: I very much believe that corporations shouldn’t do anything just for charity – that the best way to make an impact is to invest in your core assets. In the case of LinkedIn, our core assets are around connecting talent with opportunity at a massive scale.
So we started looking at how we can do that in the way that had social impact. It’s very much a [LinkedIn CEO] Reid Hoffman notion. He talks about the “flywheel effect” – the notion is that the more you invest in the social impact, the more it drives back into the business and on again and on and on. With these initiatives, we felt like we were in a unique position to take what we do best as a company and apply it to social impact.
How would you describe the alignment of business and purpose here? Is this part of onboarding the next billion LinkedIn users?
MG: Yes. When LinkedIn originally launched, it was by design more of an exclusive and knowledgeable network. But when we think about our total addressable market, which is 3 billion members of the workforce, we currently only have about 450 million members – predominantly knowledge workers. As we think forward to how we can reach the next 2.5 million, that’s when we think about these other audience segments, and some of them require a bit of a different approach to get them on to the network.
What are the signs that it’s working?
MG: Like many corporations, we have our own challenges in measuring impact. Some of the signs tend to show up more in anecdotal stories, like when we hear from a U.S. veteran that they found a job on LinkedIn. Our CEO gets these emails sent to him that he forwards on to me – people who are so thankful that they were connected with opportunity. And we get them on the other side of the marketplace as well – the employer who was looking to hire that U.S. veteran and, but for LinkedIn, would not have necessarily identified him.
One of the great things about LinkedIn is most of our data is highly standardized - we have all these search facets. You can go on to LinkedIn and look for a U.S. veteran who served in the Army who lives in Wisconsin, and you can reach out to them.
Are there specific companies who have embraced it as a way to find employees?
MG: There are definitely many Fortune 500 companies who have made specific commitments to hire veterans. JPMorgan is the one that springs to mind. They’re doing some extraordinary work. On the youth employment front, Starbucks is leading this really interesting initiative called 100,000 Opportunities, where they have assembled a group of employers who have an interest in hiring what we call “Opportunity Youth” – it’s a buzzword phrase to describe a young person that comes from a low-income background and maybe did not graduate from high school, is probably not in a four-year college and does not have a job, but who has an extraordinary mind and attitude about work. Those are the ones that are really hard to find. You don’t know where they are. It is hard to get the right signal about their extraordinary minds, because they don’t show up in the standardized way that we currently have on the LinkedIn profile.
A lot of companies and foundations and nonprofits are trying to figure out how to get these youth on the knowledge pathway, or get them connected to an employer. We’re working with 100,000 Opportunities to try to figure out how to do that using the LinkedIn platform.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this?
MG: One of the biggest challenges is getting the youth to create LinkedIn profiles. For many of them who don’t have parents with LinkedIn profiles, who don’t have a network through their community or their parents, the value proposition is a little bit weaker. We can provide enormous value by figuring out ways we can use our platform to connect them with professionals who they are indirectly connected with, as opposed to directly.
In the Causes section of the LinkedIn platform, you can signal that you want to do skills-based volunteering. We know that 74 percent of the people who signal that are specifically interested in mentorship. We have this huge army of professionals who are just waiting to provide mentorship to underserved youth, and an enormous opportunity to connect them.
How is the program going to scale?
MG: My dream and my vision is not to be limited just by LinkedIn the company, but to leverage our 450 million members in helping us scale the impact. I am so bullish on people. I really am. That may sound naïve or ridiculously optimistic, but I think the most important asset that we have in the world is human capital. A lot of people reach out to me saying: “I really want to do something that matters this year. I really want to volunteer. I want to serve an important cause. How can you help connect me with that opportunity?”
I think the big vision, the big opportunity in front of us is just that – figuring out how to connect these professionals with ways that they can impact the world.
You’ve also harnessed a commitment to volunteerism in general, showcasing it on LinkedIn profile pages. How does that initiative work, and what is it meant to achieve?
MG: We added the volunteering Causes section to the profile experience about four years ago. It was actually one of the most common requests we got from members, asking that they wanted that to be part of their professional identity, so we finally added it. More than 34 million people have added it to their professional identity.
Certainly we have benefited from the tailwind of interest around this, but I am also proud, because I think we’ve created a social norm around it – we actually nudge people to fill out that section. So it’s become the default norm to make this part of who you are. You can take it with you no matter where you go, wherever you’re working. It’s not something you have to think of as a separate thing that you do on weekends or in evenings, or on the side of your career.
How does it help LinkedIn?
MG: We want people to fill out their profiles even if they aren’t looking for a new job. So it helps LinkedIn because it helps engage people who aren’t looking for a new job – for example, people seeking a new nonprofit board position. It’s a great way to engage folks on a regular, ongoing basis who aren’t in job-seeking mode.
Looking back on all this and being in the trenches at the same time, what lessons have you learned about how companies can play a role in solving a big problem?
MG: I think my best lesson learned is to stay focused on your core asset, because that really is how a company – and a person – can have a unique impact on the world. The more you invest and leverage your core assets, the bigger opportunity you have for impact, to create that “flywheel effect.”
Any other thoughts you'd like to share?
MG: I think my final thought just goes back to being bullish on people. This conference, Sustainable Brands, is a great example. The number of smart minds tackling the biggest problems has never been bigger, and I couldn’t be more optimistic about our future.