Corporate impact: pro tips to convince big businesses to make positive change
It's not always easy to convince big companies to take positive social and environmental steps forward. At this week's Latimpacto conference, corporate engagement experts from around the world who have worked with Danone, Nespresso and more shared their top tips on motivating the leaders who matter.
When a large corporation commits to meaningful change to its business, or supports a social or environmental initiative, it can make a real difference. But influencing decision-makers to take the leap isn’t always easy.
In a discussion at this week’s Latimpacto annual conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, speakers from impact organisations that work with large companies in various ways shared what works – and what to avoid. Read on for some of their tips.
1. Think mindset, not (only) money
Some companies want to achieve hugely ambitious goals – say, eradicating Dengue fever – but with a budget that’s rather less ambitious, said Tulio Notini, a director at Yunus Social Business Brazil. Finding a balance between expectations and the available budget can be a challenge.
But Marcello Palazzi, who is a co-founder of B Lab Europe and of B for Good Leaders among many other roles, said the road towards more impact was not only about money. Often it was more about mindset, he said: doing things differently with the money you already have.
Five intermediaries working with corporates
2. Don’t go straight for the CSR team
Working only with a company’s corporate social responsibility department isn’t ideal, said Lina Arango Díaz of Socialab, because CSR often runs on a “parallel track” to the core business. That means its budget is always at risk of being cut when company cash is tight.
Working with a CSR or sustainability department still makes sense, said Notini, but in a “transversal” way – they can support a project which involves several other departments such as those responsible for innovation or new business. That approach allows intermediaries to help a firm “change how they do business”.
You have to find those leaders who are really open, who already speak the language
3. Hunt out the right people to approach
“Companies don't decide, it’s the people in the companies who decide,” said Palazzi, so “be like an investigator” to figure out who you should be talking to. Women seem to be “quite open” to these conversations, he said, and getting younger employees on board first can also be an effective strategy.
He also cited the example of multinational food company Danone, which now aims to be a fully certified B Corp by 2025. That began with a three-hour discussion between Palazzi and former CEO Emmanuel Faber, back in 2015, he said.
“Faber had been on this journey of transformation himself as a person… you have to find those leaders who are really open, who already speak the language.”
4. Offer opportunities to co-create
Corporates “love to put their talent in the service of social challenges,” said Giselle Henzler, who co-founded Mosaico Laboratorio Social in Peru. Rather than simply asking for funding, her organisation involves corporate employees in the creative process of developing solutions, which they may then finance when it comes to implementation.
To get companies on board in the first place, trust is a key factor. Mosaico has a “good reputation in the corporate sector”, and, having worked in the corporate world for 20 years, Henzler has a strong network of contacts. “They see we’re a professional team,” she added.
5. Identify business-critical issues
Getting a company to make big commitments means identifying key concerns of the moment, said Palazzi.
In the case of coffee company Nespresso, which became a certified B Corp in 2022, a business-critical issue beforehand had been the use of its aluminium capsules. “We went into Nespresso with that approach: how can we help you to do something about the capsules?”, said Palazzi. (Nespresso now says that, as a B Corp, it is “committed to a circular model designed to reduce waste while keeping products and materials in use longer”.)
It’s part of our work to keep showing the complexity of these problems – and the complexity of the solutions
6. Acknowledge risk and reputation
Many company leaders are aware that there’s a risk of not acting now. And reputation matters – particularly for family-owned firms whose name is connected to the business, or who are closely tied to a particular city, for example, said Palazzi.
7. Don’t shy away from complexity
Transforming corporates and the wider economy is an “ongoing process”, said Notini. ESG may be trendy right now, but it’s not the solution – especially as issues in Brazil go far wider than just the typical targets of ESG departments in terms of diversity or carbon footprint.
“It gives the impression that it’s simple. It’s not simple, it’s really complex, and it’s part of our work to keep showing the complexity of these problems – and the complexity of the solutions to be built for these companies,” he said.
Pioneers Post attended this week's conference as a media partner; Latimpacto contributed towards our costs of attendance.
Photos: A research trip as part of a corporate social innovation project run by Yunus Social Business Brazil (credit: Yunus Brazil archive); panellists, including Tulio Notini, Giselle Henzler, Marcello Palazzi and Lina Arango Díaz (second, third, fourth, fifth from left; credit: Latimpacto)
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