Social impact and the future of business – top thoughts from The Benojo Breakfast

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“We get shit done.” That was the pervading message addressed to a room full of CEOs, corporates and philanthropists at our spring Benojo Breakfast. Needless to say, we know how to make an impact.

At this, the second in a series of industry events, some of the best minds in the social impact sector gathered to discuss the ever-changing role of philanthropy within corporate strategy.

We heard an impassioned call to change from “Chief Disrupter” Anne-Marie Elias, and working examples of the Benojo model from Brad Howell, CEO ICAP and Robbie Brown, Sustainability Manager, Fuji Xerox Australia. Our own founder and CEO Martyn Ryan delivered a lively speech about his personal journey and how corporates can follow his lead in changing the way we give.

Here’s what stood out most to us. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts too.

1. We need to measure ‘outcome’ not ‘output’ of CSR initiatives

A Social Change Connector Strategist Innovator Speaker, Anne-Marie Elias is strong, intellectual and passionate. She’s a ‘doer’ and is not afraid to push the boundaries. It’s fitting that her talk reminded us to consider CSR through its impact on the individual rather than its measurability in company reports.

“I’m a disrupter… because the status quo in this country is unacceptable,” she says. The discrepancy between the money spent on social change and the fact that 1 in 6 children live below the poverty line in Australian is not something Anne-Marie can let slide. Her talk encouraged us to think more about the wider objectives of CSR initiatives, how they are carried out and how they are measured.

Anne-Marie discussed the idea of getting back to grass-roots giving and urged corporates to ask where their CSR dollars are going. There’s beauty in this idea as it hands CSR and philanthropy back to the people, rather than making it only about business dollars and the placation of shareholders. She noted that “every corporate lives and works in a community that they’re often not a huge part of” which indicated that social investment might have a greater impact if revised as a grass-roots initiative.

2. Technology and social impact

Technology is driving a profound shift in social impact and the act of giving. The sharing space i.e. social media, is an easy way to make causes known and garner support from the public, while creating new expectations about transparency, speed and connectedness.

This idea was explored by Robbie Brown, from Fuji Xerox Australia, who conducted an audit to see the range of charities the employees supported nationally, with the goal of refining and channeling the focus into a few.

Fuji Xerox was able to hone in on a smaller number of charities that employees could explore more thoroughly, using the platform as a space for information and connection. As Robbie noted, gathering the efforts of her employees allowed for “greater impact”. Technology can help filter and manage the quantities of causes and charities online, giving people an easy way to connect with a cause that resonates with them.

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3. How to reconcile the human need to give with a business model

Although Benojo founder Martyn Ryan firmly believes it’s in our DNA to give, he also recognises that it’s important this concept is explored from a business perspective so that it continues to be relevant to a modern, capitalist society.

During a panel chat with Robbie and Brad, we saw how these seemingly irreconcilable concepts could work in harmony. Citing the example of ICAP Charity Day, Brad explained how ICAP asks employees to nominate charities they want to help, as their personal connection with the cause encourages them to do more. “People want a deeper connection, people want to work for a company that contributes,” he said. This echoes the global challenge faced by organisations striving to deepen employee engagement and meaningful work.

Robbie explained how the 2013 company review of community engagement showed her that she worked with a lot of passionate individuals who were actively involved with charities and causes. However, most had no idea of what the impact actually meant for those they were helping and what the result of their good work looked like.

They also had long-standing relationships with United Way and ABCN that she noticed weren’t completely clear to the employees within the business. By prioritising these causes, employees were able to come together and have a collectively greater impact and a more solid understanding of both their company’s philosophy – aligned to their broader goal of growing education – and the charitable output they were helping to achieve.

4. CSR is necessary for brand equity, and beyond brand equity into your company. 

Traditionally, in some companies, CSR was handled by an in-house human resources department, viewed as a mere box to tick on a list of business objectives. According to Anne-Marie, this is no longer a viable way of doing business. She argues that companies who want to attract the best talent have to create a point of difference i.e. have a social conscience. With an increasing expectation from millennials and gen Y for meaningful and responsible workplaces, corporates will be forced to place greater emphasis on their CSR activities if they want to placate a socially aware generation.

Millennials are here to “turn the world on its head,” says Anne-Marie Elias. A report by Cone Communications shows that a company’s CSR profile will influence 84% of millennial’s shopping habits and 78% of their employment applications. These staggering figures suggest that CSR and philanthropy are thus integral to a company’s success.

An awareness of social impact can be used to inspire, encourage and help employees. As noted by Anne-Marie, corporates are often unaware of staff members who have been through trauma. “[Social trauma] is not a problem that only effects a certain segment of society any longer,” she says, citing the example of Telstra, who now offer employees an extra ten days of paid leave each year under its domestic violence policy. It is thus within the interest of corporates to maintain a pulse on social issues, helping them create a safe and encouraging work space for employees

5. It’s time for action 

Martyn summed up the breakfast perfectly, saying: “we have an abundance of resources, time and knowledge, so why the hell have we got people with a need not being fulfilled? Somebody’s got to do something.”

Hearing Anne-Marie’s call for urgent change, and the passionate testimony of Martyn, one cannot deny that it’s time to act. It is no longer somebody else’s problem; we have the resources and ability to gather information enough to be able to make a difference. As Anne-Marie said, “We don’t need CEOs painting sheds, we need their business acumen [to help causes].”

The traditional model of giving and CSR is obsolete. The digital age has turned the world on its head and given us new opportunities for conversation and connection, all it takes is for one person to stand up.

This event was kindly supported by HLB Mann Judd.


Benojo helps businesses and charities collaborate for the greater good.

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