When we think of investments, we usually think of money. Companies buy new properties and resources, hire more employees, and spend money to expand their product lines. Opening a new branch, moving into new territory, and marketing to new customers are all examples of business investments. Since these are all financial investments, the returns on them are fairly easy to quantify. If they lead to an increase in the bottom line, they are successful. But what about an organization’s corporate social investment? Is there a good way to measure returns there?
Corporate social investment refers to contributions the company makes in addition to performing its main business operations. These contributions can be funding for charities, employee volunteer hours, or non-monetary gifts. Corporate social investment brings benefits, but they are not always easy to measure. For example, a company might look at the number of lives impacted as an indicator of success. An company with an environmental focus might look at the number of plastic bottles taken out of the waste stream through its public water fill stations. Companies can and should be innovative in resisting the traditional benchmarks of success when it comes to this practice.
Everyone knows or knows about UPS. If you send or receive packages regularly, you cannot help but deal with UPS. You may not know that UPS uses its expertise to help babies and children in Africa. In 2010, UPS began a new marketing campaign touting itself as a logistical master. Putting action behind its words, UPS partnered with Project Canaan, a farm and orphanage in the African nation of Swaziland.
Project Canaan is a social enterprise charity that is half sustainable farm, half orphanage. The orphanage rescues abandoned babies and children. Tragically, children lose their parents every day to violence and the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. Project Canaan provides housing, education, and stability for these children.
The farm side of the project employs about 250 local people and grows fresh, responsibly raise vegetables. Besides funding support, UPS taught the farm leadership how to expand its sales and export food to Europe.
UPS and Project Canaan are unlikely partners who found a way to save lives through corporate social investment. What innovations will you introduce at your company, and what social problems will you work towards solving?