How to Make Change for Good

I’m a passionate advocate of Movement Thinking (and Movement Marketing)–as perhaps the only way for companies to galvanize consumers and employees alike in the age of social media. When done effectively the interaction between companies and stakeholders can lead to growth, transformation and positive social change. In my latest book, Activate Brand Purpose, I talk about the current thinking around purpose, and share a new foundation and approach that focuses on the most challenging part of purpose: how to activate it inside and outside your company, and how to avoid its decay over time.

Recently, I’ve gotten to know Paul Klein who is the founder and CEO of Impakt, ab corp that helps global corporations to solve social problems. He’s also the founder of the Impakt Foundation for Social Change, a charitable organization that creates pathways to employment for refugees and newcomers. Paul has recently written a book titled Change for Good: An Action-Oriented Approach for Businesses to Benefit from Solving the World’s Most Urgent Social Problems that was published by ECW Press in March.

Paul’s work is complementary to StrawberryFrog’s and I recently spoke with him about his origin story, motivation for writing Change for Good and why and how a corporation should ‘change for good’:

Before we explore your new book, I’d love to hear about your personal story and how this has led to helping corporations solve social problems and writing Change for Good. What were some of your early inspirations?

I grew up in a family where social justice and social change were foundational. My mother was the artistic director of the Mariposa Folk Festival and had a strong belief that music was a tool for social change. My father was an architect who had a particular interest in affordable housing and his firm was innovative and award-winning in this area.

My first memory of the need for social change was when my parents took me to a march in Toronto led by C├ęsar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to raise awareness of poor working conditions and low wages in California’s grape industry. Through my mother, I also had the opportunity to meet and listen to Black musicians such as Muddy Waters, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Elizabeth Cotton who had the lived experience of sharecropping and segregation. In addition to inspiring me to be a musician, the stories I heard from them also helped me understand the need for social justice and racial equality.

I can pinpoint the exact origin of Change for Good to a conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League in Chicago. It was 1988 and I was working in marketing and fundraising at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The keynote speaker was Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. At the time, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream wasn’t available in Canada, and I’d never heard of them. The essence of Ben’s talk was that businesses could contribute to solving social problems in addition to making a profit.

Earlier that year, Cohen had founded 1% for Peace and in support, Ben & Jerry’s created the Peace Pop ice cream stick of which proceeds went to the campaign. At the end of the presentation, Peace Pops were passed out to the audience. I remember feeling incredibly inspired by Cohen’s message about how the company was intentionally using its business platform to create social change and wanting to help other companies do the same.

You’ve said that change for good involves corporations helping to solve social problems. I think many people might see that as outside of what Milton Friedman called the ‘business of business’. Why is it important for businesses to raise the bar significantly in this area?

After more than 20 years of working at the intersection of business and social change, I’ve learned what’s worked, what hasn’t and why. Having developed many large social impact programs for corporations, the outcomes have almost always been less than I anticipated. Despite a growing “business case” for corporations to be involved in social change, I’ve come to realize that most have become very good at what I call “CSR lite.” This means they do just enough to be seen as responsible rather than commit to helping to solve social problems and taking action.

The problem is that today the quality of life for most people is going in the wrong direction. Because of that, employees, customers and people in communities everywhere are paying attention to the ways in which businesses are contributing to or helping to solve these problems. In this context, “CSR lite” is being seen as performative. Today, businesses need to “change for good,” and can benefit from contributing to social change in a meaningful way.

I think most people in business would say that solving social problems isn’t something they know how to do. What’s your advice for corporations who want to be leaders in this area?

First, corporations that make the shift to ‘change for good; need to commit to solving a social problem — in ways that are right for their business — not just doing as little as possible to be seen to be “responsible.” Next, business leaders need to understand that doing this is important to society and valuable to their business. Finally, effective social change can’t happen without involving people with lived experience of social problems in understanding the problem, co-creating solutions and helping to implement programs.

Who needs to read Change for Good and what can they expect?

I wrote Change for Good to help people in businesses of all sizes to understand why social change matters so much, to inspire them by sharing my own experiences and to provide tools to help them take action in practical ways. I also wrote it to help business students and other young people understand the role of business in society and consider how they will contribute to social change as employees, consumers and as citizens.

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