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Modeling Successful CSR Strategies

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A growing number of companies are realizing their philanthropic goals by scaling their business operations; enabling them to implement global solutions that address some of the toughest social, economic, health, and environmental issues. On July 22, 2015, Bill Novelli, founder of the Georgetown Global Social Enterprise Initiative hosted “Models for Success for the Corporate Foundation”, in alignment with the 2015 Network of Academic Corporate Relations Officers Conference at Georgetown University. The discussion explored some of the challenges that corporations face when growing their charitable foundations and featured Lisa Borders, Chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation and Vice President of Global Community Affairs for The Coca-Cola Company and Kerry Sullivan, President of The Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Attendees of the event were welcomed by Carma Fauntleroy, Senior Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Office of Advancement at Georgetown University.

Ms. Sullivan began her comments by asserting that Bank of America is dedicated to improving the financial lives of its customers and clients as it forges partnerships that address workforce development, community development, health and human services. Ms. Borders in turn reminded the group that Coca-Cola is a multi-national company that reaches 207 countries, owns 500 brands, and 3,900 products. “Drinking our products, allows us to generate revenue and give back to communities,” said Borders. Since its inception in 1984, The Coca-Cola Foundation has given back more than $650 million to enhance the sustainability of local communities worldwide. Both companies, the panelists continued, focus on investing in projects that have positive global ramifications. “When it comes to nonprofits and social initiatives, a partnership with Coca-Cola provides their mission with the attention and resources it needs to take off,” said Borders.

When asked about how corporations choose the projects they interact with, Sullivan responded that Bank of America aligns its philanthropic investments with their core business. Bank of America engages with 150 markets and local to develop strategies that will support the financial health of its respective community: housing, hunger, and jobs. Added Sullivan: “people need 21st century jobs, food on their tables and a roof over their heads.” Domestically, Bank of America focuses on workforce development by working with the millennial generation to develop young adults and teens into the leaders of tomorrow that will solve global issues through their Student Leader Program. The Bank of America Foundation has contributed over $1.4 billion of a $2 billion commitment within 10 years to the financial literacy of communities. Lisa Borders contributed that, in the past, Coca-Cola had focused solely on contributing to education enhancement opportunities, but now have expanded to focus on issues of water, women and well-being. “With every Coke product being 99% water, it is only logical that our company be dedicated to replenishing the global water supplies that we use in our products,” said Borders.

Novelli then shifted the discussion by asking each of the panelists how they integrate local, national, and international strategies. Both Borders and Sullivan credit the successes of their respective foundations to the local affiliates embedded within each of their beneficiary markets. Coca-Cola relies on local leadership to create and implement a strategy to effectively use funds from the parent company. “I turn to the local teams to understand the needs of the specific market because leaders in those regions understand the landscape in ways that I never will,” said Borders.

When asked about how each foundation measures the success of their contributions in the philanthropic space, both panelists indicated that performance metrics are difficult to gauge in the social space. Both companies have branded initiatives that are dedicated to providing educational opportunities and training to the next generation. “While there is much work to be done with how we measure success, we do try to keep track of our program alumni and their respective impacts on society,” said Sullivan; “many of our students go on to start nonprofits.” But she added, it is often more important to focus on the true value of progress rather than the metrics.

Borders noted that the measurement of social impact is ambiguous and concluded with the thought that “corporations have the power to illuminate issues and rally people around certain initiatives. Our main focus is enabling those projects to reach their potential.”