Maneuvering Social Impact in 2023: How to Support Communities and Employees
Social impact leaders spent 2022 dealing with the ongoing global pandemic and increasing geopolitical uncertainty. In 2023, they are going to have to maneuver a tightening global economy.
Many companies are positioning themselves for a time of continued inflation and economic contraction by cutting expenses, refining processes with an increased attention on ROI, and overall, refocusing their businesses. For corporate social impact leaders, they’ll likely see their work impacted in two prominent ways:
- Economic contractions and recessions worsen outcomes for the communities, nonprofits and NGOs they work with, and exacerbate the social issues and inequalities already present in the world.
- Economic uncertainty also gives rise to belt-tightening among companies, with budgets being cut across the board and a reduction in corporate focus on non-revenue-generating activities, which could include philanthropy and employee engagement programs.
At the same time, we know that corporate social impact has been proven to positively impact companies’ bottom line, help employees and communities feel more connected and engaged and bolster company image. If anything, social impact work becomes even more critical during periods of economic uncertainty. Leaders can continue to support impacted communities and build engagement with their employees by taking the following proactive steps.
1. Build Your CSI Program’s Resilience by Supporting Core Business Needs
The old adage says that with crisis comes opportunity. To survive and thrive in this new environment, businesses will need to find pockets of value and strategically pursue them. This is also true for corporate social impact.
Successful corporate social impact programs drive business value in a number of ways, from creating new business verticals with nonprofits, addressing underserved markets and customers, deepening employee engagement, and contributing to brand and reputation efforts. In 2023, every impact leader must identify how they can make tangible contributions to new business strategies and focus areas. This is the time to take a deep-dive into your company’s business and analyze where social impact can make the largest contribution.
This contribution will look different from company to company, but for many, this will involve seeing where the behaviors of social impact partners overlap with those of customers and clients. As part of DigitalOcean’s impact program, our team pursues this intersection of social impact and product work by providing free and discounted cloud infrastructure to nonprofits. In doing so, we are not only building purposeful social impact stories that can be leveraged for the business in different ways, but also investing in nonprofits and social enterprises who are using DigitalOcean’s technology with our product and philanthropy. As part of these efforts, we are also defining use cases and discovering user insights that are equally applicable to DigitalOcean’s target customers — small and medium-sized businesses.
2. Focus on Your Stakeholders, Especially Nonprofits and Employees
It’s easy to step back from employee programs when company budgets come under fire, but employees need purpose and support more than ever. If companies don’t continue to support employees with initiatives that allow them to find purpose and depth in their work-life, employees are likely to find it elsewhere.
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Corporate social impact leaders should continue to invest in employee giving and volunteerism. These types of programs increase employee engagement and support retention. A February 2022 Gartner study found that “when an organization acts as the catalyst that enables and empowers employees to be agents for change … this contributes to ensuring employees feel a shared purpose with their employer while helping them affirm their values and identity.” Workplace connections are built and sustained on finding shared purpose outside of the core business, and social impact is a key part of that, as larger socio-cultural movements of the past few years have also shown.
Nonprofits also face similar challenges to their initiatives when economic conditions worsen. Many nonprofits and NGOs that rely on corporate partners risk losses in funding, while often facing increased demand from communities. Don’t step back from your support of nonprofits and NGOs during these critical times: they’ll need funding support and help scaling their operations up or down to meet demand. Employee volunteerism may be an important lever to pull here, too.
Related Article: 3 Tips to Build a CSR Program Your Employees Will Care About
3. Finally — Don’t Despair. Hold the Future Vision for Impact
It’s easy to get discouraged during trying times, but leaders should stay hopeful. A focused eye on both short- and long-term aspirations will help guide leaders through tumultuous times. When budget cuts or economic hardships threaten to backslide important efforts and progress, remember that social impact work is never linear, and that the work you’ve often already done in building relationships with stakeholders and nonprofits will help your program’s foundation hold firm.
A strong vision, apart from guiding strategic goals, will also serve as a strong motivator for the years ahead. Continue to share your vision of the future with all your stakeholders and employees, reminding them of the unique impact and role they and their organization can play in making this vision a reality, and how they can contribute to a world of sustainable businesses. These audiences will need to hear it now more than ever.
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About the Author
Admas Kanyagia is the VP, Social Impact at Digital Ocean, where she is launching philanthropy, tech for good, sustainability and ESG programs. She was previously the Head of Social Impact at GitHub, where she coordinated the company’s philanthropy, employee giving and product donations to nonprofits, activated the time and expertise of employees, as well as leveraged GitHub’s technology and open-source ecosystem for the social sector.