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How businesses can drive social change: An introduction

Social change, these days, is everywhere.

Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Occupy Wall Street.

All of these movements have emerged in the last few years, seemingly out of nowhere, to become mainstream.

So it only makes sense, then, that they would also take over the business world.

Companies across the world aren’t just reacting to these larger changes.

They’re changing their business models to be in the driver seat.

What is social change for business

Business-driven social change involves the corporate world using its power and influence to make the world a better place.

In the 1990s the phrase “corporate social responsibility” started to enter common parlance.

The idea was that businesses would divert some of their resources towards social causes.

For example: A company might make a donation to a mental health organization, or send its employees to pack boxes at a food bank for a day.

Business-driven social change is different.

It’s about more than just directing some money towards a charitable initiative. It’s about building social change into a company’s DNA.

Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign is a good example.

Traditionally, a campaign like this might have involved the telecommunications giant making a large donation out of its yearly revenue to the cause of mental health.

But Bell’s contribution is different. It involves a national annual campaign aimed at raising awareness – and money – for mental health.

It’s even included in the campaign’s hashtag: #BellLetsTalk.

Why corporate social change matters

It’s important to attracting a top-notch workforce

Millennials – to a degree largely unseen in previous generations – care about social change.

So much so that they will prioritize working at companies that value social change as well.

That means that if you want to get millennials to work for you, you’d be well-advised to make social change a priority.

It matters to your audience

The world is more polarized than ever before.

Take the United States for example, where a football player kneeling has suddenly become a larger discussion on patriotism.

That’s why, increasingly, it’s become difficult for brands to sit on the sidelines in today’s culture wars.

Audiences want to associate with brands that reflect their social values.

The best way for brands to do that?

Help to further social change causes that they (and their audiences) believe in.

It differentiates you from competitors

What sets your brand apart from others in the marketplace?

Once upon a time, it was pretty straightforward: Your products, your customer service etc.

Now you can add the causes your brand is associated with to the mix.

Take American sportswear brand Nike, for example. Their campaign from earlier this year, which prominently featured professional football player and social justice advocate Colin Kaepernick, firmed aligned the brand with movements like Black Lives Matter.

That’s helped set Nike apart from competitors. And it’s shown in their revenues.

How to make social change a priority for your business

Change your business model

Granted, it’s not simple.

But what sets business-driven social change apart from previous models of social-oriented business is a fundamental commitment to social change issues.

Consider ways you can do more than just pay lip service to the causes that matter most to your organization.

This could include only taking on clients that align with your values. Or maybe it could be starting a new charity.

Whatever you decide, you’ll need to make it a fundamental part of your mission.

Shift the conversation

A donation to your favourite cause during the holiday season won’t cut it anymore.

Brands need to be willing to put a voice behind the social causes they believe in.

Audiences don’t just want businesses to sit on the sidelines, jumping in after the fact to capitalize on movements that have already formed.

Business-driven social change is all about leading from the front, not lining up from the back.

Take a stand

If you want to be a part of business-driven social change, you can’t expect to be all things to all people.

You need to be willing to become an advocate for the causes you believe in – even if it means alienating part of who used to be your audience.

The days of playing all sides have passed.


Business-driven social change is the next big thing in the world of business.

Will your brand get on board – or be left on the sidelines?

Mark Brownlee is a digital marketing strategist in Ottawa, Canada.

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