A threat to global affairs, a call to corporate citizenship

By Ramla Bile

This January, travel industry giants Marriott International and Delta Airlines joined a multinational, cross-sector initiative to end human trafficking. The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism drives members to prioritize human safety over profit. Members enact internal processes designed to train staff on identifying, reporting, and preventing human trafficking in an industry ripe with abuse. Driven by industry leaders, the Code has commitments from some 300 en­tities across 191 countries. In the U.S., the Code has bipartisan congressional support.

In our increasingly interconnected world, there’s power in partnerships like the effort to end human trafficking. Climate change is causing more natural disasters and de­creased food production that are creating precarious con­ditions for low-wealth and vulnerable people worldwide. The mortgage crisis that began in 2007 spiraled into an international banking catastrophe, depressing economies in Europe, Asia, and Africa for years. And lack of peace and security in our world today is fueling the highest rate of migration since WWII.

The need for more strategic partnerships – whether it’s through policy or resource alignment – to facilitate col­lective thinking and action on the issues facing our global community is as great as ever.

Seventeen Ways to Positively Change Our World

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been a tool that governments, businesses, and civic society partners have used to align their efforts into strategic partnerships. These 17 goals suggest a trajectory for change through 2030.

“The SDGs are the North Star of where our world believes we should go to make our world a better place,” says Natalie Ross, Vice President for External Relations at the national Council on Foundations. ”It’s a compre­hensive framework that’s relevant globally and locally.”

The goals include eradicating poverty and hunger, promoting clean water and sanitation, reducing inequal­ity, and combating climate change, to name a few. The SDG framework is endorsed by 193 countries. Similarly, through the UN’s Global Compact, CEOs embrace the SDGs as their framework for corporate sustainability, citizenship, and creating a future quality of life.

Taking the Global Pulse on the SDGs

As we look more closely at serious humanitarian issues around the globe, the numbers tell a striking story.

Nearly 50 million children are refugees (11 mil­lion), migrants (20 million), or displaced by war (17 million). This number doubled between 2005-2015; pointing to a global crisis.

815 million people, approximately one in nine, are un­dernourished, and “three quarters of a billion remain in the grasp of extreme poverty,” according to the UN.

The warmer climate has resulted in a reduction in major crops like maize, wheat, and rice – impacting global food production and fueling hunger.

Around the world, more than 1.6 million people died in natural hazards between 1990 and 2015.

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor persists with about 28% of detected victims being children.

“Increasingly, these issues have shifted from local, national, and regional, to global. Whether you look at environmental issues, social issues, political or economic issues, you’ll find that these issues are not contained in geography. It’s all part of the global climate that ties us together,” said David Wilsey, Director of Master of De­velopment Practice degree program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

From climate change to natural disasters and food production to peace and security – these issues remain cyclical, interconnected, and persistent. We cannot afford to ignore the challenges people face every day and the need for a collaborative global response.

Pursuing SDGs at Home

Minnesota is not immune to the challenges of the world. According to Minnesota Compass, which serves as a homegrown report card on the SDGs:

One in five children under the age of 5 lives below the poverty level in 27 counties in Minnesota.

Minnesota is home to some of the nation’s largest racial gaps in education and employment.

People of color in this state are: “more likely to live in poverty, less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to own their own home and more likely to suffer from chronic illness than all residents statewide.”

With changing demographics and growing gaps in education and employment, who will supply the jobs of the future we desperately need to keep our state, region, and world competitive? And more importantly, what do such staggering gaps say about our state’s values and priorities?

Enter a New Era of Corporate Citizenship

In this time of unusual global need, there is a growing perception that the U.S. Government is retreating from global leadership.

“As a primary consumer and influencer in the global scene, the U.S. role in SDGs is essential,” observes Wilsey. “But if the U.S. government is going to retreat, it’s critical for other sectors of society to step up.”

This is where corporate leaders are finding ways to step in and use the SDGs goal-oriented approach to solving intractable global issues. For example, as a global food company, General Mills aligns its corporate volun­teer initiatives and philanthropic focus with five of the sustainable development goals, primarily those focused on food security.

“In a world where one in every nine people does not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life, we are committed to removing barriers to community food security globally,” said Mary Jane Melendez, Executive Director of the General Mills Foundation.

According to the UN Global Compact, as well as widely accepted notions of corporate social responsibility, corpo­rate sustainability occurs when companies line up the “3 Ps”

People (social factors)

Planet (environmental factors), and

Profit (economic factors) in their work.

Like General Mills, companies achieve this sweet spot when they align business purposes and practices with community engagement and philanthropy.

Fostering Global Citizens

“Imagine what might be possible if, by 2030, thousands of employees around the world felt connected to the Sus­tainable Development Goals, acted on them, and shared how their volunteer efforts contribute to achieving them?” said Jennifer Chavez Rubio, Senior Director, Global Volunteer Engagement, Medtronic Foundation in an upcoming article in their newsletter entitled Activating Volunteers around the Global Goals. “We’d be that much closer to ensuring good health and well-being to every person on this planet.”

With corporate citizenship in mind, Medtronic developed a new learning program targeting its network of 84,000+ employees – both past and present – to raise awareness and opportunities for action. Chavez Rubio says Medtronic uses language around a ‘global family’ as it delivers its two-pronged approach to employee engagement:

1. “[We provide] workshops focused on educating employees about the Global Goals movement and inspiring a healthier, better world through volunteer efforts. This is only the first step in helping Medtronic employees, patients, and communities take action to achieve the Global Goals by connecting them to their potential to be Global Goals Leaders in their own communities.

2. Next steps include inspiring another wave of Medtronic stakeholders to become trained and train others this spring as we kick off our exciting new year of volunteering.”

“We use the world’s ‘Must Do List by 2030’ as a guiding framework to energize and amplify employee volunteering impacts,” Rubio said, referencing the SDGs.

Other corporations are also finding ways to tap into their talented employee network to advance the SDGs. For example, IBM developed an entire initiative around the SDGs and corporate citizenship. Their blog, Citizen IBM, describes the different ways “IBMers donate their time, talent and technology to assist communities around the world.”

“For multinational companies working all over the world, – bringing together corporate philanthropies – whether you’re working in Kansas or Kenya – is import­ant. We have a responsibility to share the financing gap that is needed to achieve change at a real global scale,” says the Council on Foundation’s Natalie Ross.

A New Opportunity

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 opens up a new opportunity for corporate leadership. Rate reductions and other modifications put more resources and as well as more responsibilities and challenges into the hands of businesses, large and small. While the change was recent, here’s how some companies are responding:

Chipotle is reviving its restaurants with a facelift

Best Buy is providing bonuses and plans to open nearly 50 new tech centers where low-wealth youth can develop futureproof skills

U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo are raising minimum wage to $15/an hour

Ecolab will invest an additional $25 million in its philanthropy

But, what comes next?

Are there opportunities to align the recent tax code changes with the 2030 vision of the SDGs? Will invest­ments to revive businesses lead to industry innovation, decent work and economic growth, and affordable and clean energy? Will workplaces expand and transform beyond minimum wage increases and into jobs and ben­efits that help end poverty, help end hunger, and promote good health and well-being? Will corporate philanthropy and community partnerships grow and deepen to reduce gender or racial inequalities and create peace, justice and strong institutions?

While the tax changes may shuffle the deck in terms of resources, markets are also making SDGs relevant for businesses. “Companies must prioritize ethical practices as a key component of brand management and corporate sustainability,” observes Tola' Oyewole, Senior Manager in Influencer Marketing at Best Buy.

‘[Globalization] changes the way business is done. Be­yond philanthropy, companies need to be strategic about their practices,” said Oyewole. “We live in a time when customers are paying more attention to brands and their ethical practices.”

Corporate success doesn’t happen in a vacuum or in isolation of local or global communities. As Mary Jane Melendez said of General Mills, “We believe that being successful in business and being a force for good go hand in hand.”

Place-based Funding on a Global Scale

It was a defining moment fifty years ago when Minneso­ta’s tradition of corporate philanthropy grew through the leadership of what was then the 5% Club. People who founded, grew, and owned the state’s great companies had deep roots in communities where they lived, raised families, worked, and served as the civic leaders. Their philanthropy was, in a way, place-based in that it focused on, was responsive to, and reflective of the place were they worked and lived. It was aligned with their vision and goals for the future of their community.

Today, the place where we work and live is not so small. It’s global. The threats in our lives are both imme­diate and also far-reaching and expansive. Minnesota’s great companies are now the companies of the world, and each has a role in shaping our world – whether it’s through developing life-saving medical interventions, combating food insecurity, or any of many other business strategies. Markets are global. The impact of corporate philanthropy and civic leadership is, too. In an odd sense, corporate citizenship is, once again, place based, and drawing upon the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to serve the global community.

Ramla Bile is a published writer, racial justice advocate, and social entrepreneur. She was a 2011-2012 fellow in the Given's Foundation's Black Writers Program. Ramla founded the firm Qalam Consult­ing, to help nonprofits, founda­tions, and small businesses grow their grassroots impact. She also co-founded and writes for Ubuntu: the Collective, a platform that spotlights emergent issues impact­ing the global black diaspora.

Starting to Embrace the SDGS

1. Recognize what your institution does and how it relates to the world. There must be a desire to learn and change. Explore who are you and how you fit into the world from a global citizen per­spective versus purely business.

2. Minimize harm by taking a realistic assessment of how your institution fits within and affects the world beyond the success/failure of the business itself, and use this assessment to instruct your operations and impact. Some investments are moot in the face of terrible business practices. For example, agriculture giant Monsanto donated $20 million in 2017 to education and food programs while also perpetuating global poverty by con­trolling seed supplies and harming local produc­ers and markets. Companies cannot simply make charitable contributions without also critically examining their corporate footprint.

3. Engage and support what needs to be done, participate in positive change beyond the direct ‘survive and thrive’ of the business. Move from a strictly business to a global citizen approach. More organizations need to emphasize corporate citizenship. Ask: How can this institution be a driver of positive change in a greater way than its narrow view of sustainability from supply chain and bottom line perspective?

4. Leverage the power of the SDGs, which provides common language and goals, to deliver a collaborative and strategic approach that works with communities and other institutions to maximize impact.


Giving Forum Spring 2018