When Steve Martino, Cisco’s vice president of information technology, drives along Route 101 in San Jose, Calif., he thinks about deadlines to meet, programs to initiate, and teams to lead through upcoming projects. But there is another set of thoughts which permeates his mind– those of the Habitat for Humanity projects he has led, which he can actually see from the highway.
“I enjoy being able to drive past a home or development that we worked on, see that result and say ‘I had something to do with that,’” Martino said. “Those people have a home and are happy in part because I invested time in it.”
The discipline of community relations has evolved dramatically in recent years. Recognizing both the responsibility to support their communities and the business benefits of a positive reputation, companies have invested billions of dollars and millions of hours, resulting in a substantive impact.
Yet for many organizations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is on the verge of the most dramatic change yet. It’s a shift to the concept of creating shared value, which tears apart the traditional lines between a CSR program and the business it supports. In many ways, it makes community relations obsolete, as the entire business becomes a community relations effort unto itself. The emerging practice of creating shared value can transform how companies grow and impact communities around the world.
In the summer of 2010, Veronica Recanati, Security Partner Account Manager for Cisco Italy, spent one month of paid time off volunteering at an orphanage in Tanzania. It turned out to be a life-changing experience not just for her, but for many of her colleagues in Rome.
In Tanzania, Veronica realized just one euro could buy ten meals for children. She realized more help was needed, not just in Tanzania, but at home in Italy and around the world. And she realized she wanted be involved.
“It was like a bomb that exploded in my head,” Veronica says. “I wanted to use my experience with Cisco to help.”
Today, Veronica is part of a very active Italy Civic Council – a group of Cisco employees that leads volunteer and charitable activities at the local level.
Recently, I visited Arletta Jorgenson, an American single mother of three who relies on food pantries to help feed her family (see video below). Arletta, who lost her job as an administrative assistant three years ago and has survived on public assistance ever since, reminds us that financial hardship can happen to anyone – our neighbors, our cousins, colleagues…and us.
In the U.S., 49 million people are “food insecure” (families with at least one member who sometimes is hungry because they can’t afford enough food), according to Feeding America. These people aren’t necessarily homeless – or even unemployed. In fact, more than a third of them have at least one working adult.