On working with purpose-driven businesses

What do you do with your hard-earned disposable income? 

Take the traditional stock market route to grow wealth, or part with your money through a charitable donation? What if you could kill two birds with one stone and make an impact investment in a promising social enterprise or mission-driven business?

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According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.

For our society to see real progress on social and environmental issues, we need to make space for creative solutions, new business models and innovative ways of securing funding. The rise of social enterprise and mission-driven organizations creates incredible opportunities for the public, private and nonprofit sectors to work together in ways we have never seen before.

Mission-driven organizations are founded and run by a special breed of entrepreneurs driven to grow successful social businesses contributing to the economy, while at the same time tackling the issues plaguing our globe. More and more companies across the world are allocating funds to social responsibility and philanthropy efforts, and consumers are demanding products and services that come from sustainable practices and sources.

It’s no secret that Austin is home to one of the country’s fastest-growing hot spots for social entrepreneurs and mission-driven businesses. Here, we’re seeing business executives, venture capitalists, legislators, community leaders, university students, and the average Joe raise their hands and actively support social enterprise. Even our Mayor, Steve Adler, is leading exciting initiatives to incentivize and spark innovative approaches that solve critical local issues like transportation, affordable housing, homelessness and more.

The beauty of the thriving Austin social enterprise network lies in its collaborative spirit. We regularly witness collaboration instead of competition and support in place of envy. Within the social entrepreneurship circle, there is a shared belief that when you lend a hand by making an introduction to a potential investor/client or calling in a favor, everyone wins because our ultimate goal is to improve the planet.

We believe in fortifying our local mission-driven businesses with the communication and media strategies, tools and resources they need to get their message out for maximum social and environmental impact.

Our hope is that by supporting Austin area mission-driven businesses and change-makers, we can help our local community create impact and set an example for rallying other major metro areas to change the way they approach urgent issues.

The proverbial divide between mission and money is blurring before our eyes with the rising trend of breaking down silos between industries, sectors and layers of society in pursuit of social and environmental change. Gone are the days of making mutually exclusive decisions about where our philanthropic and investment money goes.

By: Ashley Conway

Sparking social impact through the power of media

Did you know that we consume over 15 hours of media each day?

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Yes, you read that right. 15 hours of media each day. That’s equal to 6.9 million-million gigabytes of information, or a daily consumption of nine DVDs worth of data per person, per day - according to a study at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego.

In our increasingly connected and globalized world, so much information is at our fingertips through media, communications, social media, content and beyond. Stories about wicked problems plaguing our society and environment (and innovative solutions for these issues) are continuously shared across channels in different countries and languages, ultimately increasing awareness.

The beauty of this connectivity lies in how it truly has the power to democratize social impact by sparking people’s interest in supporting and getting involved as a social entrepreneur, impact investor or advocate. Whether these stories are packaged through YouTube videos, social media campaigns, trending hashtags in response to a real-time event, viral videos, blog posts, email campaigns or beyond - they have the undeniable potential to reach millions around the globe in a matter of seconds.

Right now, we are living in an opportune time to leverage media and technology across the world to catalyze social impact. Just as media increases global access to stories and information, the Internet shortens the path for people of any background to start new ventures and initiatives because of the virtually unlimited volume of entrepreneurial resources and pathways for communication and seeking support.

Leveraging virtual reality for social impact
A rising trend in media involves adapting video and journalistic content to produce virtual reality experiences. We have seen examples of virtual reality employed to weave stories and educate viewers about social issues in an immersive way with real video examples from around the world. These tools also have the potential to create more awareness about social and environmental challenges in local communities to bring together key stakeholders (ex. consumers, city dwellers, city government, non-profit organizations and technology companies). Not to mention, this kind of media generates new possibilities for new environmental and social issues to be surfaced through crowdsourced data. Virtual reality has been found to create a shared human experience through empathy, and it can make the world seem smaller which reduces real and perceived barriers to tackling the world’s wicked social and environmental problems.

An empathy machine
Virtual reality creator Simone Stolzoff describes the technology as having the power to turn thoughts into action because viewers are much more likely to take action when they relate to a character’s circumstance as if it were their own. Similarly, this TED talk by Chris Milk and a recent article in Wired advocate how virtual reality can actually make people more empathetic. More and more often, the technology is put to use by artists, activists and journalists as a tool to help viewers get closer to understanding and empathizing with the realities of other people and animals’ lives. Some of these scenarios include plunging viewers into a virtual world that shows them what it feels like to be directly impacted by the Ebola epidemic in Africa a few years back, what it’s like to be a cow (with the intention for viewers to empathize and reduce meat consumption), and even what life looks like in war-torn places like Syria. On that note, we recommend checking out Project Syria, a journalistic account created by virtual reality storytelling pioneer Nonny de la Peña of war-torn Syria and the refugee camp filling with Syrians as they flee their homeland.

TOMS has created virtual reality experiences to take their customers and viewers along the ride (virtually) on their Giving Trips through a four-minute, 360-degree film. In this VRScout article, a recent TOMS Giving Trip virtual reality experience is described as a heartfelt and touching experience that “takes you on a ride in the back of a Jeep, where you end up at a giving destination with a team of TOMS employees, carefully measuring kids’ feet for shoes... for the final few minutes of the film, you find yourself personally introduced to a young boy named Julio who shows you around his home and living conditions.”

By Ashley Conway

This article was originally posted as part of a content series for Verb, a talent development platform that combines online learning with real-world practice. 

Transforming care delivery: Empowering healthcare providers and employees to innovate

$750 billion.

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That’s how much the U.S. throws away each year in healthcare spending on unnecessary services, inefficient care delivery and excess administrative costs. Healthcare services represent over 17% of the U.S. economy, a number that dramatically exceeds that of any other industrialized country. Despite this extraordinary spending, we fall far down the list on quality healthcare outcomes. These facts - high spending and low achievement - represent the overwhelming challenge of health care delivery in the U.S. today. We must improve the value of the care delivered and get more for our healthcare dollar, especially as population growth and life expectancy increase.

Another rising concern alongside inefficiencies plaguing our healthcare system is how we might improve coordination of care as patients cycle through doctors and facilities at different stages of their lives. With the rapidly increasing amount of healthcare technology tools and software that communicate and exchange patient data in real time, it is becoming more and more important for these technologies to easily (and securely) connect and integrate across discrete organizational boundaries.

Boots on the ground
Since every participant in the healthcare system (doctors, hospitals, integrated systems, government agencies and insurance companies alike) experiences these issues through their daily work, we believe they they may very well hold the key to tackling these problems. What better solution for these major issues around healthcare system waste and interoperability challenges than empowering healthcare providers and professionals to develop innovative ideas of their own?

An Innovation Challenge
As a way to engage their employees as problem-solvers and further their culture of innovation, Seton Healthcare Family engaged Verb (an Austin-based social enterprise) in 2016 to produce an Innovation Challenge at Dell Children’s Medical Center. This was a highly successful employee innovation workshop series and competition for the best ideas to improve healthcare outcomes. The competition finalists were selected based on ideas that were unique, well-researched, clearly presented, likely to be patented or implemented; and in June 2016, the competition winners were awarded prize winnings ranging from $500 to $5,000.

The winners’ innovative solutions ranged from a pediatric healthcare database bringing reliable health care data closer to the care team decision-makers to an infant EKG pad to improve comfort and accuracy.

By Ashley Conway

This article was originally posted as part of a content series for Verb, a talent development platform that combines online learning with real-world practice. 

The workforce of tomorrow: Reinventing employee engagement

Team-building exercises, community service days, holiday bonuses, standard maternity and paternity leave, leadership training, you name it - these traditional, time-tested employee engagement methods may not be enough for companies to attract and retain the purpose-driven workforce of tomorrow.

Americans spend nearly 40% of their daily lives at work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With more and more resources and research available about the importance of achieving the proverbial “work-life balance,” employees are looking to their employers more than ever by granting them more agency over their own time through remote work agreements, instilling social responsibility into their organizational culture and providing skills-based volunteering opportunities.

Industry giants and small businesses alike are catching onto these rising trends and demands from their current and prospective employees. More often, we’re seeing innovative and modern employee engagement tactics pop up; such as wellness and mindfulness workshops or even internal company-wide competitions incentivizing employees to tap into insights to innovate common problems they face in their roles. Recently, we’ve also noticed increasing advocacy for employees and team members at all levels to develop higher emotional intelligence and self-awareness as a way to infuse more meaning and impact into their daily interactions, relationships and overall contributions in and out of the workplace.

A fresh take on employee engagement
The biggest limitations around the traditional methods of employee engagement of team-building and community service include the fact that they are not skills-based, don’t connect to employees’ daily work, provide limited experiential learning opportunities, are constricted by time and venue, and are typically hyper-local instead of global. 

Engaging employees through social venture mentorship
Over the course of six years, Austin-based social enterprise, Verb, partnered with global tech giant, Dell, to produce several competitions (Dell Social Innovation Challenge, Dell Empowering Women Challenge, Dell Education Challenge). During this time, over 3,000 Dell employees were engaged as mentors and judges at various stages of each competition - and nearly 15,000 volunteer hours were logged across the board.

In 2013, Verb joined forces with TOMS Shoes to run a three-month skills-based mentoring program matching 21 TOMS employees with 21 top entrepreneurial ventures. This program was carefully designed to leverage each participating TOMS employee’s unique skill-set in helping their assigned venture grow in various ways - such as marketing and outreach, fundraising, business modeling, sales strategies, strategic partnerships, and product pilots. In all, 130 mentoring hours were logged by the TOMS employees participating in this program, and the ventures benefited from live webinars with Blake Mycoskie, TOMS Founder and Chief Shoe Giver.

“This was a learning experience for me as well, and provided me with a different sense of responsibility. Being engaged in a program like this changes your view of the company… it showed me how we can be more responsible as a company and drive change within the world. It increased my respect for Dell.” -Ashish Malpani, Dell

“I didn’t just volunteer, I lobbied to be a mentor to Algae for Aid! Given my excitement for algae, I’m willing to devote far more time to my team!” -Zander Collier, TOMS

“I’m looking forward to brainstorming some ideas for how we can help this great work and renewed focus on entrepreneurship live on at TOMS!” -Angie Bagley, TOMS

Dell Children’s company-wide employee innovation competition
In 2016, Verb teamed up with Seton Healthcare Family to engage the employees of Dell Children’s Medical Center through the first-ever “internal employee innovation” competition of its kind. An unprecedented way for a hospital to engage their employees as problem-solvers and further their culture of innovation, this competition incentivized the employees of Dell Children’s to identify and submit innovative ideas that improve health care and meet a substantial need for Dell Children’s patients or staff.

By Ashley Conway

This article was originally posted as part of a content series for Verb, a talent development platform that combines online learning with real-world practice. 

Searching for purpose: How employers can retain millennial talent

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With each passing year, our news and content streams become more and more inundated with articles and blog posts analyzing the behavior and motivations of millennials. Rather than taking apart the nuanced pieces of the puzzle that make up the entire “millennial” generation, employers must take a closer look at how to incorporate purpose and social responsibility dynamics to build trust and loyalty among their employees.

Research over the last few years by organizations like Deloitte and Great Place To Work proves that a strong sense of purpose in the workplace is closely linked to positive organizational performance. When corporate values mirror the values of their employees, loyalty is more likely to develop - especially when employers demonstrate a strong sense of organizational purpose beyond financial success. Millennials intending to stay with their organization for at least five years are far more likely to report a positive culture and a strong business focus on the needs of the individual.

Trust Index© Employee Survey
A tool used to measure employee engagement across sectors, the Trust Index© Employee Survey (produced by Great Place To Work) assesses opinions, attitudes and perceptions; analyzes the level of trust between management and employees; accesses the level of pride in the work done by employees; and rates the amount of camaraderie among colleagues. Recent results from the Trust Index survey show that millennials have raised the bar overall for workplace cultures by lobbying for more meaning, community, balance and transparency in their work lives. The momentum from these demands are creating a spillover effect because organizations are evolving to adapt, much to the benefit of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. According to the Trust Index survey results on the “100 Best Workplaces for Millennials,” all three generations (Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers) employed at these companies are thriving in their respective workplaces.

Another interesting finding through the Trust Index survey results and Deloitte’s annual Millennial Surveys is that nearly 90% of millennials believe that business success should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance, and that over 70% believe that businesses should have a positive impact on wider society. In short, millennials very much believe that business success is built on a foundation of long-term sustainability on all fronts, rather than pursuing short-term profit maximization.

“The message is clear: when looking at their career goals, today’s millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits,” said Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Global. “These findings should be viewed as a valuable alarm to the business community, particularly in developed markets, that they need to change the way they engage millennial talent or risk being left behind.”

Organizations must demonstrate authenticity and purpose to engage millennials as customers and employees. These strong correlations between work and purpose, social responsibility and loyalty among millennials demonstrate how critical these elements are for business and economic growth.

By Ashley Conway

This article was originally posted as part of a content series for Verb, a talent development platform that combines online learning with real-world practice.