NEW YORK–Is one percent better than zero or none at all? We’re not talking about the affluent in the United States, but if the one-percent effort or initiative that big companies dedicate to social impact is sufficient—or if it’s just a compromise, a public relations move.
David Dietz, Modavanti founder, a panelist at the Social Impact Matters talk last August 25 at District Cowork, had this to say: “Intent is more important than outcome.” He cited the case of a large burger chain being the ultimate provider of health care but does it matter if its food is making people sick?
He was one of the panelists that included Gabriella Haddad of Toned board member and business of Jewel Toned; Kunal Sood, founder and CXO of X Fellows; Anna-Marie Wascher, partner, CEO and co-founder of Flat World Partners and Rob Wu, founder and CEO of Cause Vox. Justin Silverman of The New York Daily News moderated the talk.
It’s not always easy to offer help, because it can also affect other people’s livelihood. Dietz recalled how Toms Shoes first generated a lot of buzz when it gave away a pair of shoes in a developing country for every pair you buy. However, turned out many small shoe makers were affected by this. Toms has since reportedly built factories to sustain people’s livelihood in areas where the shoes are shipped.
One thing the panelist and the others in the room agreed on: Toms Shoes was successful in starting a conversation around social responsibility.
It turns out even good intentions—without understanding the community — may not work. Still, all the panelists think every company should have some social responsibility—not just in terms of providing a band-aid solution but a real solution. Wascher suggested Warby Parker consider looking into markets with poor eyesight to better serve its purpose of donating eyeglasses for every pair you buy.
The trick is not to force your company into doing something impactful when it can’t fully commit to doing something useful. Jumping on the bandwagon is frowned upon. Being in the industry, the panelists can see what many may not easily notice. An old man selling shoes in Madagascar without shoes on—that’s an eyesore that’s going to get them talking.
Still, they know it’s hard to pinpoint who’s right or wrong. And even if it’s very obvious the way the consumer supply chain works for garments, how does one address it? Do you stamp a label on a chocolate, saying it was made under slave conditions? It’s good to ask, though, where are the boundaries? And where are we failing? Legislation on this is hard.
“Only five percent of clothing is made in the United States. It took 60 years for that to happen. To unf..k that, we may need twice that time frame, another 120 years, to bring it back to the States,” Dietz said.
For advice, the panel said you need you to know your audience. You need an MVP at least, some traction, a passion for what you do. In the social impact space, if you really want to make a difference, it’s a lifetime commitment. And if you’re deep into it, be ok with pivoting, be open to criticism and be cautious who you bring in to your fold.