Conscious Capitalism: Learning How Good Corporate Citizenship is Also Good for Business

Lindsay Elliott-Foose, Washington D.C.

On November 24, 2014, GBS’ Susan Wedge, Vice President & Partner, David Besnainou, Senior Consultant, and I presented at an executive seminar as part of Business Today’s 40th International Conference in New York City. During this three-day event, Business Today, an undergraduate group at Princeton University, brought together 100 top-performing students from around the world to explore “Business and Morality: The Corporate Conscience.” These students spent time completing a case study, listening to keynote addresses, and attending executive seminars.

We presented at one of these executive seminars, sharing some of IBM’s corporate social responsibility strategies and programs with a group of ten students. When I was first asked to help flesh out presentation slides which would provide case studies for the seminar, I was excited to be able to direct my learning about IBM. As a new Consulting by Degrees consultant, I was awash in a sea of fascinating information, and this was a great way to anchor myself and more closely investigate a few core IBM programs.

At David’s suggestion, I focused our presentation on four major areas – IBM’s internal practices, Corporate Service Corps, Smarter Cities Challenge, Capture37and Smarter Planet Initiative. In looking at the broad array of impressive work IBM does to enable corporate and employee social responsibility, I found it to be challenging at first to narrow down discussion points. But, I focused on the topic of the conference. Students were expected to engage in debate on the “true purpose” of corporations – as companies dealing only with the bottom line or as forces advancing lasting and impactful change. With this in mind, I looked for case studies with tangible results, both for the communities they served and positive impact they bring to IBM.

In our seminar, David highlighted thought-leadership and governance priorities in environmental stewardship, supply chain management, and employee well-being. He mentioned ways IBM is working to conserve energy and monitor our supply chain, ultimately resulting in better practices and cost-savings. He explained how IBM empowers individual employees at all band-levels to organize and participate in service events, increasing their leadership skills, as exemplified through his own experience organizing IBM’s “Light the Night” walks in October in conjunction with Susan Wedge and D.C. LEAD.

Susan spoke to the unique and enriching opportunity of Corporate Service Corps (CSC). She presented the case study of the first CSC project in Ghana, and then discussed her own experience as an Executive Service Corps team member in Bucharest, Romania. Susan spoke of the CSC “triple benefit” to communities, corps members, and IBM, and claimed she learned more about IBM in those three weeks than at any other point in her twelve year tenure. She also spoke of the real investment IBM has made in this program with the purpose of making an impact, not just “checking a box,” as one student queried may be the case.

I tackled the Smarter Cities Challenge and Smarter Planet Initiative talking points, spending a very enjoyable afternoon viewing excellent videos on both, and learning about some fascinating case studies. I decided to use the examples of the work done in Cambridge, Ontario and Miami-Dade County, as they were well-documented, had broad scopes of impact, and held examples of deployed IBM products. Students were impressed with the amount and scope of work IBM teams were able to complete on short project timeframes.

Before volunteering to help with this presentation, I had not spent much time pondering the big questions these talented conference attendees were considering. But, in learning about the different ways IBM dedicates itself to social, environmental, and corporate responsibility, I found my point of view on the topic aligning with that expressed in the 2013 Approach to Corporate Citizenship – “Good corporate citizenship is also good for business.” When our Smarter City and Smarter Planet projects help make the world’s systems and infrastructure more sustainable, our business opportunities grow. When our top-performers complete Corporate Service Corps projects and impact communities, IBM is better positioned to enter and compete in key growth markets. And, when individual IBMers are able to organize and lead service events, such as “Light the Night,” they network with new colleagues and come together around a meaningful cause. After my research, I believe IBM stands out from our colleagues with our amount of investment in corporate citizenship initiatives. And, our investment definitely brings back advantages to IBM.

Isn’t this a great way to reconcile how we think about all corporations? As perhaps complex organizations not solely concerned with capital gains or “corporate consciousness,” but rather as practicers of “conscious capitalism.”

Lindsay Elliott-Foose is a new member of the Washington, D.C. Consulting By Degrees program. A recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, she received degrees in Decision Science and Global Studies, looking for a way to combine her love of travel with future-thinking usages of big data analytics. A member of a large global family, she’s traveled to 32 countries, and lived abroad in Egypt, China, and India. When not at IBM, you can find Lindsay curled up with a cup of tea and a good book on her balcony, baking something sweet in the kitchen, or planning her next trip!

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