Look outside your window, or take a scroll through social media, and it’s easy to see that the world needs real social change right now. We’re battling poverty, climate change, a divisive political environment, racism, xenophobia, social injustice, sexism, a global pandemic and more.
It’s easy to feel like you can’t make a difference or that you don’t have a voice. We all imagine societal change as these massive national movements, but that’s not how change happens. Look at any historical event, and you’ll see that true change often happens and begins in grassroots efforts in small communities or with the small actions of a few.
These small changes and everyday efforts can cause ripple effects and serve as real catalysts for change. As Mother Theresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
As a business owner, you have the opportunity to make your business a catalyst for change. You can be that first ripple of change in your community.
But how do you do that? How do you make your business a catalyst for change? Let’s break it down.
Be Clear on Your Missions
What social issues matter most to you as a business? While you can have several core values and best practices, it’s essential to clarify what types of changes you want your business to spark in the community. While you can be a business that just generally puts good into the world, you’ll have more luck creating real change if you know what your mission is.
You can have several missions, too! You can be a café that’s passionate about promoting sustainability and decreasing human trafficking. You can be a tech firm that’s passionate about reducing poverty in the community and support women recovering from domestic violence.
Be clear about what your business holds dear. What values do you hold close? What changes need to happen in the community? It’s essential to know where you stand because as you come up with community service projects and partnerships, hire new employees and more, you’ll need to make sure they all align with your core missions.
Check That Your House Isn’t Made of Glass
You know the old saying, right? Those with glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If you want your business to be a catalyst for change, it’s crucial that your business is ethical and practicing what you preach.
For instance, you can’t fight against climate change and actively promote practices that contribute to global warming. You can’t be pro-equality and exclusively hire all straight, white men for your executive staff.
To fight for change, your business has to be ethically run all the way around. You can’t be great in one area and terrible in another. If you want to be a catalyst for change, you must hold your business, yourself and your employees to a higher standard.
People don’t often like change, so they will look for any reason to discredit what you have to say, so your business needs to be able to withstand any scrutiny.
Build Thoughtful Partnerships
You don’t have to fight for change on your own. Chances are, there are many non-profits (like NAWBO) out there who are advocating and fighting for the exact changes you’re trying to catalyze. Find those non-profit organizations and figure out ways to work with them. It could be as simple as asking your customers to donate to the non-profit while making a purchase. It could be much more complex, depending on the nature of your business.
For instance, one Vancouver-based credit union offers a credit card that distributes money back into the community. When users spend, it gives back to the local low-income community. Other businesses partner with non-profits and start brand-new initiatives for change in their communities.
If you’re passionate about causing a particular change in your community, plan a meeting with a non-profit organization (local or national) to come up with a way to work together to meet a common goal.
Your missions need to matter to your employees, too. This is incredibly important. Often, your employees are the face of your brand to customers and clients. If they can’t adequately evangelize your missions, then they aren’t right for your company. Causing change is a lot like starting a fire. It’s difficult, but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes, your employees won’t be as juiced up about your cause as you are, and that’s okay. Sometimes you need to help fuel that fire. One great way to do that is by encouraging your employees to volunteer for the missions that matter to your business.
It’s best if you can make that volunteering happen on the clock. For instance, if ending poverty in your community is something you’re passionate about, pay your employees to all go and volunteer at a soup kitchen together (when it’s safe, of course).
The company Clif Bar has made volunteering a considerable part of its company culture. In 2017, they reached 100,000 hours of volunteer work on the clock. In doing so, they’ve promoted a real culture of community change within their staff and their community at large.
Enrich the Community by Teaching
Maybe you aren’t sure how to cause positive change in the community. Perhaps you aren’t dead set on a particular mission. That’s fine, too. You can still be a catalyst for good. Consider teaching your underserved community the skills you have that make you successful.
For instance, think about mentoring young, low-income girls about entrepreneurship. Consider running free workshops or webinars on how to run a business for your community members. Teach them the basics of running a business—everything from basic marketing to how to value a business for sale. Alternatively, if your company offers specific services or products, consider sharing some of that knowledge, too.
For example, if you run a software company, you might offer a beginner’s course on coding. If you run a bakery, you might give an intro class to baking. Think about what skills you can provide to the community at large. Knowledge is free to share, and for many low-income members of your community, it might be the only opportunity they get to consider a career like yours.
Think about the positive impact of sharing your business knowledge and how that can impact your community long term. If you help teach others to run a business or learn hard skills, you’ll feed and create a more thriving community in the future, simply by giving people who wouldn’t otherwise have it the opportunity to learn.
Be the Change
These are just a few ways you can use your business to cause positive change in your community. Think outside the box. You must understand your community and what its unique problems are. Don’t be afraid to network and bring other businesses into the fold of your mission.
Just remember, you can be the change. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
About the Author
Skylar Ross is a contributor at Raincatcher and a blogger. His contributing site, Raincatcher, provides useful tools and advice for business owners such as a business valuation calculator, exit planning strategies and guides to selling a business.