Young Professionals Briefing Series: Corporate Social Responsibility and Development Around the World
Panelists discuss the role of the private sector in promoting social responsibility, development, and change at scale around the world.
The CFR Young Professionals Briefing Series provides an opportunity for those early in their careers to engage with CFR. The briefings feature remarks by experts on critical global issues and lessons learned in their careers. These events are intended for individuals who have completed their undergraduate studies and have not yet reached the age of thirty to be eligible for CFR term membership.
FULCO: Good evening. Good evening.
Thank you all so much for joining us tonight for this session of the Young Professionals Briefing Series. I’m so pleased to welcome all of you here, whether you’re joining us in New York or virtually over Zoom.
My name is Meaghan Fulco and I’m director of meetings in the Term Member Program here at the Council. Before turning it over to our esteemed panel I just want to give a quick overview of the Council and why you all are here.
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Now, turning to tonight’s program. We’ll have about thirty minutes of conversation amongst our panelists, followed by thirty minutes of Q&A where you’re encouraged to ask a question and engage in the conversation yourselves.
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And now I’d like to introduce our moderator for this evening.
Jove Oliver, first and foremost, is a very recent CFR term member. He’s also the founder and chief executive of Oliver Global and has over twenty years of experience designing and executing results-driven communications, advocacy, and digital campaigns for international organizations, Fortune 500 companies, U.N. agencies, academia and government, and specializes in global health, social impact, crisis management, and international policy.
We’re in wonderful hands this evening with Jove leading this important conversation on corporate social responsibility and development.
Thank you, Jove, and thank you to all of our panelists. Over to you.
OLIVER: Thank you, Meaghan, and welcome to all of you here in the room and online for this Council on Foreign Relations meeting on corporate social responsibility and development around the world.
I’m pleased to be joined this evening by Boris Bulayev, Ella Gudwin, and in the room here with me Bhakti Mirchandani. I am Jove Oliver, as Meaghan said, founder and CEO of Oliver Global and I will be presiding over tonight’s discussion.
We have a pretty large field we could discuss tonight here when we talk about corporate responsibility, social entrepreneurship, corporate philanthropy, corporate foundations, social enterprises.
I could go on and on about some of the terms and words we think about, whether it’s traditional, you know, blue chip Fortune 500 companies that have over the last several decades, you know, emerged into more thoughtful practices around their environment and social good enterprises, big companies like I’ve worked with. For example, GitLab recently went public. Their founder became a very wealthy man and they started the GitLab Foundation, which is completely independent from GitLab the company.
So you see different sorts of structural relationships between a company and a foundation or a philanthropy. It could be embedded within that company, it could be completely independent, or that company could have been founded for express purpose of a social good and environmental good.
So we’re going to try to unpack some of that here with you tonight with three brilliant people who come at this from three sort of slightly different perspectives. That’ll be the first half an hour, and then we really want the rest of the conversation to be driven by all of you to see which parts of this vast array of social good, of some controversy, which we’ll get to as well in this field, what part you gravitate towards and what part you want to learn more about.
To start us off, I thought, Ella, maybe we could jump to you, get a little bit of perspective from outside the room to help us with some of these words. So thinking about corporate social responsibility sort of versus something like social entrepreneurship, what is that intersection and how do you sort of think about those types of activity?
GUDWIN: Yeah. Thanks for that. Hi, everybody. Nice to be here with you. Also a former proud term member, current life member, so I advocate highly for it all.
I think when—there’s a spectrum, right, as you were alluding to there, Jove, and so if we think about a traditional for profit company purpose is an afterthought. Gets woven in later. You can think about a company that has—that is a for profit company and has a purpose built into its agenda, and often from the get-go from the founding moment there’s some principle of purpose that is in the DNA of the company.
Then you get a social enterprise, which is an organization like VisionSpring as well as Educate! where we are purpose first. So we are—some people like to say we’re nonprofits. I would say we are for purpose.
So we are a purpose-first organization and then we blend the practices of the nonprofit space and the for profit space. But our North Star is the impact that we’re trying to achieve in the world. And then we may or may not be for profit and we may or may not but we’re working usually with blended revenue models. And then you might have a traditional nonprofit which is funded purely by philanthropy.
So that would be the realm and I’ll just—I’m recognizing that—so VisionSpring is focused on eyeglasses. I’m just recognizing that three of the four of us are wearing eyeglasses. I am wearing my Warby Parker eyeglasses.
So Warby Parker is VisionSpring’s largest donor. Neil, many of you will know, is the founder. Neil Blumenthal is the founder of Warby Parker, one of four, and he was VisionSpring’s third employee. So when Warby Parker
got founded Warby Parker had the issue of uncorrected blurry vision, which affects a billion people globally, at the center of its corporate strategy.
But Warby Parker is very much a for profit company with purpose that is purpose driven. VisionSpring is the for purpose company, or organization social enterprise, that is solely focused on the issue of solving the problem of uncorrected refractive error globally.
I just want to put one other thing into perspective that you mentioned just in terms of the arc of CSR. So if we think about corporate social responsibility we’re on this very long arc that maybe if we look at the ’50s and ’60s we saw huge corporate foundations kind of being born. In the ’80s there’s just a lot of big check writing. The ’90s really saw PPP. So it started off as public-private partnerships and then into the early 2000s the PPP became people planet profit. And then if you go into the mid-2000s we’re looking at shared values so how is it that corporations and nonprofits can solve a problem together that generates value for both sides.
And I think there’s a question about where we are now. There’s some element of shared value. But I think some people would say, you know, if a company can look at a social problem and have that social problem be the mother front of its innovation agenda that is where I think a lot of companies are looking is how can we contribute in a meaningful, big, scalable way putting our full enterprise to the problem.
OLIVER: Yeah. No, absolutely, Ella, and it’s so interesting. I mean, I was just thinking back to twenty-two years ago when I first got my first internship that turned into a job out of college was a PPP and we were a public-private partnership and we ran into an issue where the company—we’ll talk after the—off the record at the reception if you want to know the names—but, you know, was really in it for a sort of different set of reasons than the sort of folks that were looking for the change making on the ground, and that evolution has been fascinating over the years.
I want to switch now to you, Bhakti, because we’ve been talking about one constellation, which is companies, whether they’re long-term companies, you know, sort of finding religion or newer companies based off of purpose first. There’s a whole different part of the realm, which is the investing realm, and sort of socially—the social investing.
And so, Bhakti, can you sort of help us think about the terms related to socially responsible investing, SRI, sustainable investing, ESG investing? Can you kind of help unpack some of that for us?
MIRCHANDANI: I’m happy to and I’m also delighted to be here. I was a former corporate member and then I was a term member and I’m a life member, and it’s wonderful to be able to work with two friends. That’s what happens when you get old. You get to work with friends.
MIRCHANDANI: So in terms of definitions, responsible investing is a form of—I guess the most overarching term is sustainable investing and it includes all of the different forms of what one could call impact investing, sustainability-themed investing, ESG integration, responsible investing. They’re all part of sustainable investing.
Responsible investing is a part of sustainable investing that also includes advocacy. So it’s—you could be a large asset manager that does sustainable investing. But if you do a lot of field-building work and contribute to, you know, working groups that are, you know, not for profit, which a lot of these large asset managers do, then you’re doing responsible investing.
In an organization like Trinity Church Wall Street we do a lot of responsible investing because we’re a church and we have, you know, broader goals than, you know, maximizing profit.
In terms of the different types of sustainable investing, the largest type of sustainable investing has become strategic in the engagement or the investor-investee dialogue on sustainability. That’s the most effective form of sustainable investing in terms of making an impact.
Another large player, which has created a lot of controversy, is ESG integration, or systematically integrating environmental, social, and governance, issues into the investment process. Then there’s impact investing, which is the other end of the spectrum. It’s the smallest but the fastest growing form of sustainable investing and it’s systematically tracking the impact, and there are nine components to the definition of impact investing. But I won’t bore you with all the definitions but there are lots of forms of sustainable investing and being precise about the definitions can avoid legal issues.
OLIVER: Yeah. No, excellent. Thank you for that.
Boris, I want to turn to you not for the sort of last part of the equation but for another big piece of the puzzle that we’re trying to understand here in this world, which is how it is to work at a nonprofit that often works with a CSR unit at a company or with a corporate foundation.
You know, as we heard from earlier comments we hope that there’s increasing alignment between, you know, the corporate goals and the corporate sort of strategies for their investment in this space and then for the reasons that the nonprofit community get involved.
Boris, can you sort of give us a little bit of your background in this respect and talk a little bit through some of these issues?
BULAYEV: Yes. Thank you. It’s really great to be here, and I should say I just came back from Europe so I’m feeling the jetlag slowly coming to my—seep into my body. So I hope you’ll excuse me.
So yeah, so I’m co-founder and CEO of Educate! We’re the largest youth skills provider in East Africa and so that’s brought us into engagement with a variety of corporate entities, many of whom do not necessarily have big Africa presences, which creates interesting dynamics.
And so there’s kind of three—kind of thinking about this question there’s three kind of thoughts I’ve had from the experience from this angle.
One is that it’s just—it’s really important to understand the business requirements for CSR. Like, why CSR? How does it serve the business? Is this an impact-oriented foundation? Experienced that with Cartier, Vital Foundation. Shell had a foundation that was like this. Or is it an employee engagement tool or does it have some other kind of mass marketing purpose, and in my experience without this it eventually falls apart.
And so with it once you understand those business requirements be very transparent about business requirements that you need from your partners, from organizations like us, and then once you feel confident about meeting those requirements invest in the partner and leave them alone.
I think there can often be a tendency to try to design what the partner does, in which case now you’re kind of doing my job. And so it breaks the partnership of, I think, just focusing on are we adding value to the business objectives and then kind of just staying at that level. So that’s kind of one thought.
Two, I think a dynamic I’ve seen is that, you know, a business starts out as a scrappy startup, eventually finds product market fit, builds an economic mode or competitive advantage that drives profits, right. And over time, that kind of income engine drives growth for the business and that advantage is the edge of the business even if parts of the business aren’t performing efficiently, right.
I’m sure everyone has seen that, and I think this means that CSR can often have no business requirements on it and the people working there can just push work to partners because there’s no business pressure to work efficiently or effectively. And so I think—(inaudible)—just want to avoid that and just be aware of this dynamic that because you’re cushioned from performance requirements of the business and it’s vaguer metrics it can be structured in a way where you need to push out work to others and effectively just take nonprofit time.
And the third thought I just wanted to share kind of in my interactions, with CSR and really just, I think, dynamics of power is that it’s when you have power—and I think in CSR you have power, right, and you’re coming with, generally, an established corporate name—it’s really hard to not be an asshole in those power dynamics even if you—and because power makes it hard to get a feedback loop and it gives you decisions not because you have the context to make the decision but because you have the power.
So I’ll just share a very personal example. Educate! is working on a bigger grant from MasterCard Foundation that has us subcontracting to other organizations. So for, you know, fifteen years I’ve done Educate! I’ve been on the receiving end of power and now we are in a position of power with other organizations and we’ve had to work so hard to not be assholes in our interactions with other people.
And even though we’ve been on the receiving end of this for years and years and seen everything that—every dynamic play out poorly, we’ve recreated just because if you’re not incredibly intentional in mitigating those power dynamics then you will be pushing out pain. And as someone—I remember someone who ran kind of—ran an emerging markets hedge fund and then went to Gates Foundation and then went back I remember told me that, eventually we just—we were the ones pushing out the pain.
And so I think unless—this will happen unless you intentionally really try to mitigate those dynamics. So you want to be really mindful of the experience on the receiving end and be really conscious of minimizing decision making where you don’t have the most context; you just have the power. Just kind of a general management decision-making—(inaudible).
OLIVER: Yeah. No, it’s fascinating and I want to pick up on that by going to Ella for a second because, you know, we think about, you know, NGOs, what their life cycle is like, what their day in and day out is like, and then you think about a company and they may have quarterly goals. They may have, you know, a budgeting cycle that’s completely different from an NGO.
So how do you all deal with that? How do you find that common ground with your corporate partners? How do you try to share some of that cultural perspective of what your challenges are, what your day is like, in a way that they can understand and help that work for you as well as for what they’re trying to achieve?
GUDWIN: Yeah. So to pick up on what Boris was saying, it starts with—so as context, VisionSpring has more than fifty corporate partners. So we have learned to engage with the corporate counterparts in different ways.
I want to first highlight that every corporation is at a different stage in their journey. So CSRs are not all the same. There are some that are very sophisticated, super conscientious, really come with a lot of humility about what they have to offer to the dynamic, and others come in, what Boris is describing, very dictatorial.
They will treat the nonprofit either like a vendor and really trying to push you to the bare knuckles of your budget, and at a certain point you just have to stand up and say, we are not going to use our philanthropic dollar to subsidize you, great big giant hundred million-, even billion-dollar company. No.
I think the other is for the—for those who are on the nonprofit social enterprise space is to also stand very grounded in what we know to be true, to the point that Boris is making about this is the context we know. This is what we have learned over twenty years of doing this work.
So I think a lot of times corporations want to fix a nonprofit, help us be better. We don’t need you to help us be better. We want you to be a student of the problem that we are all trying to solve together and then we will each bring unique tools, resources, perspective to that problem, and now we are equal partners and the knowledge is exchanging in both directions.
I think the other element is just in terms of the evolution of CSR and kind of the dialogue is how do you get corporations to break out of the—I mean, we’re very sensitive to the fact that companies have annual budget cycles. But a lot of companies you can get into what we call projectitis, which is like the disease of short-term thinking where everything is on a twelve-month project.
And so to get counterparts to say if we’re going to solve this problem in any scalable way that is only over multiple years. It has to have strategic flexible funding that will follow what we are learning so it’s not all pre-prescribed.
And then the other is to be able to get corporations to lower the logos and lower the flags a little bit so that everything is not their flagship project but to come into collaboration. So we have seen extraordinary collaborations. For example, Levi Strauss, Williams-Sonoma, Target, VF, which is behind brands like Vans and North Face, came into collaboration with us, in addition to USAID came in with funding and the factories came in with funding, and we created an alliance to address the problem of uncorrected blurry vision in the garment sector. And all the companies were benefiting directly but everyone was really—to really understand the problem together and it was nobody’s single project. We’re doing something similar right now on road safety.
And so maybe I’ll just pause there. But I think the role of the social enterprise and the nonprofit to stand our ground is something that we actually have to teach and train our staff in because the tendency to capitulate and say yes is very, very strong and the ability to walk away from money and say, actually, that’s very tempting but no. We’re not—to Boris’ point, we’re not aligned on the core strategy from the get-go. It’s hard, and it’s something you have to learn to be confident to do.
OLIVER: No, absolutely. Thank you for that.
Bhakti, I want to come back to you and sort of pulling on this thread of different cultures and thinking about a sort of culture we haven’t talked about, the faith community. We haven’t talked about the faith community.
You know, you and I were talking backstage before this. I mean, a lot of the faith leaders were real pioneers of this whole space and sort of pushing folks probably, you know, from a moral perspective, from a sort of, like, we need to do—give back the—you know, the pillars of our community.
Can you talk a little bit about that, both the genesis, the sort of role that the faith community has played in this and then how you see that culturally playing out day to day and the sort of unique sort of additional layer of cultural layer that we’re looking at here?
MIRCHANDANI: Sure. The first institutional shareholder proposal was filed by the Episcopal Church with General Motors protesting apartheid and that was just—it wasn’t even filed by an employee of the church. It was filed by a lawyer who is a member of the congregation who was asking his pastor what to do, and sustainable investing—it started as a faith-based initiative and it became mainstream when it was demonstrated that looking at systemic risk, trying to solve for systemic risks in the climate perspective, from a social perspective, actually enhanced returns and now it stands at $38 billion, according to the new Bloomberg estimates of the size of the industry.
So I think there’s a lot of confusion out there about the difference between value and values because the question is, you know, what are—whose values and what values. So within the values space there are faith-based funds. There’s a platform called Idealist, which has about a billion dollars in assets, which sounds big
until you think about the fact that there are 140 trillion (dollars) of investable assets and then it sounds very small.
Then there are also funds that are invested by political beliefs. So then there was a fund with the ticker MAGA and that is a relatively small fund and it invests in terms of alignment with the Republican Party. Those are two examples of values—political, faith-based—and all those values-based platforms they don’t make the claim that they’re enhancing risk-adjusted returns. They’re just making the claim of values and most of those platforms are very small, and they have the right to underperform if the people who invest in them care about those values more than they care about value.
Most of the large investment players that are incorporating sustainability into their investment processes are doing so from a value perspective. So if we take climate and we take, you know, some social issues, by the time my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter is my mother’s age, if we look at the climate models, only mid—the latitudes will be habitable and there’ll be 1 billion people on the planet, and there’s no portfolio that looks attractive in that three or four degree scenario.
If we think about social issues, we just had the pandemic. Twenty seven and a half million Americans are uninsured. A huge proportion of Americans don’t get sick days, and if we think about the increase in workplace transmissions in that kind of scenario it’s no longer a company-specific decision. These are systemic risks.
So for all those reasons and the different material—(inaudible)—of different factors by different industries there are a number of reasons why large investment players have chosen to invest sustainably. But there’s a lot of issues in terms of definition, in terms of the voters.
So, for example, in Texas—some of the lawmakers in Texas are confounding screens and exclusions with ESG integration and they’re completely different things. So there’s—I think a lot can be done in terms of educating the voters on the different nuances and probably faith-based investors really sharing their stories and their views because we’ve heard from politicians. We’ve heard from, you know, investors. We’ve heard from companies. But I don’t think we’ve heard enough from the faith-based players who have spent a lot of time and really pioneered this movement.
OLIVER: If I can sort of stay with you, Bhakti, for just a minute and thinking about values and thinking about these in practice, you know, like many industries the investment management industry has, you know, work to do when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. You have been instrumental in pulling together a number of institutional investors to focus on DEI.
Can you describe that initiative, how that’s progressing? Give us some background on that?
MIRCHANDANI: Sure. Following some horrific events in the summer of 2020, one of my colleagues and two individuals from the University of Rochester’s investment office got together and thought about what we could do, and at a minimum we decided we wanted to create a situation in which no endowment and foundation could say that they couldn’t find a diverse manager.
So we started to pull together a list of managers on a spreadsheet and it turned into the largest open source list of diverse managers that’s out there. For a while it lived in a spreadsheet and then it lived in my Google sheets until a couple days ago, and then today it actually launched and it’s part of a formal database, and LPs can sign up. GPs can sign up.
Before that people would have to apply through our website and we would have to give them, you know, attestations that they’re, you know, institutional allocators. But we’ve grown up in that perspective.
But we’re a group of over six hundred investors, primarily endowments and foundations, and now as we’ve been able to scale, you know, a larger range of investors are interested in the type of work that we do. From a
scale perspective, it’s important to have the public pensions who have the heft and the size to invest in diverse managers.
But if we think about who would invest in an emerging manager, a lot of time it’s a Family Office which can have a smaller size but could, you know, support these types of institutions and take more risk.
So in addition to widening the funnel and changing the beginning of the investment process to include more diverse managers, right now only 1.4 percent of the U.S.—of assets in the U.S. asset management industry are managed by women-owned or minority-owned individuals. It’s about 70 percent of the population and 1.4 percent of the assets. You can just think about what are all the issues that prevent that from happening.
So it’s not just widening the shape of the funnel, which we do through this database, and we have, you know, pitch events. But we also—and this is an all-volunteer effort, by the way. Everybody’s just doing this off the side of their desks at night or on weekends.
We also do a lot to change the shape of the investment funnel. So we’ve convened a number of experts and written maybe thirteen or fourteen articles about how to underwrite more equitably and how to monitor and engage more equitably, because sometimes the best way to increase the diversity of your investment portfolio is to push your existing managers to become more diverse because it’s very challenging to build a scaled portfolio with only diverse managers when it’s only 1.4 percent of the industry.
So there are lots of potential solutions and a lot of work that we all can do together.
OLIVER: Thank you. Thank you for that, Bhakti.
At this point, I would like to invite all of you to join the conversation. I know we have people online and so there are ways to ask questions via the chat. But I’ll invite folks in the room as well. If you have a question please raise your hand, and we have folks with mics on the side that will come around and get a question from you.
So do we have any brave, intrepid volunteers? I see a hand shooting up over there. Please.
Q: Hi. I’m Kelly. I’m a (current ?) consultant at McKinsey.
Ms. Gudwin, a question for you. You mentioned that there are sometimes blockers in which corporations come to your organization and you have to turn them away. What are the main factors in which occur for you to have to turn a corporation away?
GUDWIN: Well, there are two. So one is the issue of whether or not what they’re trying to solve for is what we’re trying to solve for. So we need to be aligned at the very top of the agenda.
So I am a super proponent of self-enlightened—of enlightened self-interest. That is completely fine. But if a company wants us to execute a pet project that isn’t aligned to our theory of change then we’ll have to say we’re not the organization for you.
Ones that can be really hard is geographic expansion. We might be doing something that’s working beautifully in one place and a company will say, can you please take it to three other places, and we’ll say not yet, or, if we do that we have to have a critical mass so we’re going to need to have X number of other companies or organizations join us.
And then, you know, so I’ve been in the nonprofit space and the international development space for over twenty-five years now and I have definitely been in conversations where people are looking at development and being like, sure we can do a water project. And you’re, like, but we don’t have any water expertise. Like, is it—
you know, would it be in our—is it in our—not only is it aligned to our mission but, like, are we uniquely qualified to do that work.
I think one of the most important things to do is to be able to refer people to—and companies to others who can do the work and say, you know what, I hear what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s really important. Let me point you to another organization who does that beautifully.
I think the more we can be honest about our superpowers, what we do really well, and the more we can—and then we—you know, when you do what you do best and you partner for the rest. Like, that’s—I think that’s—it’s really important.
And the other just biggest one is money does not create strategy. Strategy first and money follows strategy, and if you’re clear about what you’re trying to achieve and the purpose and the difference you’re trying to create in the world others will come in behind you.
I do just want to say there is—you know, VisionSpring, for example, has some companies in our portfolio who other organizations might not work with. So, for example, Shell, as a, you know, fossil fuel company is actually a very big advocate of road safety and so they have been one of our earliest and biggest advocates for vision and road safety.
And then we work with Chetak Logistics, which is kind of like the FedEx of—in India and Apollo Tires and others. And so there’s a very—there’s a conversation there about when and how.
I will say we have turned down a partnership, for example, with a cigarette-making organization that wanted us to do vision correction for the people who are making hand-rolled cigarettes in India and they also wanted us to be able to do it in a way that was going to be way too close to the edge of what—you know, it was too fine in terms of the potential for us to go over budget and use philanthropy. We would never use philanthropy in that instance to subsidize a company.
Having said that, these were really low income people. They were an ethnic minority. They were in a geographically remote area. There were a lot of reasons that vision correction could have helped that population sustain their livelihoods. It was actually—if the company had not actually been so cheap about it we might have considered it because it was the difference between people being able to sustain their livelihoods than not.
So it’s a very delicate conversation and it’s never just—it’s never usually a snap judgment.
OLIVER: And I would say, you know, honesty of objectives, you know, is important. I remember an anecdote. I was at the Clinton Global Initiative for a number of years and the folks at Walmart were very keen to talk to Greenpeace and to see what they could do together and the folks at Greenpeace were not at all keen to talk to Walmart.
And there was this sort of courtship over a period of months where, you know, Walmart was saying, you know, we may not ever do what you want on the social side on wages or labor but, like, we’ll literally do anything you want on the environmental side and Greenpeace was like, OK, sure. If you stop doing all of these things in the Amazon and sourcing all your beef from—and they were, like, great, we’ll do it. And so overnight, you know, sixty thousand companies in Walmart’s supply chains, their behavior vis-à-vis the Amazon and clear cutting was changed. And there was a courtship there and Greenpeace was quite clear, we’re not going to greenwash. We’re not going to give you our logo to just, you know—but oh, you really want to do something massive at scale. Let’s talk.
And so I think having that honest conversation about where you may agree, where you may disagree, where you can find that common ground, can be very fruitful and if that doesn’t happen at the front end, if there’s divergent goals, that can be a setup for not good progress.
We’re starting to see some questions pop up online. Should we take one more in the room? I saw a hand up on this side.
Yes, sir, right there, and then we’ll go online for our next question.
Q: Hey, there. Excuse me. Hey, there, everyone. I’m Owen Cahan. I’m from JPMorgan.
And, Bhakti, you specifically sort of referenced this but I’ll open this up to anyone on the board. Do you think some of these ideas, whether it be ESG or what you call it, have been politicized and, if so, what went wrong that allowed that to happen and what could happen in the future to ameliorate sort of that politicization of what seems to be a, you know, all around altruistic topic?
OLIVER: Bhakti, do you want to start us off?
MIRCHANDANI: Sure, I’m happy to start you—start this off.
It’s a very complicated issue. If you look at other jurisdictions like in Europe some of these issues are not—like, climate change is not—to some degree it’s politicized if you are from a coal region in Germany. But across the board there’s quite a lot of support, particularly with, you know, a milder winter than we’d expected.
If you go to a place like India there’s not a lot of discussion about whether climate change is real or needs to be ameliorated. But there’s just not enough resources so the question is where the resources comes from.
So the question why it’s so politicized in the United States I think a lot of it has to do with—I mean, the media is more polarized and that people—there’s not kind of—everyone is doing their own thing on social media and, you know, search engines give you more of what you’re looking for and the way news is delivered is preventing kind of a universal exchange of ideas.
People are kind of associating more with people who are like them and, you know, just not a dialogue across the political spectrum. There’s more local news that are being purchased by large companies that push out the same ideas in, you know, multiple jurisdictions and a lot of people trust only their local news. That’s another reason.
I do think that there’s a unifying force that faith can play. Just if you think about—I think 90 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats are of faith so there’s a lot that can be done. I mean, Trinity Church was one of the founding members of ICCR, which is a big advocacy organization, and a lot can be done there.
But a big part of it is just making sure the voters understand some of the risks of climate. If you look at some parts of the country that are more opposed to some of the climate rules, they understand climate change is coming. But if 40 percent of the country believes in the Rapture then they may or may not, you know, think this is a huge priority. So a lot of it is about priorities and just too fractionalized of a dialogue.
I will point out—and then I’m going to stop talking and hand the floor to others—one of my thought partners, Aniket Shah from Jefferies, astutely noted in a recent piece that there’s a lot more common ground than one would think.
Both parties are trying to be the parties of the working class, and if that’s the case then there’s a lot that can be done together. There’s a lot that has to be done. Both sides are looking at climate resilience. Both sides are looking at clean energy. So there’s a lot—there is a lot of, you know, politicization and drama but there’s a lot more consensus below the fray and that makes me hopeful.
OLIVER: Working in PR there’s a saying, if it bleeds it leads, and I think that, you know, it tells you the—you know, we—the media gravitates towards conflict stories and is less, you know, interested in telling the sort of stories about people getting along.
But, you know, I want to offer Ella or Boris a chance to weigh in on that question as well, if you all have thoughts.
GUDWIN: Just that this is not so much on ESG because that’s not my area, but related to just the issue of measurement, so whether it’s within ESG or in impact investing I think impact investing in this space is it happening, is it real, is the impact that people say is true, is it true, how do we know.
And so if we look at how much effort is being put into glossy reports that actually don’t say very much or really substantive reports where people are doing heavy, deep digging and trying to understand whether it’s their carbon offsets or their worker wellbeing initiatives, whatever it is, but there’s a very big spectrum, I think, in terms of the level of rigor, and I think it’s very hard to know from the outside which ones are strongest or not.
There’s a lot of emphasis on, you know, whether it’s—what other frameworks are in place and certifications are in place and I think I will just say, having interacted—I think Boris is also in this category sort of—well, and you will be, too, Bhakti—but I think we’re all interacting with Family Offices, right, and the Family Offices have philanthropy and they have venture capital and they have impact investing, and some of them are really thoughtful about what impact looks like and how you measure impact.
And if I can say it, I do think this is where the nonprofit and the social enterprise universe actually has something to offer the corporate space. We are very rigorous and have to hold ourselves to a much higher standard about the impact that we’re trying to achieve in the world, and so whether or not we’re doing randomized control trials to understand our outcomes or other kinds of evaluation, I think the impact investing and ESG world can learn more from that.
OLIVER: And I’ll also say when you look at things like the fossil fuel industry or the tobacco industry, I mean, these are industries where, as, you know, consumer awareness of the harms has risen, you know, they’ve adopted really similar playbooks where they—you know, the fossil fuel industry, it turns out, knew three decades ago exactly how much the temperature would increase if their products were sold at the rates that they were sold. That’s come out now. They would hire academics or, you know, people to sort of fudge the facts, have misinformation back in the day.
Tobacco industry does the same thing. They’re migrating to e-cigarettes. They’re trying to, you know, get a new generation of folks addicted to this new product that’s a vape and it’s—so you see industries when there’s a lot of power behind organizing, when social impact investing, when faith community, when these different parts of the puzzle sort of collapse on them I think they’re incentivized to, you know, create discord to sort of fan flames and create a misunderstanding in this truth as opposed to other things.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox a little. I’m presiding, not preaching here. Can we go online for our first digital question?
OPERATOR: Our next question will be from Shelton Fitch.
Q: Hi. Good evening. Thank you very much to the panelists and, indeed, to the Council for hosting this very thought-provoking discussion tonight.
I’d be curious to know if the panel could talk a little bit about what kinds of data are used to justify or support CSR. It seems to me that data is incredibly useful but it’s also very expensive, and companies and corporations would want to justify the use of those funds to shareholders and other invested partners on these types of endeavors.
And so I’d just be curious to know what your thoughts might be on that question and specifically what kinds of data would be used in these decision making.
OLIVER: Maybe, Boris, I wonder if I can go to you first because you probably have data reports that you have to file. How does data play a role in your world and how is it, on the one hand, both useful for you—it’s something you would track anyway—versus something that needs to go in a report to a donor, that sort of make-work?
BULAYEV: Yeah, it’s a great question.
So, for us, we kind of made a choice about ten, twelve years back to differentiate ourselves on data and evidence and so to be best in class and tying education directly to life outcomes and employment three—now eight years post.
And so, for us, that’s been relatively easy just the rigor with which we capture the—how we are able to transition youth from education to starting businesses, getting jobs, making more money, pursuing further education. Like, that’s fairly easy. I think how companies track really depends on the sophistication of the CSR arm.
I think to Ella’s point around the bar is higher is that, ultimately, Apple is evaluated on the number of iPhones it sells, right. Apple is not evaluated on the behavioral impact of those iPhones on our concentration, on our ability to be present with our families, and our net kind of life satisfaction as a result of having a smart phone in our hands all the time. I have a three-year-old daughter and she carries around a little phone, has started sleeping with it.
And so I think—to the extent that I think corporate ethos comes from that place, right, you’re measuring more output-based things, I think it really—I think certain entities and certain CSR arms will stick to more basic things of how many youth educated, kind of basic activities happen and as they get more sophisticated in the chain they will track to more behavioral outcomes like, you know—again, we work on helping youth transition to employment in really scalable, sustainable, and evidence-based ways. The most sophisticated will be tracking what kind of income gains do youth have as a result of going through Educate!
So I think it’s very much a spectrum and very much about how the sophistication and how the company is able to take a differentiated approach to think about data analytics and what behavior you’re trying to drive when trying to get at impact.
OLIVER: Ella, would you add anything to that?
GUDWIN: Yeah. Down with the ego metric of how many people have you reached. Like, boohoo. You know, let’s get rid of that one because it doesn’t mean anything. I think the quality that Boris is talking about is what really matters.
And so I think we are seeing more thoughtful CSR moving away from people reached to the outcome of what has been achieved. Really thoughtful companies will invest in the research that the nonprofit can do or the social enterprise can do. So they’ll back RCT. You know, Cartier backed our randomized control trial in Bangladesh, which is currently under peer review. But I can tell you that, you know, we have worked on task shifting. We’ve got community health workers delivering basic eye care, and the question was, you know, how much of a change in livelihoods and income could a simple pair of reading glasses create in rural communities. And I know we’re on the record so I’m not going to—I can’t say it because it’s still under peer review but I’m going to say it’s a lot and it’s over 30 percent.
So imagine an intervention that costs less than $5 to deliver creating a 30 (percent)—more than 30 percent lift in income and it can extend somebody’s income-earning years for as much as a decade. And a group like Cartier will fund that kind of research for us knowing that that impact and being able to prove the social return on investment is not just good for us but it’s good for the cause. It’s good—and it’s good to attract additional resources, potentially even from government.
So the sophisticated CSRs will back the outcome research as well.
OLIVER: And, Bhakti, anything to add maybe from your perspective, probably a slightly different way of thinking about data but probably quite interesting?
MIRCHANDANI: The way we approach data is we have data feeds as part of, you know, different packages that we have from an ESG perspective.
But what we focus on is thick data. So Trinity’s portfolio is about $6.7 billion from a land grant from Queen Anne in 1705, and about half of it is in real estate and half of it’s in a portfolio of seventy managers.
So for the managers in our portfolio we ask about forty questions, some of it when we’re underwriting them in a one-hour conversation and some of them just in the course of our catch up. So we have that information about all seventy managers in our portfolio.
We have it systematized and we rank the responses depending on what the topic is by thoughtfulness in the underlying companies and the managers’ approach. So we look at that as thick data, so turning qualitative information into quantitative scores, and that allows us to identify best practices.
So when we see managers that are particularly thoughtful about physical risk or, you know, selecting for or promoting DEI in investment portfolios. We’ll share that information on a no names basis by asset class in our portfolio. So all the managers in our portfolio get that information. They can try out these new approaches. Sometimes they have calls with us to kind of dig in, and then we’re very clear on what—you know, what our managers’ strengths are, you know, where they could improve, and then the situations in which we would put a lot of pressure on them if they did not improve.
OLIVER: Yeah, and I would just add from that, you know, as people who work in the nonprofit sector who have really grand ambitions and want to help, you know, I found along the years that data can also be a really persuasive way to get your cause noticed.
And so I remember back in 2002, when I was working at the World Health Organization, we put together the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health. I was, like, an intern working on it. I didn’t put it together but I was working on it, and we brought the largest number of finance ministers together with a large number of health ministers to basically make the case to the finance ministers about the returns you could have by investing in public health.
And you know, when the finance minister started to say, oh, we have, you know, not as many sick days, we have a more productive population, people can work longer, they live long, all these variables, the data can convince policymakers to part with investments. So that’s another thing I would add on the data side of the conversation.
More questions in the room? Yes, sir. Over there.
Q: Thank you. Alex Posner with the Climate Solutions Fund.
I want to ask about corporate lobbying and to what extent you believe that is or ought to be part of corporate social responsibility. I know we’ve seen some examples in the last year of companies expressing support for
legislation, let’s say, on climate but on a whole host of topics and then underwriting trade associations that actively lobby in the other direction.
OLIVER: Who wants to take the first crack at that?
MIRCHANDANI: I have some insight. I don’t have to go first.
GUDWIN: No. No. Go ahead, Bhakti. You go.
OLIVER: (Laughs.) You jumped in first so it’s all you.
MIRCHANDANI: OK. So from a fiduciary duty perspective, if a company has made a commitment, for example, like to net zero it’s fairly important that their lobbying be in alignment with that. The lobbying should be proportional. It shouldn’t be kind of disproportionate.
We don’t have—we have—so as a church we’re interested in ESG generally, responsibility generally. But our biggest focus is on the S. So, you know, social issues, racial justice, affordable housing, diversity. So it’s not a huge focus for us but those are things that we look for in terms of quality of, you know, resource allocation.
OLIVER: Ella? Boris?
GUDWIN: I would just say from a regulatory point of view there’s also a very fine line between advocacy and lobbying and you have to keep them really separate.
So, as a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) in the U.S., we are not allowed to lobby but we can do advocacy and that’s just something that we always watch. Also, getting involved, for example, in a political campaign in one of the countries that we work in we might get contracted by a politician to do work in their geography. But that has to be a contract. There’s no way we can contribute to that campaign. So we just got to watch that.
OLIVER: And you’ll see a lot of, you know, nonprofits that are registered as 501(c)(3)s and then have a 501(c)(4) sort of, like, you know, function and then what you’ll see is a lot of the donors want to give to the (c)(3). They don’t want to give to the (c)(4). And so that’s for, you know, obvious reasons, I think how that breakdown works.
Great. Do we have any other questions in the room here?
Q: Thank you. I’m James Brooks. I go to med school up here at Mount Sinai up the street.
And I wanted to return to Boris’ thought on empathy and power. And we think that in medicine from sort of, like, a patient and a provider, but how do you teach that in a company or in a team in the sense of getting empathetic or intentional sort of work when you’re doing refugee work and other—this nonprofit work?
OLIVER: Boris, would you like to kick us off on that?
BULAYEV: Yeah. It’s a great question.
I mean, I think in terms of direct service delivery we use the craft of product to kind of solve problems, specifically in our case for youth, and so we actually more recently have been building boot camps for youth
left out of secondary and it is actually an issue that everyone—we started by working with youth in high school and so everyone that works for us went to high school.
And so we’ve been talking about how there’s an issue that everyone that’s building our solutions for rural girls who dropped out of primary school or didn’t transition to high school, that no one building that solution kind of comes from that community, right.
And so I think the craft of product offers lots of tools around just kind of engaging deeply with your end user, spending lots of time kind of getting to know your end user, understanding pain points, challenges, seeing kind of your solution delivered.
I think it’s all the principles of human-centered design, I think, are actual kind of tools to operationalize a real deep empathy and connection to your end user. That’s what I’ll say on the kind of—on the power in regards to financing. So as part of this potential big deal with MasterCard Foundation we’d have to build a subcontracting arm where we would grant to African organizations that are generally much smaller than us.
And so I’ve tried to really lay out principles for—that drive our engagement and really hammer and align on those principles up front. So principles of behavior such as we will let the organization decide what they want to do unless we really can’t, if that makes sense. Versus commonly we’ll say, well, can you do this, can you do that, and the organization will receive that as, like, do this, do that and act on it, even if they may not want to do it.
And so really thinking about outlining principles of behavior, training and discussing that, and then over time building awareness of our ability to do that. I think everyone’s on a leadership journey to close the gap between how you want to behave and how you actually behave. Like, I’m very much on that journey, right, and great leadership is kind of tightening that loop. And so I think it’s the same in building in your teams, understanding, first, just having kind of principles—not necessarily rules but principles to guide behavior and then building awareness to live that more and more day to day.
I think—in a power dynamic I think it’s very trendy right now for at least, like, funders to want to know what went wrong. But I kind of go back to, like, the quote, like, you can’t handle the truth. Like, someone in power needs to be able to handle the truth and handle their anxiety when they get bad news in order to receive it, and I think that kind of applies in all sorts of power dynamics.
GUDWIN: Inside the organization, too, right? Yeah.
BULAYEV: Absolutely. Yes.
GUDWIN: Yeah. Like, inside our own organizations. Yeah.
BULAYEV: At every layer of power, right. How you receive bad news determines whether more bad news comes your way.
GUDWIN: Exactly. So to Boris’ point, we built in two elements in our core values. One is default to transparency and reveal hard truths because we have a saying that, you know, bad news is like fish. It just gets stinkier with time and worse. So, you know, bring it forward.
And then the other is in terms of advancing equity. So advance equity is one of our values. But how do we live one of those is hearing all voices and creating opportunities for participation.
And, you know, Boris, I think what you were just saying about us all being on a leadership journey it’s, like, everywhere, everywhere and, you know, as a White woman who is leading an organization that’s working in nine different countries that’s something that I reflect on a lot.
I think that all of us are working in contexts where hierarchy is dense and often people are coming out of very hierarchical social structures, educational environments, and we’re often trying to flatten hierarchy and trying to get decision making as close to the customer as possible and that has to be a real active practice, and this actually requires a lot of unlearning everywhere.
Patriarchy is dense. You know, I looked at our warehouse one day and I was, like, oh my gosh, the entire warehouse is men. How did that happen? And it was just because of the way the recruiting happened. And, you know, I even had a female manager tell me that women couldn’t—they can’t handle the boxes and I said, are you kidding? Have you seen what the women are carrying out? Like, they’re carrying bricks on their heads. You’re telling you they can’t carry a small box of glasses? Like, we’re kidding ourselves.
And so being—you know, to understand how much we have internalized in terms of patriarchy and systems and gender issues, and then—and we’re also working across all the power dynamics of post-colonialism and the fact that money is sitting in the Global North and is still, you know, being transferred, quote/unquote, to Global South. There’s much more South-South collaboration and cooperation.
And then the other element is philanthropy is white, and a lot of us have been trained in perfectionism and we have been trained to play a very specific philanthropic sport, which is also—plays out in CSR. And so being able to recognize the sport that we’re playing and trying to change the rules while we’re playing the game is something that a lot of us are wrestling with.
OLIVER: Yeah. That’s all—and I would just add one point to that. You know, there’s, I think, an increasingly apparent need for systems-level thinking in a lot of this work, and we’ve done a lot of work with Mozilla, which is a fascinating example.
You know, normally you have a company that has a foundation, and they’re a foundation that has a company. So the Mozilla Foundation owns the Mozilla company and the company’s profits drive the foundation, which is an interesting model, and their founder, Mitchell Baker, who we’ve worked with a lot, has spent a lot of time thinking about, you know, the generation of Mark Zuckerbergs and, you know, sort of web developers that were kind of just following orders and were thinking about selling more ads online and, you know, they weren’t thinking about addiction. They weren’t thinking about loss of friends. They weren’t thinking about teen suicide. They weren’t thinking about X and Y and Z, just following orders, just part of my little part of the I’m a little cog in the system.
So I think increasingly it’s incumbent on all of us to be taking a step back, looking at the entire system. Mitchell thinks about how do you put ethics in the computer science curriculum, how do you put economics in the computer science curriculum, how do we think about the impact of our seemingly, you know, disconnected silo, in fact, is interconnected with the whole world.
We’re quickly running out of time. I think we have probably time for one more question.
Yes, ma’am. Right up here in the second row.
Q: Thank you. Erica Royal. I work for Ariel Alternatives. We are a private equity firm that’s focused on helping close the racial wealth gap.
So a lot of what we focus on is more the S and the G versus the E in ESG, and so my question to you all is in terms of the social and governance side of things what are examples.
For us, we’ve defined success or the metric that we’re going to report out on in terms of closing the wealth gap is job creation and wealth building so 401(k) growth, household ownership, those types of things in terms of the impact that we’re making.
So I’m interested to hear what specific examples you guys may have seen in your work of compelling social impact metrics.
OLIVER: Bhakti, can I come to you first?
MIRCHANDANI: Sure. So some of the things that we look at are kind of stats around underprivileged communities. We look at health outcomes. Food is another issue. There’s so many dimensions.
If we think about racial justice there’s so many dimensions and so many aspects of that area that are so vitally important are not investable. It’s one of the most challenging areas. So hats off to you for digging in there.
A big issue that’s recently become a focus is how much employee ownership there is because that’s a real way to have wealth creation.
OLIVER: Well, I’m sure that Ella and Boris also had really compelling points to make on that. But at the Council on Foreign Relations we start on time and we end on time, as you’ll find a mantra if you do, in fact, apply for the Term Member Program, which I hope you all do.
But at this point I’d like to thank you for joining today’s meeting. I want to thank you, Bhakti, Boris, and Ella, for joining as well, and thank you all for attending both virtually and in person.
If you are here in New York in person, please feel free to stick around a little while. We’re going to have a networking reception here at the end. And please note that the video and a transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on the Council on Foreign Relations website.
Thank you all for coming and your interest in this issue, and thanks to my esteemed panelists. (Applause.)