Social Impact Summit for Small Business Q&A
The following Q&A is an edited transcript from the Points of Light’s 2021 Small Business Social Impact Summit: https://cece.pointsoflight.org/posts/recap-resources-small-business-social-impact-summit
Prosono President and Partner Sean VanBerschot was a participant in the Summit’s final Day (3-day, all virtual) program, to discuss “Impact & Insights Small Business Panel”.
- Skyler McKinley (moderator), Regional Director of Public Affairs, AAA Colorado
- Lauren McNeill, Senior Sustainable Design Consultant, Group14 Engineering
- Jayme Ritchie, Director of Community Relations Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP
Prosono looks to unlock the social impact potential of our clients. We want to work with businesses that seek to unlock their potential, despite bringing traditional management consulting experiences to the table. We build it into our performance pool and into our hiring. We try to take everything we know, learn about the things we need to better understand, and integrate it into the actual business operations and responsibilities. It's a challenge every day, but it's something to which we look forward. We are always excited about our involvement as we, and businesses, continue to learn and grow.
When you work at a small business, you are attuned to every possible metric as it comes in, because one metric change can affect your entire course of business for the quarter, or for the year. When it comes to the core of what you do, how much does paying attention to your social initiatives, to your social impact, affect traditional metrics? In terms of your bottom line, but also employee engagement, and employee tenure, and hiring. Choosing who you get to work with. Who your vendors are. How do you do well, as a business, by doing good?
It definitely raises the bar for us as leaders. From an employee engagement point of view, specifically, our team has high expectations about our ethics and our values as well as how they experience it and how our brand is experienced by other people. In many ways, it creates a focus and attentiveness, whereby the questions evolve from, "Yes, how are we doing in the financials," to, "How are we doing internally?" and finally, "How are we doing in the community? How are people thinking about us?"
It really has raised the bar in a way that, I don't think I initially understood, would be an outcome of the business. It increases the responsibility of decisions. Some of those day-to-day operation decisions that might feel easy, for example in regards to vendor selection lead to questioning: Where you buy your toilet paper, or where you buy your furniture, or where you spend your money. Every single one of those decisions is considered through the lens of, "Is there greater impact?" That is bigger than just the business running and sustaining itself. This ranges from our employee-owned enterprise, an ESOP, all the way down to literally making sure every single one of our vendors, like us, is minority or women-owned. Just the complexity of decision-making, which was already wildly complex, just got that much more so.
The idea of corporate responsibility, it's a big concept. It can be an intimidating concept. How are we responsible, and to whom, and how can we move that needle? We've got a lot of organizations of various sizes on the call. What advice would you give to businesses that are reevaluating their community, and perhaps starting, or jump-starting a CSR program? Does it have to start big? Can you start small? Is it checks? Is it volunteerism? How do you begin to get that ball rolling, so that it grows into something that actually impacts responsibility?
Our mission is to unlock the social impact potential of our clients and help them move forward on that front. We start the process of meeting them where they currently stand. Helping people get very comfortable with where they are starting. Starting small, and intentional, is very important. It really comes down to the authenticity of those actions. That authenticity, whether it is a small commitment to writing a check every single year, or whether it's a volunteer program, or if it's actually integrating, converting your product over to a sustainable model, et cetera, whatever it might be. That authenticity, that commitment, from leadership, all the way throughout the team, is absolutely critical. You can't just put it out there. You can't just say it. Authenticity and commitment are the two biggest pieces.
For us, when we started, we weren't ready for what it would look like, we just didn’t know. However, we had to be authentic, make those commitments, and move through them. It was hard.
What are some happy consequences, happy accidents you've seen, not just from the work hands-on direct, but actually integrating, and thinking thoughtfully about all this within your organizations?
The validation of people who want to live by their values, and prove the fact that we can actually do business by doing good keeps us going. We hoped this would be true. The result is that there are customers who do buy, not only for our expertise in regards to strategy, and research, and evaluation, but they also buy because of what we stand for, and what we have done. It’s a really exciting and gratifying experience.