Revolutions change what is possible and how we live together.
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We live today in The Fourth Industrial Revolution; the historic transformation from steam power, to electricity, to computers, to the global convergence of data, devices, access, and analytics.
Industrial revolutions are driven by technology, but a Fourth Humanitarian Revolution is now rising by necessity. Segments of our society are not keeping pace with the overall rise in global prosperity, and our earlier means of addressing these problems are no longer up to the task.
In the First Humanitarian Revolution, faith communities took care of those in dire need. Churches, mosques, temples, and other religious organizations raised charity for the poor, provided support for widows and orphans, gave food, shelter, and clothing to those lacking bare essentials.
In the Second Humanitarian Revolution, government programs expanded to address many of these social issues with a safety net of welfare and other programs, including basic education for children and improved security for elders.
In the Third Humanitarian Revolution, non-profit organizations gathered charitable contributions and volunteers to conserve nature, empower minorities, house the homeless, and contribute to disaster relief.
Today, in the Fourth Humanitarian Revolution businesses are taking direct responsibility to help solve our pressing social problems.
This is not merely altruism, philanthropy, or an increase in existing corporate social (CSR) programs. It is a revolution in the purpose and value of business itself; to improve society at fundamental levels while succeeding in the traditional metrics of business.
It’s easier to grow your business when your customer base is growing. It’s easier to retain a motivated workforce when employees feel good about how they contribute to the community. And it’s easier to flourish over time when the ecosystem you depend on is nourished by the practices of your business.
This level of commercial and social revolution is not going to happen through faith communities, government agencies, and non-profits on their own. The Fourth Humanitarian Revolution requires the full creative power of enterprising minds and commercial organizations working together to improve society now – and for the future.
The Guardian says that social enterprise is when businesses address traditional economic failings by using market forces to achieve a social impact. This differentiates them from other organizations and corporations.
Given the economic and environmental difficulties we struggle with in the world today, what other organizations and corporations can we possibly sustain?
The Fourth Humanitarian Revolution goes beyond “giving back”, which begs the awkward question: Giving back after taking what? After taking something away? After receiving more than you feel comfortable taking? After achieving your financial goals but leaving society in a more unstable condition?
The Fourth Humanitarian Revolution is a clarion call out for business to build communities where all of us can prosper. And many companies are already moving in this direction.
In San Francisco at the annual Dreamforce event, Salesforce Chairman and Co-Founder Marc Benioff, declared, “The business of business is improving the state of the world.” These words are backed by company-wide action with 1% of equity, product, and employees’ time dedicated to improving communities through technology, grants, and other programs. This is good for business, as customers appreciate companies that innovate to improve the world around them. According to the State of the Connected Customer report, 56% of customers actively seek to buy from the most innovative companies.
In underserved communities, PepUp Tech gives less privileged students access to tools and mentors, building skills that secure jobs, enrich families, and stabilize communities. Technology companies who support the effort also win by gaining access to a growing pool of diverse technology talent.
In Mexico, Cemex created Patrimonio Hoy a unique savings and home-building program to improve communities, families, and futures. This award-winning innovation increased sales, profits, company reputation, and customer pride by delivering sustainable results for everyone.
In Mauritius, Salt of Palmar resort connects guests from around the world with local people and places. “Skills Swaps” enable visitors to contribute their time and talent to participate with local community organizations. “Cooking with Salt” lets every guest savor the native cuisine – from selecting vegetables on the organic farm, to preparing with local chefs in the kitchen, to serving their own family members at the dinner table. Guests return home with local spices, great recipes, wonderful memories, and genuine local relationships.
All over the world, business and community collaboration is rising. Your organization can contribute to this wave of business-enabled social change through:
1. Creating a bridge from education to employment
Devote resources to teaching those not-yet-employed the skills they need to succeed in your industry. This contributes to the labor force you need while building goodwill to help you attract and retain the best.
2. Connecting employees with their communities
Your workforce may be local, national, or global, but everyone lives in communities, both physical and online. Our connections and contributions in these communities add richness and meaning to our lives. Align your company’s social efforts to support the project and causes your employees care most about.
3. Integrating with your environment
Take responsibility for the physical world by assessing your impact, reducing your footprint, and providing alternatives to restore, refresh, and recreate a sustainable ecology for all of us. The Dreamforce event removed beef from the menu and proudly announced this one decision had saved ten million gallons of water.
4. Working on the system, not just the symptoms
Charity and philanthropy must be continued as relief can always be supported by generous donors. But the underlying systemic issues can also be improved through greater collaboration between businesses, government agencies, civic and faith organizations. Everyone gains when we work together to solve social problems, mend broken lives, and uplift the poorest and weakest among us.
5. Asking important social questions
What social issues do you care about? What social issues do your colleagues care about? How can a business like yours help to solve a persistent social problem? Who must be involved so that your ideas and improvements become sustainable? How can your business profit from contributing more to the community?
The Fourth Humanitarian Revolution makes business and social sense.
For companies to gain new customers, increase profits, and attract great employees, they must exist in stable communities where customers are flourishing, new wealth is being created, and great talent is growing fast. This calls for new levels of commitment and contribution.
What can you do to make this happen where you work?