There is a strong relationship between community and business. After working in underserved communities for over a decade, I realize there are many deficits holding back generations of people from advancement. And while these deficits exist, they alone are not the pivotal focus to construct progressive change.
The main storyline is the resilience exhibited in these communities. This creates a huge opportunity for impact because the people are resourceful and solve problems intuitively within their community. If you place resources around a community to harness this creative energy, it becomes a breeding ground for human development and innovation.
The most significant innovations in history generally come from solving big problems. And where are some of our most pressing problems? They are in underserved, under-resourced, under-represented communities. So, if there are mechanisms in place to support finding resolutions for pressing issues in these communities, we would have powerful solutions that push us into the future.
“...if there are mechanisms in place to support these communities, we would have powerful solutions that push us into the future.”
So how do you do this at scale? The answer is unequivocal – business. That may sound counterproductive since community work is generally accomplished by nonprofits and NGOs, but business is the only lever that can solve social issues at scale. There is no amount of charitable donations or grant money that can cover the needs of communities globally. The local nonprofit can help a few hundred people in their community. However, they rarely have the resources to take their work outside their immediate community to help thousands or millions of people.
Business is the only entity that can reach millions of individuals because they can do this while making money. This means that they don’t require a flow of grants or donations to have a substantial impact. Target, for example, gives 5% of its profits every year to community initiatives. As a $70-billion company, 5% of their annual profits is a really big number. No local nonprofit working from donations has the ability to hit this kind of scale. The only way to go from helping hundreds to thousands to millions is with the help of business.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the local nonprofits. These are the people in the community, on the ground, doing “God’s work,” so please keep giving to your local nonprofits. They are our conduit to understanding the needs of the community. The local nonprofits give us keen insights into what effective solutions should look like on the ground. No corporation has this type of deep understanding of community. That is why the partnership between business and community is the most powerful combination to perpetuate change.
“...the partnership between business and community is the most powerful combination to perpetuate change.”
There are two key components to think about when considering the role of business in community engagement. The first is sustainability, and the second is ecosystems.
Let’s talk about sustainability. Target has given 5% of its profits for the last seventy years. They were one of the first organizations to do this type of giving. Because their donations are based on their core business activities, Target will always be able to engage with millions of people in communities around the world. Their impact will never be affected because they couldn’t raise enough money, a common problem in the nonprofit space. Business ensures community engagement is sustainable over time, allowing the partnership of business and community to develop strategies with a much longer timeline. This is powerful because true impact in a community takes a commitment to long-term, generational impact.
The second and most important element is building ecosystems. Building ecosystems is the most effective way to engage with individuals in the community. Giving resources directly to people has a low yield of results. However, the yield becomes much higher if you provide resources in an ecosystem that insulates those same people. The idea is not to give to people but instead give to the ecosystem and let the ecosystem feed the people. It’s a much more impactful approach. Business is again the most powerful partner because the ecosystem approach requires massive resources. Building ecosystems to empower communities also takes time, which is why sustainability is also so vital.
A great example of the ecosystem is the acorn and the oak tree. If you sit an acorn on your desk and pour water directly on it, it will never grow into an oak tree. However, if you take that same acorn, place it in the dirt, and pour water where the seed was planted, over time, it becomes an oak tree. You don’t give water directly to the acorn. You give water to the ecosystem around it (the dirt) and let the ecosystem feed the acorn. The two key elements here are sustainability (time) and the ecosystem.
There is a symbiotic relationship between business and community. This is a relatively new trend of thought; probably only about 20 years old. Business has historically been expected only to make as much profit as possible and leave community matters to the nonprofits. Today, we have come to realize that there is a much more promising role business can play in community engagement. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but the profit machine of business is the key way to having an impact at scale.
About Tremain Davis: Davis is an Experienced entrepreneur and investor with a demonstrated history of leadership in the high-paced entrepreneurial space. He is a subject matter expert in community engagement strategies. Davis is a three-time founder skilled in overall business strategy, go-to-market strategy, innovation planning and training. His specialty is in engaging underserved, under-resourced communities. His overall goal? To make the world a better place.
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