At the close of this tumultuous year, I reached out to a wide assortment of thought leaders engaged in creating and implementing strategies for business to do well by doing good. I asked them to peer into their crystal balls and share thoughts on what lies ahead in 2021. They came back with was an enlightening potpourri of predictions.
Courtney Hadden, Corporate Sustainability, Akamai Technologies
As we enter into a new Presidency and re-enter into the Paris Climate Agreement, I predict a refocus on corporate engagement with a healthy planet. Across stakeholder groups, we see investment firms like Blackrock, companies like Microsoft within their supply chain, and even millennial employees having a greater and deeper commitment to sustainability. I think 2021 will be the year that companies and their people get back to thinking about their role in the global climate crisis.
Carol Cone, CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE
Citizen-focused purpose actions will focus on a more explicit tie to the company’s products, services and overall resources. This is fine as long as it advances valid stakeholder needs identified post-Covid-19. Some funds will be transferred from advertising/marketing to support highly relevant, post-Covid social issues. My predictions of such issues: diversity, equity and inclusion, healthcare, social justice, fast-tracking new medicines and medical research, personal safety and overall welfare, mental health support, community resilience, support for small businesses, STEM education to promote ingenuity and innovation and climate change as the pandemic proves we are all connected.
Mark Feldman, Managing Director, Cause Consulting
The increased importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are driving demand for substantive signature programs and strategies that address business and social objectives. Companies are architecting impact-driven issue leadership, CSR, HR and community initiatives that intentionally address equity challenges within health, education and economic opportunity. This work is simultaneously creating new value for communities, investors, employees and other stakeholders.
Mollye Rhea, Founder and CEO, For Momentum
Marketplace events in 2020 have heightened societal focus on issues of economic inequity and racial inequality. As a result, companies are re-evaluating their social impact strategies and exploring alliances with nonprofit partners who can deliver immediate, mission-critical support as well as long-term transformational change. Coupled with 2020 shifts in consumer behavior and purchasing habits, we anticipate an increased focus on genuine, multi-dimensional, thoroughly branded partnerships which are more fully integrated than short-term cause activations. In 2021, look for long-term commitments with multi-faceted activation strategies across both consumer and employee segments.
Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity
The housing affordability crisis combined with the unacceptable home ownership gap for minority households will lead to bold partnerships between local governments and the private and social sectors. A year of “having to stay home” for those with assets will bring long-needed attention to those who have no safe, affordable home in which to shelter. More than ever, consumers and top talent will choose to do business with and work for companies that are investing in their communities and putting their values into action.
Maggie Hureau, Director of Social Impact, Harry’s Inc.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that mental health is a wildly under-resourced cause area. With increased awareness of the cause, we think that brands will start to not only talk about mental health but also financially support the nonprofit organizations that have come up with real solutions and are making an impact every day. Additionally, there’s a huge opportunity to ensure the mental health space is more equitable and funding organizations and programs that specifically serve BIPOC communities.
Karen Wu, Partner, Perlman & Perlman
Social impact is embedded in our everyday activities. Whether you’re listening to a podcast, streaming a song, sharing a video on social media, buying a T-shirt online, or just out for a jog, you could be helping generate a positive social impact. The explosion in technological innovation designed to facilitate charitable giving, combined with the recent mandate that all businesses operate responsibly with respect to all stakeholders, including their communities, is leading to ever-increasing opportunities to support worthy charitable causes while engaging in the most routine of daily activities.
Phillip Haid, Founder & CEO, Public Inc.
1) Brands will continue to do measurable social impact in a deeper way. Verbal commitments, shows of solidarity (without action) and advertising to promote issues won't cut it. Business and brand allyship will be key.
2) We will see a massive influx of capital for impact enterprises from companies (Telus, Banks, Patagonia, Unilever, Aviva). Investing in social (for profit) enterprises is a scalable way for brands to advance their social and environmental impact.
3) The days of companies "owning" an issue are coming to a close. Collaboration is key. Businesses will continue to realize as they make social impact a business strategy that owning an issue is counterproductive to the measurable impact they seek. So we will see many more closed loop partners, stop hate for profit, vaccine pledge, etc.
Rob Acker, CEO, Salesforce.org
What 2021 will reveal is that causes and donors alike have entered an irrevocable digital relationship. Evidenced by the record-breaking $2.4B donated online on GivingTuesday 2020, we can anticipate that multi-channel, "digital philanthropy" will be the accepted standard and the future of community support.
Jill Davis, Chief Revenue Officer, Share Our Strength
In 2021 we will see a stronger manifestation of diversity, equity and inclusion actions by companies, especially when it comes to cause and CSR. This stems from consumers expecting businesses to show a greater alignment with the needs and values of a more diverse population. This approach will include companies providing more flexibility in their nonprofit funding restrictions and reporting metrics to give themselves the space to build trust, be authentic partners and adequately serve underrepresented populations. We will also see nonprofits and companies alike tighten their values-based expectations of formalized partners and vendors.
Chris Hortinela, Associate Director of Sustainability, Vitamin Angels
2021 will be the year where the private sector really starts digging deep into SDG impacts and targets via partnerships. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s just how connected we really are, from social unrest to weathering a global pandemic, working together is essential. So it makes sense that businesses will find new ways to work with governments, NGOs and even competing firms under the common language of the SDGs to manage risk, ensure equality, and contribute to a sustainable and accessible world for all.