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Social Impact

SIS 2022 | Three Lessons in Establishing a Successful CSR Strategy

By Mel Ochoa

At Landmark Ventures, we get approached by many large and small companies, even early-stage startups, asking how to create or strengthen a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program – mainly due to our 12+ years of producing the Social Innovation Summit (SIS) and learning from myriad partners and organizations.

In our dozen years of experience, we’ve seen firsthand a spectrum of incredibly smart and innovative approaches to social impact initiatives, ranging from what can be done just around the corner to actions taken in another corner of the world. Whether local or global, there are three (of many) lessons I’ve appreciated from some of our Social Innovation Summit partners around establishing a successful CSR strategy: 

Lesson #1: Make It Multifaceted (Kauffman Foundation)

The Kauffman Foundation approaches impact at the intersection of education and entrepreneurship to help Kansas City thrive. As the story goes, Mr. Kauffman valued both in his life and believed they were critical to his success. Systemic issues are becoming increasingly complicated to the point that it isn’t just an ‘education’ or ‘affordable housing’ problem that we can solve by hiring more teachers or building more square footage. The big questions of today are at a grander scale, like how to build generational wealth or ensure climate justice, which require a multifaceted layering of commitments around food, water, education, housing, a living wage, healthcare, transportation, wraparound services, etc. In Kauffman’s case, they focus on what matters programmatically at that point of intersection between education and entrepreneurship. In your own strategy discussions, think about the larger (societal) end goal and then think of the multifaceted means to get there and the point of intersection of potential solutions – that is where your corporate social responsibility program lives.

Lesson #2: Make It Collaborative (PwC)

Our friends at PwC show us that community is the cornerstone of impact. A handful of years ago, US Chairman and Senior Partner Tim Ryan opened up a firm-wide conversation at PwC about race in the workplace. But he didn’t stop there. With PwC playing a leadership role, those conversations grew into The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, with hundreds of companies pledging to come together around a single commitment: to advance D&I. Social impact is not an individual sport. At the Social Innovation Summit over the years, we have seen countless examples of foundations partnering with companies, entrepreneurs partnering with philanthropists, businesses partnering together on initiatives too big to tackle alone, etc. Recently, Landmark Ventures worked with a client to conduct a landscape analysis of education-to-employment, and one of the most fascinating findings for me was stumbling upon these “workforce development boards” in counties across the country that collaborate – even as competitors – to maximize success for all. As you build your social impact initiative, don’t go it alone. Build partnerships, share resources, collaborate, work with your competitor, and don’t re-invent the wheel when you can go farther together.

Lesson #3: Make It Inclusive (Comcast NBCUniversal)

In February 2020, I attended an event for our Social Innovation Summit partner New Profit where I learned a novel phrase: proximate leader. I had previously believed the idea behind the phrase, but I never had such precise words to use in describing the concept of including the “knowledge and expertise of those people who are most proximate to both the problems that we seek to solve and the bountiful talent needed to solve them.” (SSIR) For example, if a large foundation is giving grants to a community, the grantmakers on staff should be proximate leaders who come from and understand the community (note: I am oversimplifying the description because I am not as adept at explaining it like the experts at New Profit). As New Profit notes in SSIR, it is “an entirely new approach in social problem solving that centers the voices, talents, and expertise of those proximate leaders from Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.”

I’ve especially seen this in action with Comcast NBCUniversal, a close friend of the Social Innovation Summit, and I’ve always respected how much they center the voices, talents, and expertise from communities. Time and time again they bring speakers to our annual flagship summit in June or as panelists on SIS webinars and events throughout the year who are active changemakers and social innovators shaping their own communities. Comcast NBCUniversal is supporting Black filmmakers to tell their own stories, Latina directors to drive scripted television about their own experiences, and alumni from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and colleges with significant Latino, Asian, Black, Indigenous, and tribal populations to be trained in journalism to create an inclusive culture of reporting their own news.

In your corporate social responsibility strategy, make sure you aren’t talking ‘to’ communities from a corporate perch. Build solutions from within the community, and make sure to rely upon and elevate the voices, talent, and expertise of proximate leaders in communities.

We can’t wait to convene at the Social Innovation Summit on June 6-8 in Washington, D.C., and discuss how to identify multifaceted approaches, how we can collaborate and build more partnerships, and how to strengthen inclusivity in our shared work. Our topics and themes will include Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging; Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance (ESG); Economic Empowerment & Future of Work; Health Equity; Racial & Social Justice; Impact Investing; Climate Justice & Sustainability; Mental Health & Wellbeing; COVID Response & Impact; Education, Youth & Next-Gen Learning; Social Emotional Learning (SEL); Food Security; Women’s Empowerment; Crypto and NFTs for Good; Entrepreneurship & Generational Wealth; Sustainable Development Goals & Philanthropy; among others.

You may register at or contact me through LinkedIn.

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