Corporations Have the Power to End Hunger in America

This post is part of a series on sustainability in the health and wellness industry, curated by Becky Eisen, Dana Ledyard, Izabel Loinaz. Follow along with the series here.

By Bill Shore

As Americans get ever more health conscious, it becomes clear that industry can play as great a role as the government when it comes to impacting behaviors regarding food and nutrition. And so advocacy organizations are aiming their efforts as much at corporate headquarters as at state capitols and Congress.

But the goal must go beyond merely encouraging more corporate philanthropy. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Corporate America’s real power lies in what pioneering social entrepreneur Gary Mulhair has called “operationalizing” their philanthropy. This means acting to ensure that business practices, from the sourcing that goes into supply chain to product development and marketing strategies reflect their philanthropic values and actually advance them.

In our campaign to end childhood hunger, Share Our Strength has been joined by corporate partners including Walmart ConAgra Foods, and Sodexo. All have been generously philanthropic at unprecedented levels. But each has done more than donate money. They’ve also deployed their talent to help sharpen our anti-hunger strategies and identify how market forces might be used to help hunger and nutrition organizations achieve their mission.

But Walmart has gone even a step farther; matching its $2 billion over five years anti-hunger commitment with a commitment to also reduce the sodium, added sugars and trans fats in its food products. That’s one of the reasons they were able to get First Lady Michelle Obama to help them launch such a bold initiative.

The toughest social problems to solve are almost always those that impact people so vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them. And when there is a lack of markets there is a lack of an efficient mechanism for allocating resources toward high performing social change efforts and away from low performing efforts. But corporate partners can help compensate for the lack of markets in the manner described above.

From its founding, Share Our Strength’s economic engine has had corporate partners at its center. There were of course occasionally prospective partners whose values we just didn’t share and with whom we ultimately chose not to work. And there were many whose values we did share and the synergies were mutually beneficial. In the middle there have been a wide variety of partners whose values and practices were a work-in-progress and we felt compatible and comfortable enough to take advantage of the opportunity to be at the table with them, ideally influence some of their decisions about community engagement and corporate social responsibility, trying to effect change collegially from within rather than as adversaries from without.

Every nonprofit has to decide for itself which approach will be more effective. But given the critical reach and role of business in society today, it’s not too soon for every nonprofit to begin formulating it’s philosophy and strategy.

Bill Shore is the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength®, a national nonprofit that is ending childhood hunger in America. Shore is also the chairman of Community Wealth Ventures®, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of Share Our Strength that offers strategy and implementation services to foundations and nonprofit organizations, partnering with them to design and implement innovative approaches to growth and sustainability to promote social change.

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One response

  1. Great piece! Thank you.

    And for me the key is in these two sentences: “But the goal must go beyond merely encouraging more corporate philanthropy. That is just the tip of the iceberg.”

    As you point out, Gary Mulhair puts it well when he talks about corporations ‘operationalizing’ their philanthropy.

    But it has to go further than that so that the larger corporations are reaching out and inspiring the SMEs in their supply chain AND in their customer base.

    As an example, wouldn’t it be great for banks to have ways and means of encouraging philanthropy amongst their customer bases rather than simply saying in their annual reports: ‘look what WE did.’

    Corporates can play the role of the ‘inspirers’ of SMEs in so many ways. The key is not to focus on what makes us look good, but what makes us leverage our strengths do actually DO more good.

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