Businesses used to play a large role in their communities. In small towns, villages, and neighborhoods, business owners and managers lived among their customers, suppliers, and workers.
But somewhere along the way, that changed. As technology evolved, companies became global. And many companies began following the economist Milton Friedman’s dictum: The only concern of a corporation is to increase the wealth of the shareholders.
But as the aftershocks of the global financial crisis continue to reverberate and the Occupy movement continues to grow, some corporations are returning to their roles as community leaders. Two notable efforts are worth exploring.
Chipotle and the Family Farm
Chipotle Mexican Grill, the national fast-food chain, has built itself around the concept of sustainable farming—making sure that it uses sustainable, locally grown ingredients at its restaurants. Earlier this year, however, the company decided to promote sustainable farming through a mix of creative marketing and philanthropy.
It started by producing “Back to the Start,” a music video that featured Willie Nelson performing a song called “The Scientist” by the band Coldplay. The animated video detailed the problems with industrialized agriculture and outlined more sustainable farming practices. Proceeds of the sale of the song on iTunes went to benefit the foundation.
Last month, Chipotle extended its involvement in the cause through its annual Boorito fund-raising event—an effort that seeks to raise $1-million for the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation and Farm Aid, two organizations that work to help family farmers overcome economic hardships. Anyone wearing a Halloween costume inspired by the family farm could visit the local Chipotle and buy a meal for just $2. Chipotle contributed the $2 from the sale of these meals to the charities.
Starbucks Creating New Jobs in the USA
While Chipotle is focusing on sustainable farming, Starbucks and its founder, Howard Schultz, have started a project selling bracelets with the word “indivisible” on them to raise money to provide small loans in poor communities.
The Starbucks Foundation provided $5-million to the fund, and the company is heavily promoting the project in all of its stores to raise additional money. Starbucks customers can donate in its stores or online, and the company promises that every penny will go to charity.
Opportunity Finance Network is a network of community-development banks that invest in businesses that operate in needy communities. As part of the partnership with Starbucks, the organization plans to match every dollar donated by Starbucks customers with $7 in capital raised from other sources.
That means every $5 donated creates $35 in loans to small businesses.
Starbucks is giving bracelets to donors who contribute $5 or more to the effort—providing a symbol that seeks to get people talking about the cause outside of its stores. (Read more about this project in our Mission: Innovation blog.)
Both companies are demonstrating how other companies can use their resources, expertise, and size to help solve an underlying social issue, not just write checks or produce some flashy, fleeting marketing campaign.
What do you think about what Chipotle and Starbucks are doing? Does it mark a change in how companies give?