Shared Value Learning and Staten Island

One of my favorite parts of working at FSG is having the space to think with and learn from my dedicated, brilliant colleagues. While my recent FSG projects have focused on collective impact, I have also been learning from the groundbreaking work of my peers with regards to shared value.

One colleague wrote a piece that got me thinking about the intersections between these two Big Ideas. Chile wrote that shared value “is even more compelling when people can see how it relates directly to their business.” We see the same dynamic in collective impact, and can learn from the way in which business executives make the social and economic case to themselves and their colleagues. While it can be easy to get business involved in supporting collective impact via philanthropic support, it can be even more compelling to demonstrate a business case for their involvement.

Why do we want business involved in collective impact efforts anyway? Collective impact is fundamentally an approach to systems change. The system in question has many actors, some of whom may not realize they contribute to the problem and thus must contribute to the solution. Often, business is not the first actor who comes to mind when trying to raise high school graduation rates or fight youth substance abuse, but in fact they can play a significant role in systems change Our recent engagement to develop and help implement a collective impact approach to fight youth prescription drug and alcohol abuse in Staten Island, New York is an example of how business can come alongside drug treatment providers, schools, parents, and other more “obvious” stakeholders to change. Businesses may sell alcohol or dispense prescription drugs that end up in the hands of a teen.  They have a role in curtailing the availability of a substance, and must be brought on as partners rather than only seen as the cause of the problem.

It can be difficult to get business to the table in collective impact efforts. Often the service providers or educators or policymakers are quick to come because they interact with the target population in their daily work (students, juvenile offenders, drug-addicted teens). It can be more difficult to convince a business owner to take time from operating his or her enterprise and join a three hour steering committee meeting, when he or she may not see that population every day. How do you get the business to the table?.

When I reflect on the Staten Island collective impact initiative, I believe that the same argument for shared value applies for collective impact: it’s all about relating the topic at hand directly to the business interests of a stakeholder. This is even more important for a small business owner, who has fewer resources to spare for coalition planning, an integral part of building the common agenda and shared will for change. Here are a few thoughts on how to relate a collective impact effort directly to the business interests of a stakeholder, using our recent experience in Staten Island as examples:

  • Identify how the shared vision for change will not be punitive for them, but rather improve both their bottom line and their standing in the community: Pharmacists are increasingly being called upon by the public to help address the overwhelming prescription drug abuse problem on Staten Island. Several pharmacies, both independent and national chain, joined the collective impact effort and are contributing to a best practices guide. This guide will help pharmacists learn what they can do to prevent problems before they start, thus avoiding potential legal ramifications. Alongside the guide, pharmacists are considering creating a “seal of approval” to show which pharmacies are adopting these best practices. The hope is that with customer education, soon Staten Islanders will be frequenting those pharmacies with a commitment to the safety and health of their community.
  • Identify discrete, meaningful ways to involve the business owner in strategy: A local bowling alley owner got excited about this initiative because he sees lots of kids and hears lots of stories about substance use. He was able to identify kids for focus groups, host the groups, and provide the refreshments, all a critical part of gathering primary source data to inform further strategy development.     

Stay tuned for more thinking on the topic from FSG, but in the meantime, we’d like to hear from you: What other ways have you found to make the business case for collective impact to the private sector?

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