This past year, I’ve had the opportunity to take sustainability and impact-oriented courses at HEC Paris and realized our generation, more than ever, is able to combine both the desire to help others and society with classic corporate functions. Businesses around the world are becoming more environmentally and socially-minded in their values, operations, initiatives, communications, etc. This gives me a tremendous amount of hope as I think about the future of our planet and diverse communities. In today’s blog, I wanted to share one business model that has incorporated social enterprise elements at the core of their operations and has demonstrated society’s gradual shift from a purely capitalistic environment. Don’t worry this blog post is not sponsored, I am just truly a fan & hopelessly optimistic.
Essilor International is an ophthalmic optics company that designs, manufactures, and markets lenses to correct or protect eyesight. One of their three core missions is to address the 2.7 billion individuals on this planet (one-third of the global population) that live with uncorrected poor vision. As the world’s largest lens manufacturer, they achieve this by focusing on three main areas: (1) raising awareness on the importance of good vision, (2) deploying inclusive business models, and (3) driving philanthropic programs. The philanthropic initiatives are the most classic forms of corporate social responsibility as they partner with diverse NGOs, international institutions, and governments to offer lens donations, free vision screenings, awareness campaigns, and fundraising. They’ve also created the Essilor Vision Fund & Vision for Life program that seeks to access the underserved communities at the “bottom-of-the-pyramid,” including children’s vision care.
In my opinion, what truly sets this business model apart from traditional corporations is its commitment to supporting inclusive businesses that take new approaches in product development, distribution, and pricing. Mainly, they have implemented training programs worldwide to improve access to better vision: these modules range from one day to twelve months for certification in vocational training, including a specific focus on the commercial skills required to set up and run a successful small vision care business. They are currently successfully deployed in India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Kenya, Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Malawi. This business model is an excellent example of prioritizing the stakeholders of your business and their needs, rather than focusing on the profit of your shareholders. These initiatives both help alleviate poverty and increase local employment – contributing to several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Overall, this truly shows that CSR is not just a philanthropic add-on to the corporation – it’s not just a public relations stunt. It’s at the core of how they function and what they do.
I can’t help but compare these corporate engagements to the work of the AWASUKA Program. As you probably know at this point, this program is currently raising awareness and fundraising to install smokeless kitchens in remote, rural areas of Nepal. The program has trained and is currently employing nine individuals in Bhimphedi, Nepal to raise awareness, manufacture, and install the smokeless kitchens within the local communities. It also strives to tackle four different Sustainable Development goals as it increases good health & well-being, reduces inequality, alleviates poverty, reduces gender inequality, and benefits the environment through the installation of these smokeless kitchens. Although this is a non-profit, it’s inspiring to see the lines being blurred between for-profit and non-profit initiatives.
I wanted to share these examples to demonstrate that some of us are motivated by more than just profits and recognize the power corporations hold in terms of making a difference within vulnerable communities. It’s time that corporate social responsibility becomes a core function of every business – and that each organization prioritizes the needs of the relevant stakeholders within your line of business. Hold each corporation accountable and support the businesses that are passionate activists about social movements. Take the time to both research and raise awareness on these underserved communities, and volunteer in any way that you can. Use your privilege for the better in order to make the significant change needed on our planet.