This op-ed was first published on LinkedIn. Read it here.
I expected to find despair and heartache, I saw plenty of that, but at the same time we encountered people driven by an eagerness and pride to improve, not weighed down by their situation but driven by hope of a better tomorrow. Aid is a powerful thing.
Zaatari is a refugee camp in Jordan, far from my home in urban Oslo. I was there as part of a BCG collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an NGO dedicated to helping the displaced and other vulnerable people in war and crisis zones.
The NRC has a presence in almost every conflict zone around the world. They work with striking resourcefulness and drive to make the best of desperate situations.
Since 2013, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Oslo has had the privilege of supporting NRC, as our local social impact partner, with pro bono work. By combining NRC's expertise providing humanitarian assistance and BCG's expertise from strategy and improvement projects, we have together conducted several successful projects that enhance NRC's ability to support end beneficiaries. Together, we have re-defined NRC's organisational structure so they can assist people in need more efficiently and effectively. We have identified how to provide a billion dollars of humanitarian aid without using a single extra taxpayer dollar for the humanitarian sector overall, developed and proposed a simpler and harmonised financial reporting structure for the humanitarian sector, and developed a new strategy for private sector fundraising. All projects we do together with NRC are structured and conducted the same way as our projects with corporate clients, and gives our consultants the opportunity to utilise and further build their consulting skills – while working towards a very meaningful purpose.
Five reasons to engage in social impact
I am proud to work at a company that values humanitarianism. BCG works with organisations in the social, public, and private sectors to deliver frame-breaking solutions to some of the most complex problems in contemporary society. Our commitment is firm-wide; in total, we worked on more than 300 projects with 150 organisations last year alone. In our Oslo office we work closely with the Norwegian Refugee Council and help staff social impact projects on a global scale. We put the same time, heart, and dedication into our social-impact endeavours as we do in our commercial work.
I speak from personal experience when I say that social impact efforts add incredible value to a company. Here are just a few of the reasons I have witnessed first-hand:
1. It will expose your employees to unique experiences. They will have opportunities to explore new places, meet new people, and apply skills in a hands-on way that they will carry with them in their work and personal lives.
2. It fosters the cross-pollination of knowledge. NGOs and other humanitarian groups can certainly learn from corporations—but the reverse is true as well. Employees will bring important lessons back from their social impact projects.
3. It helps enormously with recruiting, and not just for millennials. Candidates in every generation are motivated by the opportunity to do good.
4. It shows employees new levels of dedication and commitment, which they will bring back to the office and apply to their next projects.
5. It will inspire your teams. Employees seek out the opportunity to get involved and be able to drive societal impact.
There are endless reasons to engage in social impact. At the end of the day, it is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. When companies use their core business assets to create positive social and environmental impact, they can also positively impact their bottom line. I challenge leaders and executives to dedicate more resources to help those who need it most, and consider the broader picture when evaluating their business strategy for 2018 and beyond.
Three tips for giving effective support
Focusing on societal impact is the first step, but implementation is a whole other ball game. Through our Oslo office's efforts, we've assembled the following guidelines:
1. Lead from the top. The leadership group needs to get on board. When the leaders prioritise social impact work, the rest of the company will follow.
2. Maximise your impact. Seek opportunities where you can make the biggest impact—and do not make it about PR. We cannot all be advertising agencies or website developers, and we should not try to be. Utilise your company's specific skillset, and zero in on the places where your expertise can make the biggest impact.
3. Take notes. Working with NGOs is an opportunity to work with extremely dedicated and professional people. Study them and examine their approach. You will learn from them and appreciate their work even more.
Helping the displaced and other vulnerable people in war and crisis zones is not about doing what is right for the sake of doing it. Dedicating resources to social impact projects is the right thing to do for you, your staff, and your company. It will make you better.