Transparency Talk

Category: "Corporate Social Responsibility" (5 posts)

Eye On: Sara Blakely
September 24, 2015

(Melissa Moy is the special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sara Blakely and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Sara_Blakely YellowSara Blakely’s desire to help female entrepreneurs and empower women and girls is rooted in her belief of “paying it forward.”

Through her philanthropic endeavors via the Sara Blakely Foundation, the Spanx Inc. founder is positively shaping the lives of women.  Bill Gates personally invited Blakely to join the Giving Pledge, whereby wealthy individuals have pledged to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime. 

Blakely’s mentor and friend, Virgin Group tycoon Richard Branson – the first British Giving Pledger – made his pledge in February 2013, and Blakely followed suit in May 2013, demonstrating the multiplier effect that being open about one’s philanthropy can have.

In her Giving Pledge letter, Blakely described her gratitude for being a woman in America when millions of women around the world are “not dealt the same deck of cards upon their birth.” She added, “Simply because of their gender, they are not given the same chance I had to create my own success and follow my dreams. It is for those women that I make this pledge.”

Sara Blakely:

  • Successful entrepreneur and owner of Atlanta-based Spanx Inc.
  • In 2012, Forbes Magazine named her the youngest self-made female billionaire
  • TIME Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Influential People 2012 list
  • Clearwater, Fla., native
  • Minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

At 44, Blakely has a number of “firsts” under her belt – including the youngest woman in the world to become a self-made billionaire and the first self-made female billionaire Giving Pledger.

I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment.

Through her Atlanta-based foundation, Blakely invests her woman’s shapewear fortune into philanthropic initiatives that focus on women and girls, from entrepreneurship and education to addressing homelessness.

The foundation gave $613,520 to 30 organizations in 2013. Significant grant awards made through the foundation in that year show a variety of philanthropic interests including: $100,000 to V-Day to stop violence against women; $100,000 to the Focus Foundation to help children and families with X & Y Variations, Dyslexia, and/or Developmental Dyspraxia reach their potential; $65,520 to help women survivors of war, poverty and injustice; $50,000 to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to help preserve marine life in her hometown of Clearwater, Fla.; and $40,000 to Girls on the Run of Atlanta to empower young girls, grades 3 to 8, through a youth development and running program.

“I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment,” Blakely said in her Giving Pledge letter. “While many of the world's natural resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed — women.” Using her fortune to invest in start-up female entrepreneurs must be very satisfying for Blakely, having been one herself not that long ago.

The Florida State University graduate developed the idea for Spanx while getting ready for a party. Blakely didn’t have the right undergarment to wear under her slacks. She cut the feet off of her control top pantyhose and liked the slimming effect.

With great tenacity, the Florida saleswoman researched the undergarment business and even wrote her own patent to save money. Facing skeptical hosiery mill owners in a male-dominated field, Blakely eventually convinced one mill owner to manufacture her products.

Blakely credits her big break to Oprah Winfrey, who named Spanx one of her “favorite things” in 2000. The next year, she sold 8,000 units on home shopping network QVC in the first six minutes.

Blakely’s commitment to “paying it forward” informs Spanx corporate philanthropy, which prioritizes giving female entrepreneurs assistance through its Leg Up program. Blakely notes that every woman can benefit from a “leg up,” or assistance from other women. The unique program offers female business owners the opportunity to promote their products to Spanx customers via the catalog, website and Social Media.

In 2015, Spanx selected two innovative Leg Up businesses, the Akola Project and Sseko Designs.

The Akola Project empowers Ugandan women in extreme poverty by providing a livelihood developing handcrafted jewelry; 100% of the profits are reinvested into the community.

Sseko Designs is a fashion company that employs impoverished Ugandan women and supports their education; 100% of the company’s employees are currently pursuing their university degrees or are graduates.

The entrepreneur’s passion around women’s issues is also expressed in the Spanx company mission, “to help women feel great about themselves and their potential.”

“Since I was a little girl I have always known I would help women,” Blakely said. “I have been setting aside profits since the start of Spanx with the goal that when the time comes I will have an amazing opportunity to help women in an even bigger way.”

--Melissa Moy

What Can Philanthropy Learn from Corporate Responsibility Rankings?
December 13, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center. A version of this post originally ran on the Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic blog.)

CSR-globeAs philanthropy looks for examples outside of its own field for how to be more transparent and accountable to its stakeholders, it might benefit from seeing how the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has measured best practices and facilitated disclosure for companies. Corporations have long collected data generated by and/or relevant to their operations – everything from sales figures, to permit applications, to industry trends and customer behavior. Increasingly, however, regulatory and watchdog groups are demanding that companies provide information about the impact of their activities on society and the environment.

Many corporations, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are disclosing a wide range of activities to ratings groups that are tracking a multitude of topics. But from climate change to human rights to corruption, we -- and they -- still have a long ways to go.

As the CSR movement has gained traction, indices and lists that seek to quantify and rank company activities according to sustainability principles have proliferated. Financial analysts, media groups, and independent consultancies today produce annual assessments of everything from the amount of carbon companies put into the atmosphere to the sustainability of their supply chain management and the diversity of their boards. Many consider transparency and disclosure in addition to performance. Their metrics, in turn, are often used by customers, investors, and prospective job candidates to determine their level of engagement with a particular company.

Earlier this year, the Foundation Center added a CSR tab to the company profiles in Foundation Directory Online that highlights nearly two dozen of these corporate sustainability ratings lists and presents basic information from them in a user-friendly format. The consolidation of ratings provides an additional level of visibility to corporate data.

But in an emerging field characterized by a multiplicity of definitions and standards, even simple numbers can be hard to make sense of. Using hundreds of data points and a unique methodology, SustainAbility, an independent think tank and strategy consultancy, has taken it upon itself to "rate the raters" in order "to better understand the universe of external sustainability ratings and to influence and improve the quality and transparency of such ratings." As the firm is quick to note, many of these lists have been introduced within the last five years and there's plenty of room for improvement.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more prominent ratings lists/indices:

Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, which are offered cooperatively by SAM Indexes and S&P Dow Jones Indices, were launched in 1999 to track the stock performance of the world's leading companies in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria. DJSI World tracks the top 10 percent of the 2,500 largest companies in the Dow Jones Global Total Stock Market Index, while DJSI North America tracks the top 20 percent of the 600 largest U.S. and Canadian companies. The evaluation process includes a survey customized for fifty-eight industry sectors covering disclosure of compensation, governance, workforce diversity, risk and crisis management, greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation, branding strategies and metrics, data privacy, talent attraction and retention, and other areas. According to the DJ Sustainability site, "The indexes serve as benchmarks for investors who integrate sustainability considerations into their portfolios, and provide an effective engagement platform for companies who want to adopt sustainable best practices."

Carbon Disclosure Project. Every year, the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, produces a dense, chart-filled report detailing the progress of S&P 500 companies toward their greenhouse gas emission goals. Based on a detailed questionnaire (the data collection process is so complex that CDP runs a series of workshops around the world to help companies answer it), the 2012 report offers a three-tiered breakdown of GHG emissions totals by sector; a performance band from A to E assessing actions to promote climate change mitigation, adaptation, and transparency; and a disclosure score from 0 to 100 for the provision of data. Multiyear leaders in the rankings include Bank of America and Lockheed Martin in the performance category, and Cisco Systems, Gilead Sciences, and Spectra Energy in the disclosure category.

Newsweek Green Rankings. In contrast to DJSI's rankings of only the most sustainable companies, Newsweek ranks the five hundred largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. as well as the five hundred largest in the world, regardless of their sustainability record. And unlike the Carbon Disclosure Project's rankings, only 10 percent of the scores are based on disclosure, with the remainder split between environmental impact and management (a category that takes public controversies into account). The magazine (which recently was purchased by The Daily Beast site and is transitioning to an online-only format) includes more than seven hundred data elements in its survey of companies, including greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste disposal, water use, equity investment (companies are responsible for the impact of the companies they own), hazardous waste reduction, biodiversity protection, company operations, contractors and suppliers, and products and services. Based on a scale of 0 to 100, IBM (82.9) and Santander Brasil (85.7) topped the 2012 rankings.

The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Consulting firm and magazine publisher DiversityInc, which launched its diversity rankings in 2001, bases its ratings on the responses it receives to a 300-question survey. As the organization explains in the methodology section of its site: "Ratios between key factors in diversity management, such as demographics of managers compared with managers who received promotions and demographics of the workforce compared with people promoted into their first management positions, play a significant factor in determining point scores." Companies are rated by industry, and the rankings include thirteen different top-five and top-ten lists. Topping the list in 2012 were PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sodexo, Kaiser Permanente, AT&T, and Procter & Gamble.

Corporate Responsibility Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens. Corporate Responsibility Magazine and the Corporate Responsibility Officer Association (CROA) began publishing their list, which is 100 percent based on verifiable publicly available information, in 2009. The rankings are driven by companies' performance in seven broad CSR categories -- environment, climate change, human rights, employee relations, corporate governance, philanthropy, and finance -- with some three hundred and eighteen data points tracked across those categories. Carbon Disclosure Project and Foundation Center data are incorporated into the assessments.

And that's just a sampling. Indeed, the diversity and number of CSR ratings lists now available can be overwhelming at times -- for consumers and investors, as well as for companies, which receive a plethora of detailed surveys and questionnaires from dozens of groups seeking to track their activities and do not always understand the reasons they are selected or omitted from a given list.

In an effort to standardize the ratings process, Ceres and the Tellus Institute, founders of the Global Reporting Institute (GRI), recently launched the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR), which aims to establish best practices in the sustainability ratings field, with a focus on transparency of methodology, performance-based results, forward-looking indicators, relevance to market forces, integration of sustainability criteria into investment decisions, independence of raters, and an expansion in the scope of participating companies. The initiative hopes to release the initial draft of its standards in 2013.

In the meantime, the number and scope of CSR ratings lists continue to grow. Last year, the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, in partnership with the Reputation Institute, released its fourth annual list of the top fifty companies in the U.S. based on the public's perception of their corporate citizenship, governance, and workplace practices. And earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Vestas released their third annual Global Corporate Renewable Energy Index (CREX) report, which tracks voluntary demand for renewable energy among the world's largest companies.

Other entrants in the field include the UN Global Compact, which asks companies around the globe to embrace universal principles and partner with the United Nations in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption issues, and A Billion + Change, which seeks to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono work and skill-based volunteerism by the end of 2013.

Is any of this work making a difference? I believe it is and, having compared some of the largest lists against our corporate FDO profiles, can see that many corporations, here in the U.S. and around the globe, are disclosing a wide range of activities to ratings groups that are tracking a multitude of topics. But from climate change to human rights to corruption, we -- and they -- still have a long ways to go.

What do you think? Is CSR a movement whose time has arrived? What can philanthropy learn from the CSR field? Are CSR ratings a useful tool for consumers, investors, and transparency advocates? And if not, how can they be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

--Emily Keller

Foundation Center Adds CSR Data to Foundation Directory Online
June 5, 2012

(Andrew Grabois is manager for corporate philanthropy at the Foundation Center. This post was originally posted on PhilanTopic.)

FDOWhen Deep Throat advised Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to "follow the money" in that underground garage back in the '70s, he could just as well have been dispensing advice to a corporate grantseeker. That is, until recently.

For many years, individuals and organizations looking for funding from companies or their foundations were only concerned about the availability of funds and meeting a company's grant requirements, not whether a grantmaker was a "good corporate citizen" (with the exception, perhaps, of anti-apartheid activists). And while notions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) have been around for decades, CSR only recently has gained traction with the general public.

According to a 2010 CSR Perception Survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, 55 percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to purchase a product with an added social benefit; 70 percent said they would be willing to pay a premium for a product from a "socially responsible" company (and 28 percent said they would pay up to $10 more); and, perhaps most surprisingly, 34 percent said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible firm. It would appear the CSR train is leaving the station. Indeed, in the last month alone, Morgan Stanley announced the launch of a new "impact investing" platform to "help clients align their financial goals and personal values," while Bloomberg LP, which already provides more than one hundred CSR indicators through its Bloomberg terminals at no extra cost, announced that it will publish the results of The Civic 100 survey conducted by the National Conference on Citizenship and Points of Light in the November issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

Recognizing the importance of corporate social responsibility information to today's grantseekers, the Foundation Center has been busy collecting over forty separate CSR data points, including carbon emissions and energy usage metrics as reported to and analyzed by folks at the Carbon Disclosure Project, employee volunteer hours, workforce diversity percentages, and recognition by eleven "green" or "best practices" lists, including those compiled by Boston College, Corporate Responsibility magazine, DiversityIncHuman Rights Campaign, Newsweek, and Working Mother. We're also collecting corporate CSR pledges tracked by the Global Reporting Initiative, the United Nations Global Compact, and A Billion + Change. And, starting tomorrow, we'll be making all that data available in Foundation Directory Online. Appearing as a separate tab on individual company profiles, more than fourteen hundred companies will have at least one CSR measure that users of FDO can incorporate into their prospect research.

We think the addition of corporate social responsibility data to FDO is the most significant enhancement to our company information in years, and we know it will provide FDO users with the most complete profiles of corporate citizenship and transparency in any single database around. For today's corporate grantseeker, just following the money is no longer enough.

-- Andrew Grabois

Glasspockets Find: Transparency = Understanding?
April 27, 2012

Does transparency equal understanding?  It depends.

One of the presumed benefits of foundation transparency is that it can help build trust with grantees, policymakers, and the general public.  It does not necessarily follow, however, that transparency leads to understanding.  As in most situations, context is key. 

In his April 16 post to his weekly CSR Now! blog, Tim McClimon pulls some fascinating quotes—some recent and some not so recent—from the writings of William Gibson on this topic.  He concludes with this insight from the perspective of a corporate practitioner:

 “…it seems to me that the challenge for those of who manage CSR programs is to be transparent and understandable (and hopefully persuasive) at the same time. One without the other is just adding to the information stream with no real purpose or impact.”

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: New CSR blog from American Express
August 17, 2011

American Express

Timothy J. ("Tim") McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility (CSR) at American Express and president of the American Express Foundation, has just launched CSR Now!, a weekly blog "designed to get at what's happening in corporate social responsibility today—from the point of view of a corporate practitioner."

McClimon will use the blog to reflect on current trends in CSR, with examples from his own experience at American Express and from those of his colleagues at other companies. He hopes to track current literature and online developments, and feature a guest blogger on occasion.

As yet another vehicle to promote grantmaker transparency, let’s wish a long and productive run to CSR Now!

Be sure to share any similar efforts in CSR that you come across.

-- Mark Foley

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