What Companies Can Learn From Successful Social Movements

Author

William Craig

December 9, 2016

The internet, and the inevitable pull of globalization, have both helped to make the world a smaller and more conscientious place. And while it doesn’t always feel like it, as we’ve gotten better at communicating, we’ve also gotten better at working together to advance social causes.

That revolutionary spirit is more important than ever in the realm of social and political issues, but it’s also becoming a game-changer for the corporate world as well. More and more companies are taking their lead from pro-social movements to change their culture, and the world, for the better.

Know What to Focus On

Back in the 1930s, Mohandas Gandhi led thousands of Indian citizens on the Salt March. This organized expression of solidarity targeted the British Salt Act, which made it illegal for Indians to obtain or sell salt — creating an effective British-controlled monopoly. The act also made taxes on salt prohibitively high, which, considering the traditional salt-heavy Indian diet, had lasting consequences for the population.

But here’s the thing. Gandhi knew the stakes were higher than a tax on salt. While some of his peers thought he was being myopic by focusing on just this one issue, both Gandhi and his closest allies knew his game plan a bit better. By focusing on one minor but consequential issue, he made the struggle against oppression much less theoretical for his followers.

 

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Make It Work for Your Business

Modern companies can learn a similar lesson. To put it mildly, no corporate structure can change the world overnight, so focus your efforts on a single problem instead. You could, for example, match employee donations or company sales to help build a school in a developing country, like WebpageFX has done in both Guatemala and Ghana. Or you could think locally and invest time and effort in a local charity. Whatever it is, make it real for the people you work with.

Know What Your Game Plan Is

One of the most exciting movements underway in the United States —one that combines commerce, idealism, environmentalism and social justice — is the push for renewable power. It’s true that we’re up against some truly powerful forces, but no president or Congress can stop what’s happening. Solar power grew nearly 120 percent this year alone, no thanks to the fossil fuel industry, or their cronies in Washington.

But while it’s true that “the free market has spoken,” that’s hardly the full story. The truth is, the big players in the solar game had a very deliberate plan in place before they even got started.

Elon Musk, whose name we’ll all likely be hearing with even greater frequency moving forward, had not one but two “master plans” for taking solar power mainstream. Each invention and corporate restructuring was made with a singular outcome in mind: to advance solar technology while simultaneously making it cheaper to adopt.

And it’s working. The aforementioned growth in the solar sector represents an adoption rate that rivals even cell phone adoption.

Make It Work for Your Business

Companies need to develop an in-depth plan before moving forward. Sure, it’s possible to fly by the seat of your pants and still eke out a win, but some of our brightest visionaries have proven that changing the world for the better means playing an intense game of 4-D chess, with their eyes fixed four or five moves ahead.

Know Who to Talk to and How

“Agree to disagree” is not a productive worldview. Our species is already divided down the middle on nearly every issue of ethical consequence. When we throw up our hands in despair and write off our differences as “irreconcilable,” we only dig our trenches deeper.

America’s political climate at this moment in time is not toxic because the issues facing us are complicated — it’s toxic because we’ve stopped talking. Echo chambers are all too real, but it’s no help at all to engage only with people who already agree with us.

We need to know who to talk to and how to engage with them — that goes for politicians, voters, companies and employees. We gain nothing by building real or metaphorical walls. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump changed the political conversation in 2016, in very different ways, admittedly, by finding out who wasn’t feeling heard and learning how to speak their language.

Make It Work for Your Business

The business lesson here is to never write off a demographic as unreachable or a benchmark as unobtainable. In just a few short months, Senator Sanders went from addressing a dozen people on the grounds of the Capitol to packing stadiums with tens of thousands of voters and collecting more individual donations than any previous presidential candidate, and he did it with a broad-reaching but specific message focused on the people who most needed to hear it.

He didn’t turn his nose up at courting conservative or Libertarian voters — he built a movement, and the people came. Remember that allies can be found in unlikely places.

Collaboration Rules the Day

A major takeaway from our discussion today is the idea that we need to rethink everything about how we do business and interact with the world. Corporations and governments may have fetishized dog-eat-dog competition, but evidence says cooperation is the way to get things done.

This is true when we’re trying to deliver to clients on time, and it’s true when we’re trying to turn the world toward cleaner energy, or open our doors and hearts to the less fortunate.

 

This article was written by William Craig from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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