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Why investing in social entrepreneurship is good for business: Jean-Philippe Courtois

By Jean-Philippe Courtois, EVP and President, Global Sales, Marketing & Operations, Microsoft Corporation. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

As you likely know by now, technology is opening new opportunities to help us solve some of society’s biggest challenges – and now I’m beginning to see many of my customers using artificial intelligence (AI) and the cloud for societal impact. And here at Microsoft, we’re helping partners and NGOs like Operation Smile, which provides free and safe surgeries to children and young adults with clip lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities, setting them on the path to a happier life. Or take ICL Africa, a Kenyan non-profit developing its own app to enroll household members in a healthcare unit, using the power of the cloud. With emerging technologies, business and social impact is transforming. No longer is social impact just a moral imperative for businesses – we are now beginning to learn how it can accelerate economic progress and create value.

The rising role of social entrepreneurship in business is especially exciting and close to home to me. Social entrepreneurs are changing the way business integrates with society. More than ever, I see my customers and my own company becoming far more engaged with tackling social issues. While advancements in AI across other fields make headlines, a new, collaborative vision of social entrepreneurship is equally important if we’re going to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We need a change in culture plus new technology.

Social Entrepreneurship: A new way to add value to your business

For decades, the business sector has viewed social entrepreneurship as adjunct to a corporate mission, where well-meaning companies organized volunteer brigades or donated to charities. But today, cutting-edge companies are starting to view philanthropic efforts through the lens of Total Societal Impact (TSI). Now, businesses can look to our core competencies and leverage them in the service of social impact. This allows us to engage our resources and use tested business practices to supply social entrepreneurs with the best technologies to drive change.

Today, I’m regularly seeing more and more how using our capabilities and core competencies to address societal challenges can lead to global economic growth and opportunity. It’s estimated that it will take up to $7 trillion to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – but currently the United Nations foresees a shortfall of close to $3 trillion. The public sector cannot close this gap alone – I believe the private sector has to step up to address these growing problems. And the UN estimates that by addressing the SDGs, we can unlock about $12 trillion of new market opportunity, product opportunities, and service opportunities to activate. At the same time, we will create close to 400 million new jobs and hundreds of millions of new customers for both established and emerging businesses worldwide. By aligning our skillsets with the missions and foundational values of nonprofits on the ground, we can better equip social impact organizations with the tools to deliver solutions to local problems and help them scale quickly across geographies.

Partnering to drive change

Our new accelerator partnership in India and France with Ashoka, a nonprofit focused on providing social entrepreneurs with the resources needed to achieve their vision, puts this concept of Total Societal Impact into action. By combining Microsoft’s tech expertise and business insights with Ashoka’s mission of ensuring that everyone is a changemaker, we’ll help social entrepreneurs design, develop, and launch projects with speed and efficiency, and help them scale these projects over time. One of the selected projects, Enercoop, is developing new tools to forecast energy consumption and supply consumers with local, renewable energy. To me, this example can serve as a blueprint of a strategic partnership – two organizations are leveraging what they do best to accelerate impact, in a way that is highly scalable across geographies.

The mission of social entrepreneurship is very personal to me. My own organization, Live for Good, has allowed me to invest my time and resources into getting to know many social entrepreneurs better and to invest in their passion for making our world a better place. To me, both Ashoka and Live for Good show the power of connecting the impact of tech with the uniquely human trait of passion. If a small group of people can create such great change, imagine what a large organization with vast resources can do.

Accelerating social impact at your organization

Traditionally, businesses have taken a siloed approach to social impact. They’ve either dedicated a single wing of the organization to corporate social responsibility (CSR), or simply donated to charities and encouraged employees to volunteer. To truly accelerate social impact and experience its benefits, business leaders should consider new approaches to connect across our companies and communities. For many, this means building new, end-to-end strategies that leverage our best skills and resources (as Ashoka has done so well) or reaching across company lines to work with like-minded partners.

What does this look like in action? Launched earlier this year at Davos, the Global Alliance for YOUth aims to impact 6 million young people by 2022. The alliance includes more than 20 corporations, including Nestlé, Vodafone, Mastercard, Microsoft, and others, as well as non-private partners like the World Bank. Globally, these companies employ over 1.5 million people – and so we have the responsibility and capability to use our resources and scale to amplify our impact. And we’re doing this by developing educational programs that help young people around the world prepare for the future. Partnerships like this one allow us to have a greater impact collectively than we would on our own.

By thinking about what we do best, businesses can transition from a traditional CSR approach to one of Total Societal Impact. At Microsoft, our Tech for Social Impact initiative does just that – helping nonprofits drive impact by providing access to the cloud and helping them digitally transform, improving productivity and accelerating innovation. And unlike more traditional methods, TSI is more scalable and less risky, and can help us establish more sustainable initiatives and greater opportunities for growth.

Investing in social impact is good for business. As stakeholders begin pushing companies to become more involved in social initiatives, and as major global challenges continue to unfold, businesses have both a moral and economic imperative to do good and leverage our core companies to create the greatest impact. Much like my customers, business partners, and my company, I’m inspired by the many social entrepreneurs pushing for change, and I hope you are as well.

In the picture (L-R): Arnaud Mourot, Co-Director, Ashoka Europe with Jean-Philippe Courtois, EVP and President, Global Sales, Marketing & Operations, Microsoft Corporation