In the past year, we've seen a global pandemic, dire public health situations, an upside-down economy, and social unrest—to name just a few of the major events. These unparalleled circumstances have presented challenges to businesses of all sizes.
Yet, many leaders choose to weather the storm and use this opportunity to retool their definition of what it means to provide value and make a difference. After all, companies with foundations in social good are often more resilient in the face of crisis—B Corps were 63% more likely to survive the 2008 recession.
To assess the landscape and provide inspiration for other leaders, I pulled insights and anecdotes from four real leaders on how the pandemic shifted their concept of purpose-driven business.
In a time when galleries, museums, and other art spaces were shuttered, B-Corp, MTArt Agency grew their business significantly, despite pandemic-related challenges.
Marine Tanguy, their founder, explained how the past year shifted their perspective, and they were able to combine dynamic business models and public access to art for local communities.
But that's what their organization does, innovate in the art world. As the first B Corp in their industry, they're a talent agency that focuses on representing creators and artists while also bettering the communities they work and sell in. A key example is the 2019 installation of the world's largest public painting—also entirely biodegradable—in Paris.
"For the past year, we have had multiple public artworks installed across London, thanks to The Crown Estate in Central London, Westminster City Council, Holborn, King's Cross, CAPCO, and others," says Tanguy. "It's magical to know we are able to provide everyone with access to art, even when galleries and museums are closed, and our artists are able to broadcast their artistic stories to inspire and uplift so many people."
When certified cleaning is your business, a global pandemic provides a distinct opportunity to serve. No strangers to catastrophes, nationwide cleaning, and restoration franchise, SERVPRO says it all in their tagline, "Faster to any size disaster." So when the country shut down in 2020, they went to work.
Michael Stahl, CMO at SERVPRO, explained how their franchise owners and team members levelled up their dedication to their customers. They recognized the need to not only serve individuals but also help businesses within their communities open and operate.
Stahl explains: "Being in the restoration business, we quickly realized we had a duty to step up and do even more to combat COVID-19. In response, SERVPRO launched our Certified: SERVPRO Cleaned program, built from more than 50 years of cleaning industry experience to address viral pathogens like the coronavirus. Grounded in 'Three C's' – Consult, Clean and Certify."
The results were overwhelming. More than 50,000 customers have used the service since May 2020, playing a pivotal role in spurring local economies plus allowing businesses to reopen while offering peace of mind to customers:
"SERVPRO professionals throughout the country have helped businesses reopen their doors by providing this deep-cleaning service," says Stahl. "Additionally, with the Certified: SERVPRO Cleaned program, businesses can display the program's emblem on their front door (showcasing to customers that the business is adhering to a deep cleaning protocol) as well as on their website or with social media."
On top of that, during the height of the pandemic, SERVPRO franchise owners also provided pro-bono disinfection of emergency vehicles to protect first responders and mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
UNITE 2030 is a global community of more than 14,000 young leaders. They aim to empower these Changemakers (as they call them) to take action against poverty, inequality, injustice, and climate change by 2030. They work with the UN Foundation and other international organizations to empower youth to create change through leadership and entrepreneurship.
Alyssa Chassman, founder and executive director, explained that they were in the midst of planning a large-scale global summit during the UN General Assembly when the pandemic hit. This was especially disheartening because they'd just shifted their entire model from online to focus more on in-person engagements.
Chassman elaborated on the challenge: "We felt like we were backpedaling in every single way! We had to then remobilize our community in a completely different way. We spent months in the gutter, with no income and minimal plan, and decided to tap into our community to have their say."
As a path forward, Chassman hosted a focus group of her most engaged Changemakers to ask them what they hoped to get out of UNITE 2030.
"Their input was invaluable," says Chassman. "Based on their insights, in less than one month, we co-created an entirely new leadership development program - called the Youth Delegate Program - and put it out into the universe."
And the results? "Within the first month, we received over 2000 applications from every corner of the globe. Our first program supported 58 young leaders from 33 different countries to develop the leadership skills necessary to become a Changemaker in their community. We are now entering our 4th cohort and are continuing to refine and build the program as we go."
UNITE 2030 was able to leverage their community, crowd-source new solutions, and make the best of the situation. As Chassman explained, "The pandemic actually was a great opportunity to readapt our work to be even more inclusive than we ever were and to work even more closely with young people who want to do good."
I might be slightly biased as a Vermonter, the birthplace of Ben & Jerry's, but this B-Corp is a shining star example of a business rooted in social activism and progressive values. Once the pandemic hit, they were no different in shifting their focus to where they could create the most impact. A few examples:
While every business or B Corp may not have the budget, resources, or global reach of Ben & Jerry's, they can certainly use them as inspiration to drive change within their communities.
Founder Ben Cohen explained in a recent candid interview how other businesses can strive to make activism a key part of their mission:
"I think there's an increasing recognition that business is the most powerful force in the country, and that currently, business has been using that power covertly in its own self-interest. The traditional business model is screw the consumer, spend a bunch of money on advertising and PR to make yourself look good and go forward like that. Ben & Jerry's is just saying: 'Instead of spending a lot of money trying to make ourselves look good, let's just...be good.'"
Cohen also offered advice on how to keep trucking after setbacks because the road to being purpose-driven is not without detours.
"We are by no means perfect. We're trying to be better and better, to work more and more for social justice, but we recognize that we're not always gonna be successful at doing that," says Cohen. "What's important is to be transparent with the public and with your customers. Tell them exactly what's going on. Tell 'em what's going good, what's going bad."
Now we'll leave you with that sage advice from an ice cream guru and social justice pioneer.
Jessica Thiefels is a published author, host of Mindset Reset Radio, and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She's been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur.