Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be defined as a way businesses work to become socially accountable to communities, which includes employees as well as the public.
All companies have some kind of impact on society, the economy and the environment beyond their direct operations, and it’s up to business leaders to make sure the impact they’re making is a positive one. The different types of CSR are external, like philanthropy and environmental conservation or internal, such as developing ethical workplace practices and supporting volunteer efforts. According to Forbes, corporate social responsibility not only helps society, but can also benefit businesses’ bottom line. This can include employee retention which is necessary to stay competitive in today’s business landscape.
Robert F. Smith, the founder and CEO of the investment firm Vista Equity Partners, spoke in 2021 during a President’s Summit Masterclass, about how companies that are conscious about their social and environmental footprint have many opportunities to grow and expand financially.
“If you don’t think about those things, you’re going to lose a lot of money,” Smith said regarding environmental and social responsibility.
Giving Back to the Black Community with Southern Communities Initiative
One of Smith’s initiatives is called the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), which is “helping to increase racial equity funding and bridge the digital divide in six southern cities where a large percentage of African Americans now reside: Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans and Charlotte.” In each of these six southern cities, there are designated community leaders facilitating SCI’s project management.
The Southern Communities Initiative is focused on four racial equity pillars:
- Wealth Creation: Helping Black-owned businesses expand and gain access to funding.
- Housing: Connecting minority community members to tools and resources that help improve homeownership rates under fair terms.
- Education/Workforce Development: Providing education and skill training opportunities for members of underserved communities.
- Health Equity: Improving access to quality, affordable health care in order to reduce health disparities.
It also promotes two ways to enable racial equity:
- Digital Access: Improving access to affordable high-speed internet for low-income households and people of color.
- Physical Infrastructure: Increasing access to reliable real estate and civil infrastructure to support people of color and Black and Brown-owned businesses.
The Southern Communities Initiative is backed by a coalition of companies, such as Vista Equity Partners, PayPal, Boston Consulting Group and the Walton Family Foundation as part of their recognition of the necessity of corporate social responsibility. Over the past four years, SCI has received $65 billion in corporate racial equity commitments and more than 70 partnerships with other businesses and organizations.
In December 2021, Smith and Southern Community Initiative were recognized for their efforts to increase broadband access to close the digital divide in the U.S. In Smith’s 2021 conversation with Cathie Mohan of Inclusiv, he discussed the important work that SCI is doing to bridge the racial gaps in education, technology, banking and health care. But, Smith said, “One of the most important is broadband.”
High-speed internet access has become a necessity in the digital world of today, yet communities of color across the U.S. disproportionately lack a stable internet, which can negatively impact school, work, and daily life.
Learn more about Smith’s work to close the digital divide.