The Value of Corporate Social Responsibility
Q&A with Joanne Kamens, Executive Director, Addgene
Why is Corporate Social Responsibility important for both small and large organizations?
There are many reasons companies must engage in programs for the benefit of society but I’ll give you the two that I think are most important. First is providing a positive perception of your organization by the outside world. Second is to provide a positive perception of your organization by, likely its most important part, its own employees.
The world is very small from an image perspective. One unwieldy email or tweet can spread far and wide very quickly. If an organization is respected and has a reputation for doing good, and not just for making money, these bumps can be weathered much more easily. And it’s no good to pretend to do good. Customers and partners can smell “fake” from miles away these days. So you may as well do some real good and commit to it.
A bad company culture brings the threat of creating a culture of bias and harassment which is also expensive and wastes employee energy and talent. One of the most expensive things for a company is turnover. Time, institutional knowledge and money are all lost when people leave an organization. It’s much easier to leave a place for which you feel no dedication. Encouraging employees to feel proud about their organization’s involvement in projects done for the good of society is important to create belonging and commitment.
These are key factors for organizations large and small. I don’t think it makes any difference how big an organization is. Resources spent giving back by any size organization will pay an organization back many fold.
How can companies go about measuring the impact of CSR initiatives?
I hope we are going to find some good answers to that at our MassBio Nonprofit forum event this month! But to be clear. CSR strategies must be ongoing programs with long term goals for changing culture and reputation, not short term efforts. In the short term you might improve your ability to attract more talented employees and increase employee retention. I believe that in the long run, a good CSR strategy can result in major improvements in culture so that employee engagement reaches a different level of productivity which can in turn result in innovation. Long term efforts will also have a profound effect on company reputation and customer loyalty. You will only see improvements to the bottom line with long term execution, but you will see it.
Can you provide an example of Corporate Social Responsibility at Addgene?
As a mission driven nonprofit itself, Addgene gets to be on both the giving and receiving end of giving back programs. For-profit companies have donated plasmids or sponsored programs at Addgene and we enjoy these partnerships. Some example partners are New England Biolabs, Alnylam and Novartis. We are also the recipient of reduced rate nonprofit services from many large organizations which makes it possible for us to do more with less. Some organizations that come to mind are Google, Hubspot, Salesforce and Slack, to name a few.
One of Addgene’s core values is recognizing the strength in diversity and inclusion. So our most impactful partnerships have helped us increase diversity in our organization. This supports increased diversity internally but also demonstrates the actual value of an inclusive culture to the rest of the world. This is especially important for our mission since we work with scientists in over 100 countries. Addgene has worked with two organizations in particular. One organization is Best Buddies who matched us to an Addgenie that has been working in our packing room for almost 5 years. She is a major contributor and team member. The other organization is Just-A-Start which you can learn more about by coming to the MassBio event! Karla Talanian from Just -A-Start and Victoria Knight-Connoni from Indigo will be presenting a case study on their CSR partnership. Through Just-A-Start Addgene has hired ~six employees from the local community so far and it continues to be a source of lab techs as we expand. Four of these have been promoted to full time positions (and you know how hard it is to get good techs in the Boston area) so this has been a true win-win-win.
Lastly, Addgenies love to educate and mentor so we enjoy our collaboration with MassBioEd on bi-annual Career Exploration Day activities, meant to help spur students' interest in careers with the life sciences. Here’s a picture of a recent visit from students at Medford High School.