"The mission of business is not, and cannot be, isolated from the goals of humanity".—Clifton Leaf, Editor, Forbes 01-Dec-2016 (article)
As CEO of Conteneo and Managing Director of Every Voice Engaged Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 non-profit devoted to increasing civic engagement through Participatory Budgeting and Deliberative Decision Making, I'm often asked to "justify" my respective involvement in these organizations.
The thinly veiled assertion in such discussions is that I should "focus" on one or the other, under the presumption that this focus will somehow enable us to produce superior results. That's wrong.
In this post I'll explain more of our motivations and why I think investing time and energy in both organizations is good for our business and good for our society. I will also outline my concerns about using open source solutions as the foundation for sustainable, scalable, societal solutions and why we're creating a unique offering that is built-to-last.
Start With Why
Simon Sinek suggests that we should Start with Why - so let's use his framework to get us going.
We believe that collaborating teams are the world's best hope for solving the problems we face.
We believe that these teams are more effective when they are supported by frameworks.
We create awesome frameworks based on cognitive psychology, social psychology and game theory.
We deliver these frameworks though Weave, a scalable, secure, enterprise-ready SaaS platform that integrates frameworks with teams for superior results.
We believe that everyone can learn how to create collaboration frameworks, so we provide training and services that enable you to create your own frameworks and share them with other Weavers.
Note that we never claimed the problems teams are facing are exclusive to the domain of business. Which means that it is quite natural to leverage Conteneo's business-oriented frameworks to tackle societal problems.
The Role of Values
While our belief system of "why" is broad enough to support philanthropic work, I've found that a related belief system helps provide the fuel for philanthropy: "values", or concepts deemed important enough to inspire action.
Conteneo's corporate values are as follows:
- Families first.
- Wellness matters.
- We make a positive contribution to our communities. We conveniently define community as "world".
- Hard work is a gift and we're thankful that we get to do work we love.
- It is not a J-O-B. It is a J-O-Y.
- We're committed to our customers success.
- We're got each other's back.
- We use stickers and you should too.
The values that are most associated with philanthropy are our focus on families, our commitment to communities and the fact that we're absolutely crazy about our jobs. Indeed, I do apologize to the truly countless people I've met on planes and at parties and supermarkets and coffee shops and bars and running clubs and ... who listen to me talk about the power of collaboration at scale and agility. I'm a scorpion and just can't help myself.
These values make it easy to work late nights and weekends when we're creating our software, producing Participatory Budgeting projects on tight deadlines and limited resources, or meeting with Europe, Australia, or India late at night or early in the morning.
"If a for-profit entity is only profit seeking, then you're not going to be a long-term profitable company."—Satya Nadella , Interview in Fortune Magazine, 01-Dec-2016 (article)
So Why Not Just Create an Open Source Project?
That's a great question - why not just create an open source project instead of creating a separate non-profit? Part of the answer is timing: Conteneo started as a fairly regular enterprise software company. Initially, we were just focused on building great software. Our philanthropic ambitions came later, when we implemented one of the first Participatory Budgeting programs in North America with San José in 2011.
The more important answer concerns sustainability. My experience is that open source is great way to get something built but is not a great way to fund the infrastructure needed to maintain and scale operations.
Put another way, Every Voice Engaged Foundation seeks to engage hundreds of millions of people around the world in Participatory Budgeting, Deliberative Decision Making and other advanced forms of civic engagement. It will need a scalable, secure, enterprise class infrastructure. That costs a lot of money, and I'm not willing to wait until I become a billionaire so that I can bequeath my fortune to philanthropy. The problems we're facing are so important that we can't wait.
It turns out that the scalable, secure, enterprise class infrastructure for collaborating at scale is exactly the infrastructure that corporations need to improve their agility. By creating this infrastructure and licensing our software to corporations around the world, Conteneo creates a scalable solution for EVEF to deliver against its mission. We both win.
What I didn't expect about this model was the reaction from our enterprise customers. Conteneo's customers - companies like Adobe, Cisco, IBM, NetApp, PayU (Naspers), RELX and Transamerica - all have thriving corporate social responsibility programs. They know that supporting Conteneo is also supporting the software for EVEF.
This isn't charity: Our customers demand that our software really does enable their teams to use frameworks to collaborate at scale, generating superior results and stopping pointless PowerPoint-driven meetings to nowhere, otherwise they wouldn't license it! But, once that box is checked, it certainly helps that our customers know they are also supporting EVEF when they license our software.
What is truly astounding is that these customers often go even further: NetApp, IBM, Cisco and AT&T are among the companies who have contributed to EVEF over the years.
Different Demands Create Innovative Synergy
We have also found that there is innovative synergy in serving both corporate and philanthropic markets: Feature requests in one market enable us to create innovations valued in the other.
For example, our work with Kettering in developing Common Ground for Action enabled us to leverage the in-person collaboration models developed by Kettering into new interaction models for online collaboration. These models are being added to our other platforms to create new forms of collaboration in business.
Alternatively, the work we've done in making sure identity and participation is properly managed in the enterprise has enabled cities to leverage our platforms in the voting process in Participatory Budgeting by creating a means of validating participants. This also was important in the pioneering work we've done in extending Participatory Budgeting into schools at Sunnyvale Middle School in Sunnyvale, CA.
A lot has been written about the desire for millennials to work for "mission-driven" or "purpose-driven" organizations. That's certainly true, but limiting: we believe that everyone wants to work in an organization that is mission-driven.
Accordingly, all of us at Conteneo enjoy the fact that we get to work on and for EVEF. Oh sure, we and our families might grumble a little when our philanthropic work impinges on other work or family time. But overall, we find a way to get the work done - and we're happier and healthier for it. And even though my kids, and Laura's kids, complain a bit about helping out at our events in San José, they too know that they're making a difference.
Collectively, we understand that we exist in a complex ecosystem in which business is an integral part of society, and that we have a responsibility to do what we can to improve it. We know we're not alone and that countless other businesspeople and companies feel the same.
So, yeah, we're focused: on making the world a better place. And more importantly, we're extraordinarily proud of the fact that you don't have to be a Fortune 500 company to do it!
I'd love to hear how you're using collaborative frameworks in your business and philanthropic work. And please know that we're ready to help you with both. If you'd like to join us, send me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW UPCOMING TALK: Register for the June 15th free lunchtime mini-conference where Laura Richardson from Conteneo / EVEF and 4 others will be talking about civic engagement strategies for addressing climate change.