Redefining Corporate Good: How One GE-Initiated Program is Creating Shared Value from Africa to Silicon Valley and Beyond

Photo credit: GE

Photo credit: GE

By: Thane Kreiner, Originally published in Huffington Post

What does “corporate good” mean in today’s world? A partnership between GE healthymagination and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship points the way toward a new approach to everything from corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the improvement of poor people’s lives to the development of new markets and new corporate leaders.

The traditional development paradigm—governments giving money to other governments or to multilateral aid organizations to help developing countries—has too often failed to deliver hoped-for economic development. And the Base-of-Pyramid model for corporate engagement in fighting poverty has not materialized as a transformative force to the extent imagined.

The GE healthymagination Mother & Child program in sub-Saharan Africa represents a new approach. This program is using social entrepreneurship as the catalytic ingredient for tackling a pressing global problem while simultaneously building new market opportunities for GE.

Blending Miller Center’s Silicon Valley entrepreneurial acumen with GE’s innovative healthcare solutions, the healthymagination Mother & Child program will train and mentor social entrepreneurs who are working to improve maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa.

What’s Different About This Model of Corporate Action

Here are three ways in which this GE and Miller Center partnership around social entrepreneurship is significant:

  1. It reframes corporate goals and enables new market-sensing, market-building, and market-shaping activities. Partnering with Miller Center to train social entrepreneurs exposes local entrepreneurs and their customers in Africa—an already populous region that is adding population faster than any other global area—to GE products and business. These people become potential GE customers. At the same time, the entrepreneurs learn business skills that not only help their social enterprises succeed, but also create a pool of skilled human resources that GE and other corporations can hire. And market-shaping, which is market-building with particular intentions, can help fulfill an important intention of both our organizations: to empower women through entrepreneurial opportunities.

  2. It focuses on direct engagement in doing good. GE healthymagination states that its goal is “to make measureable progress in increasing affordability, improving quality, and increasing access to healthcare around the world.” This goal lines up with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, especially “Goal #3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” It also responds to the demands of the millennial generation to do work that has meaning in addition to generating profits. Corporations engaged in meaningful endeavors will be better able to attract and hire the very best young people out of college.
  3. It cultivates emerging executive leaders within the corporation. In the GE and Miller Center program, GE executives mentor in-country social entrepreneurs. In most cases, the social enterprises are addressing problems that are unfamiliar to those executives. As a result, the executives can learn through practice how to coach and mentor people who are doing things that they don’t fully understand—which is an important part of executive leadership. And corporate human resources departments can assess who might be able to step into high-level executive leadership roles at their companies, especially in unfamiliar geographies, sectors, or business units.

Many corporations, like GE, are no longer satisfied with defining their goals and responsibilities as simply maximizing shareholder wealth. Instead, they are focusing on improving the quality of life for all their stakeholders, which includes their employees, their customers, and the communities and environments in which they operate. Social entrepreneurship is a catalyst to create shared value, a powerful way for corporations to translate their good intentions into genuinely good outcomes as well as good business.