Lessons from the Pandemic: The Value of Investing in Stakeholder Connections and a More Resilient Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our connectivity, our interdependency, and the fundamental importance of early action to avert a crisis. As a Certified B Corporation investment firm seeking to use our capital to help fix the large social and environmental challenges we face, The Builders Fund believes capital and the businesses it supports must shift to create long-term value, generating returns for and considering all stakeholders in decision-making, versus short-term and extractive models serving shareholders in a vacuum.
In the era of COVID-19, that means business leaders must consider how their policies, procedures, and products affect their stakeholders — consumers, workers, community, and environment — and incorporate that into their decisions. By expanding the view of business success to include people and planet as well as profit, companies can set themselves up for long-term success and lift those around them through holistic practices that realize the value of all people.
The Value of Investing in Bold Solutions
The evolving and intersectional challenges in recent years have elevated the need to organize around bold solutions. Business leaders, government officials, nonprofits, and members of the public at large must all do our part to face and address the climate crisis and related issues — and investors play an important role in supporting those solutions.
In the face of disruption caused by environmental challenges, every industry will need to be reinvented to incorporate a systems-responsible approach to operations and growth. That disruption represents an opportunity for both positive change and attractive economic returns. Our 2020 impact report highlights examples of innovation and adaptation from our portfolio companies that can serve as examples for investors and business leaders alike.
Mixt, a fresh-ingredient, fast-casual restaurant enterprise, has consistently prioritized the needs and well-being of its employees. As the COVID-19 pandemic led to the temporary closure of many of the company’s locations, they responded quickly and creatively to support community needs. Responses included free meals for employees, “pay what you can” programs, and options to buy a meal for someone in need or to donate meals to hospital workers.
Urban Remedy, an omni-channel organic fresh food company, was at the forefront of supporting schools and local health care workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic via donations of more than 23,000 meals to nonprofit community partners. The company also integrated its giving with the launch of a new delivery app and “share the love” campaign designed to benefit frontline workers.
4 Ways to Shift Toward Stakeholder Capitalism
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the illusion that wealth accumulation is the primary definition of success in business and life, and that we all have equal access to the pursuit of happiness. When the most vulnerable among us feel the greatest effects, while the wealthiest accumulate even more, it’s apparent that the system is fundamentally broken.
We must begin thinking and acting more systemically: Businesses operate within a larger economic system, which operates within and through our global social systems, which all function within a shared natural ecosystem. The dominant capitalist model today has ignored that it is embedded in these larger systems, and that decisions which ignore the dynamic and interdependent nature of those relationships can have dire consequences. If we want to drive course correction on any of our significant and intractable global challenges, we need to pursue root causes with a systems mindset.
We recommend four steps that will help us shift systems toward a new model of stakeholder capitalism:
- Look for shared value with all of your stakeholders. Work to understand your business as an ecosystem with nodes that touch your stakeholders, where each node is an opportunity for shared value creation.
- Remember that everybody matters — and act that way. As a leader, don’t stop at creating employee engagement; create career paths and a livelihood for your employees as well as a safety net through your business for the people in your care.
- Become actively anti-racist. Consider what trainings and practices you can adopt to ensure your company is anti-racist, all-inclusive, and tackling climate change with a climate-justice lens.
- Vote at the polls and vote with your dollars. In our roles as business leaders and as consumers, we have the power to practice civic engagement as well as vote with our dollars. We make statements about the world we want to live in through who we buy from and do business with — make it count for the economy you want.
Stakeholder-Driven Frameworks for Companies to Support Employees
The pandemic put a renewed focus on tenuous financial lives of the majority of people working in the United States. Even in more typical economic times, an estimated 138 million American workers — 57% of the population — are plagued by financial insecurity, and 39% of Americans would not be able to cover a $400 emergency expense without selling something or borrowing money.
We believe businesses have a responsibility to support their employees’ financial (and physical!) health as much as they are able. That starts with a stakeholder business model, where a company’s impact on the community, environment, and its workers are prioritized alongside profits.
A few examples of employee-first practices and policies from our portfolio companies:
- Fair compensation: 100% of businesses in our portfolio pay a living wage.
- Quality job distribution: More than 250 low- and moderate-income jobs — and over 1,400 new jobs total — created since our initial investments across five companies.
- Equity distribution: In each of our investments, we work to create options to share equity incentives with management teams and employees at these companies. This pool serves to share economic value for those who are so integral to its success.