Last week I visited London and was proud to attend the launch of .COMmunity, an initiative organized by our good friends at Skimlinks to promote corporate responsibility within the burgeoning community of Technology Start Ups. Skimlinks is an industry leader in affiliate marketing solutions for publishers, merchants and agencies. Six months ago, Skimlinks chose FINCA to be their ‘charity of the year’. FINCA was discovered by Tamas, a long-term Skimlinks employee who came across a Youtube featuring Natalie Portman visiting our program in Mexico and was fascinated by the simplicity and power of our business model that puts capital in the hands of entrepreneurs in emerging markets so they can start or grow businesses.
Skimlinks CEO, Alicia Naravo, a visionary leader whose ambition to create a better world is already taking her beyond the walls of London Tech start up and into the wider entrepreneurial community. Her idea is to persuade other start-ups to emulate Skimlinks example by supporting causes that connect the staff members to the larger world, increasing their awareness of the problems others face in their daily lives.
In the West, millennials are set to be the first generation that will make less money than their parents did. As a result, graduates are increasingly looking to work in companies that offer employee benefits and have a fair and comfortable working environment rather than big pay checks. Socially-conscious and carbon-neutral companies now have a competitive advantage over companies that push their CSR down the agenda.
The introduction of a social responsibility program at any start-up has another purpose: it signals to the market and any potential employees an intention to build a sustainable and enduring organization. Senior executives at these start-ups are showing that they don’t want to make a quick buck and then jump ship to work at Google or Facebook. They prefer to stay and build a legacy.
Companies which don’t put social responsibility high on their agenda in the first place risk allowing an unsustainable corporate culture to set in. Uber, having gone from strength to strength since they burst onto the scene in 2009, in recent years has developed fissures that have allowed competitors like Lyft, to gain ground. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, finally resigned after a raft of newspaper-worthy scandals (including allegations of widespread sexism by a former employee) became too much for his investors. As one who has been left on a street corner in midtown Manhattan after being dumped by three different drivers, I can attest to Uber’s lack of customer centricity.
When I walk into the Skimlinks offices, I’m taken back to the early days of FINCA, when there was palpable excitement for the unknown and a belief that something new and inspiring was taking place. Social responsibility is no longer a luxury that a select few organizations can take on. It can be the difference between attracting the best talent in the industry or being left behind. The world is changing, and non-profits and governments can’t solve the increasing problems of the world single-handed. Non-profits need to develop relationships with companies during these early start-up stages, both to benefit from the technologies they are launching but also to help them benefit from the knowledge we have acquired around building ethically value-driven companies. And who knows? One of them might be the next Google, Amazon or Microsoft and will be set to change the corporate landscape as we know it.
As our relationship with Skimlinks evolves, I hope that more companies in the start-up space can take inspiration and spend some time thinking about what sort of company they want to be and what sort of world they want to live in.