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Social Impact Heroes: “How Givewith CEO Paul Polizzotto is enabling more businesses to create compelling social impact programs” With Fotis Georgiadis

There’s a massive price tag on solving society’s most pressing challenges. In fact, achieving all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require an annual investment of $5-$7 trillion. Traditional philanthropy nor government spending alone will solve it. We need companies to play a bigger role in addressing these issues, and in […]

There’s a massive price tag on solving society’s most pressing challenges. In fact, achieving all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require an annual investment of $5-$7 trillion. Traditional philanthropy nor government spending alone will solve it. We need companies to play a bigger role in addressing these issues, and in order to do this, we need to create the right solutions that enable companies to contribute more and achieve their key business objectives, too.


Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Paul Polizzotto, Founder and CEO, Givewith. Over his 30-year career as a social entrepreneur, Paul has dedicated himself to developing, refining, and realizing the vision at the heart of Givewith: that by prioritizing social impact, businesses can deliver a sustainable source of funding for the critical work of nonprofits and differentiate themselves from the competition, driving sales, increasing profits and raising share prices. Paul proved his theory with EcoMedia, the company he founded in 2001 and sold to CBS in 2010. Under Paul’s leadership, EcoMedia directed more than $100 million in funding and resources to environmental, education and community health and wellness programs across the country, improving the quality of life for nearly 60 million people. By successfully differentiating CBS in the competitive, crowded advertising marketplace, EcoMedia’s social impact offering helped the media giant achieve enormous sales success. Paul launched Givewith in 2016, scaling his model far beyond the American media and advertising sectors. Givewith — a social impact technology platform that can be applied to any and every transaction between seller and buyer — unleashes the intrinsic power of commerce as an engine of world-wide social change. It’s a radical paradigm shift that’s transforming the way both business and philanthropy are done, but Paul has remained true to the core mission and principles that first motivated him to dip his toes into the waters of social entrepreneurship. That was in 1989 when, as an avid surfer distressed by the pollution plaguing his hometown waters — the Santa Monica Bay in Southern California — Paul pioneered technology to remove toxins from run-off before it entered the storm drain system and ultimately, the Bay. Paul has been honored with numerous recognitions for his work, including the Santa Monica Baykeeper’s and the Waterkeeper Alliance’s “Keeper Award” (2001); Coastal Living Magazine’s “Leadership Award” (2003); the US Conference of Mayors Award for Excellence in Public Private Partnerships (2009); back-to- back Edison Awards for Social Innovation and Social Impact (2012, 2013); the Starlight Children’s Foundation’s “General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Leadership Award” (2014); and Volunteers of America’s “Good Samaritan Award” (2018). He has been named an “Environmental Hero” by US EPA, a “Public-Private Visionary” by Vanity Fair magazine, and “Social Good Leader of the Year” by Cynopsis Media. A frequent guest lecturer at business schools across the country, Paul is a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, where he was also an inaugural member of the Board of Advisors for the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab.


Thank you so much for joining us, Paul! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

For the last 31 years, I’ve been a serial social entrepreneur focused on developing innovative social solutions to catalyze positive change. I kicked off my career in my hometown Manhattan Beach, California where — as an avid surfer — I was coming into direct contact with the pollutants that were plaguing the Santa Monica Bay. This led me to create technology that removed toxins from run-off before it entered the storm drain system and ultimately, the Bay.

From there, I founded EcoMedia, a social impact media company that proved a media owner could differentiate themselves by prioritizing social impact, businesses can deliver a sustainable source of funding for the critical work of nonprofits and differentiate themselves from the competition, drive sales, increase profits and positively influence share prices. We directed more than $100 million in funding and resources to environmental, education and community health and wellness programs across the country, improving the quality of life for more than 60 million people.

After successfully applying this concept to the world of advertising, I launched Givewith, a social impact technology company to amplify our impact by tapping into any business-to-business transaction. Today, we’re leveraging the fundamental act of buying and selling to generate new sources of funding for the world’s most effective nonprofits — all while helping companies generate unprecedented business value that delivers on the promise of social purpose.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The launch of EcoMedia was a profound learning experience for me. After the launch of my first company, I saw how communities across the U.S. were coming together with nonprofits to execute large scale sustainable initiatives like solar projects, but all too often, they were still missing the full funding needed to fulfil these projects.

So originally, I started EcoMedia as a nonprofit. The idea was to win grants, help fill these funding gaps, and complete these projects. But as we started to win funding, I quickly realized we were taking grants from foundations that would otherwise go to other highly effective nonprofits. That’s when I sought to generate entirely new sources of funding that would expand their total funding without disrupting their existing funding opportunities. That’s how I made my transition into the media landscape, and from there, into the B2B marketplace.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change the World”?

At Givewith, we’re completely reinventing the way the world’s most pressing problems — from climate change, to world hunger, to social inequality — are solved by leveraging the activities that move money around the globe: the fundamental act of buying or selling goods or services that are aligned with our corporate values. We’re doing this by helping companies connect the dots and actually derive new, cross-company business value by carrying out positive social impacts.

By enabling businesses to easily embed compelling social impact programs into any of their business-to-business transactions, we’re helping companies achieve their corporate social and sustainability commitments while generating unprecedented business value for their internal and external stakeholders. Ultimately, we’re transforming commerce into an engine for positive social change.

How do you think this will change the world?

We’re changing the world by changing ‘business as usual’. Givewith is breaking the notion that social impact and commercial success are mutually exclusive. In addition to funding the world’s most effective nonprofits, we’re simultaneously generating value that benefits the entire organization and ultimately — helps boost its bottom line and positively influence share prices.

To give you an example, social impact initiatives can help marketing and communication teams share the story of the company’s impact to boost customer sentiment and loyalty. Likewise, it can serve as a valuable asset for human resources by helping them boost employee morale, retention rates and recruiting efforts. In addition, social impact can be shared with key Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) rating and reporting agencies to boost sustainability scores and increase investor interest.

There’s a massive price tag on solving society’s most pressing challenges. In fact, achieving all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require an annual investment of $5-$7 trillion. Traditional philanthropy nor government spending alone will solve it. We need companies to play a bigger role in addressing these issues, and in order to do this, we need to create the right solutions that enable companies to contribute more and achieve their key business objectives, too.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Despite the growing narrative around technology as a negative force, I believe technology itself is neither good nor evil by nature — it’s all about its application, which is why Givewith is committed to using technology to direct more resources to the underserved groups and helping communities in need.

Amid the rising concerns of data misuse, surveillance technology, hyper-connectivity, and other issues frequently covered in the press, it’s not surprising to see the rise in skepticism when it comes to technology. The same goes for business and the cynicism around whether or not companies are actually making progress towards their corporate commitments and lofty aspirations. That’s why it’s vital for companies to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to driving positive social change by driving authentic social and sustainability projects that are both tangible and measurable.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

My “tipping point” was when I realized that the model that we successfully implemented at EcoMedia could be applied much more broadly to drastically scale the amount in funding that we could generate for nonprofits. Moving to Givewith, we transitioned from representing one seller in one industry to all sellers in all industries — from one-to-one, to all-to-all. Advertising is a market of hundreds of billions of dollars, but by moving into the B2B space, we’re tapping into a marketplace of many of trillions of dollars. This has huge implications on our business, which in turn, can drastically increase the total funding we generate for our nonprofit partners.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

As with any truly new business model, it takes time for the market to understand and adopt truly original ideas, even if they are materially beneficial to their company. As we continue to dispel the notion that doing good comes with a cost, we need to also raise our visibility and begin to partner with the world’s largest, most-forward looking companies that are also dedicated to propelling social good. That’s why we’ve decided to partner with SAP Ariba, the world’s largest business-to-business network where nearly $3 trillion flows in commerce annually. By integrating our platform with SAP Ariba, we’re enabling millions of buyers and suppliers in the Ariba Network to add social impact programs directly into their sourcing and procurement process to not only generate new funding for the world’s most effective nonprofits, but to also create unprecedented business value that benefits their entire organization.

This is an enormous opportunity for Givewith to scale our solutions, so that the nonprofits in our network can scale their impact. What’s remarkable about this is that if just 8% of the nearly $3 trillion worth of transactions that are processed through the Ariba Network annually use Givewith, this would generate over $3 billion in new funding for the nonprofits taking on the most pressing issues of our time. It’s hard to overstate the gravity of how meaningful this partnership are for our success.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

The future of work is being driven by digitization and the emergence of disruptive technologies. As technology and business continue to quickly evolve, so should employees. Intrinsic curiosity is key — employees need to consistently seek new possibilities and opportunities to generate new value for their teams, their companies, and the world more broadly. We need everyone to adopt a mindset centered around lifelong learning and continuous improvement.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

As a social entrepreneur, not only am I focused on generating new funding for nonprofits, but I’m also identifying how to maximize the impact of the funding generated to support the nonprofits and their critical endeavors. In addition to mission-critical investments to enhance our operations and scale our solutions, we’re also always looking at how to maximize the funding dollars we generate for nonprofits.

That’s why — in partnership with Social Finance, the creator of the Social Impact Bond — we developed a proprietary Impact Multiplier to showcase the additional value of a particular social impact program. This calculation uses a program’s own data and research, bolstered by external research and evidence of impact, to show that program’s ability to create value for both the beneficiary and society, and mobilize additional funding and support. This, coupled with our comprehensive vetting process, ensures that each funding dollar generated through Givewith is maximized to the greatest extent.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

It’s heartening to see the recent rise in research focused on how doing good is good for business, from Deloitte’s 2020 Purpose Report, to SAP Ariba’s Sustainability Study, there’s a steady rise in empirical research that draws the correlation between doing good and enduring commercial success. From the very beginning of my career, I’ve guided each of my businesses by the philosophy that by prioritizing social impact, businesses can deliver a sustainable source of funding for the critical work of nonprofits and differentiate themselves from the competition, driving sales, increasing profits and positively influencing share prices.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Givewith isn’t philanthropy, nor is it charity. We’re leveraging the power of buying or selling as an agent for social change — not only to generate new sources of funding for the world’s most effective nonprofits, but to also drive unpreceded business value that helps advance the company’s key KPIs. With Givewith, social impact doesn’t come at the cost of financial outcomes, it actually improves your performance by driving tangible, measurable business value.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @PaulPolizzotto. If you want to stay up-to-date on everything happening at Givewith, you can follow us on LinkedInFacebook, as well as on Instagram or Twitter at @Givewith.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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