The Community-Minded Entrepreneur: Why Being Neighborly Is Good for Business.

How business owners and founders can truly be "of the community"—and really mean it.

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Learn to fit in. As a business owner, it pays to make meaningful connections with surrounding communities.

A company is obviously always in a community, but is it of that community? Is there an effort to reach out, to bridge whatever gap there might be, to align the goals of both parties?

As a healthcare entrepreneur and founder of The Allure Group, a consortium of state-of-the-art nursing and rehabilitation facilities that aging New Yorkers call home, I know firsthand the positive effect that community involvement can have. Many of our short-term and long-term residents come from the neighborhoods where are our centers are located, and they’re regularly visited by family and friends who live nearby. For me, serving the neighborhoods that surround our centers is just as essential as serving our residents themselves. Our Harlem Center provided neighborhood students free classroom supplies for back-to-school season, and then a few months later the same center partnered with the Salvation Army to sponsor a local Thanksgiving dinner.

As a leader, it’s gratifying to see my staff taking the time to get to know our neighbors and finding unique opportunities to make meaningful contributions.

Each year recognizes the 50 most community-minded companies — i.e., the Civic 50 — choosing among U.S.-based corporations with revenues of $1 billion or more and using four criteria: investment, integration, institutionalism and impact.

To that list might be added a fifth I-word: internationalism — or, as it’s more commonly known, globalism. That, quite simply, is the understanding that the world is shrinking, that even the smallest decisions on the local level can have far-reaching implications.

Here is a breakdown of those factors:

Investment: Very much self-explanatory. It is the extent to which a company pours money and time into its community. One of the Civic 50, General Mills, donated $139 million in 2015 (with food contributions factored in), and its employees did over 328,000 hours of charitable work. That same year Hershey donated $20.7 to 1,300 organizations, while its employees donated another $1.7 million, much of it to the United Way or Children’s Miracle Network. The employees also completed more than 98,250 hours of volunteer work.

Integration: Defined by as how successfully a company melds its business initiatives and charitable endeavors. One example is Symantec, which in its philanthropic ventures aligns itself with organizations that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and embrace diversity, online safety and environmental responsibility.

Institutionalism: This is the extent to which community engagement is ingrained in a given company’s culture. Allstate, for example, began encouraging employees’ volunteerism through Give Back Day in 2009, expanded that to the Allstate Week of Service three years later and stretched that out to Allstate Bring Out the Good Month in ‘15. The insurance giant also offers such programs as the Purple Purse (an anti-domestic violence initiative), Good Starts Young (promoting service among youth) and Greater Good (helping nonprofits fill voids in leadership).

Impact: Again, self-explanatory. How much influence does a company exert within its community? Southwest Airlines is among those partnering on The Resilient Communities Impact Program, seeking to revitalize the English Avenue neighborhood in Northwest Atlanta. One of its many goals is to restore St. Mark’s Church, and make it a community hub.

Internationalism: How attuned is a company to the environment, and the world at large? Hershey met its 2016 goal to source 50 percent of its cocoa from farms operating sustainably, and had a goal of 75 percent for last year. The chocolate manufacturer also has launched such programs as Nourishing Minds, which provides basic nutrition to schoolchildren in need, and Energize Learning, which earmarks for youngsters in Ghana a nutritional supplement of the company’s own making.

The point here is that there are any number of ways for a company to engage a community — and that not only should it be done, it must be done.

—Joel Landau

Joel Landau is a NYC-based healthcare investor who writes about healthcare technology, aging, and entrepreneurship. His work has appeared in and AlleyWatch. He is a regular contributor to SCORE NYC, a mentoring blog and advice hub for aspiring business owners. 

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