Covestro sign along I-376


When U.S. CEOs speak, corporate America listens.

And when they predict a future for their companies that is driven by social values — and employees who want to make a difference in the world — it’s probably time to take action.

In a new national survey commissioned by Covestro LLC – its first-ever i3 Index — the Fortune 1000 C-suite says that’s exactly what’s happening around the country. In the U.S. today, the age of the “purpose-driven” company has taken root — and will continue to grow in the coming decade.

The reason? Stakeholders are demanding companies have a purpose beyond making a profit. At the same time, the C-suite itself now recognizes that a company’s success going forward will hinge on its commitment to helping solve society’s problems.

People are driving this shift, especially employees. Over the last five years, the executives say they’ve seen an increase in the number of employees, led by millennials, who want to be involved in more social purpose projects — something they expect will increase over the next decade.

In fact, they believe that in order for their companies to recruit and retain top talent over the next 10 years, compensation packages alone will not be enough. Instead, they will need to be able to offer employees opportunities to engage in the community.

What’s an executive to do? Give them more social purpose work.

Here in Pittsburgh, the Covestro Center for Community Engagement at Robert Morris University makes that easy. The Center offers social purpose training that is transforming traditional corporate philanthropy for the 21st century. Its training programs are creating citizen philanthropists who bring much-needed resources, in the form of their own skills and expertise, to local nonprofit organizations that serve the community.

Covestro skills-based volunteers on a tour of the Drew Mathieson Center. The volunteers developed a three-year strategic plan to help boost youth participation in the center’s Horticultural Career Training Program.

The Covestro Center has three signature programs. SkillShare trains employees in skills-based volunteerism. BoardsWork! gives corporate employees the tools to be more effective members of nonprofit boards, and the Executive Service Corps affords nonprofits access to highly-trained, seasoned corporate executives who serve as volunteer project managers, facilitators and business consultants.

Skills-based volunteerism allows employees to go deep on community projects and apply their expertise and know-how to solve problems. Small teams of employees are paired with local nonprofits to help those organizations address operational issues they face, but don’t have the resources to fix. It could be a problem in IT, accounting, communications, marketing, systems, anything.

Covestro teams recently worked with the Heinz History Center on the first phase of a comprehensive new sustainability plan for the museum, and on a new science curriculum for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. For the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the team designed a state-of-the-art inventory tracking system that increases efficiency, helping the Food Bank meet its goal of providing 60 million meals throughout the 11-county region by 2025.

The projects have been diverse, but the common theme has been empowering employees’ personal sense of purpose.

“People want — and need — purpose in their lives,” explains Lisa Nespoli, who was part of the Heinz History Center team. “They want to be part of something bigger than themselves and have opportunities to connect their passions, skills and ideas to the causes they care most about.”

That may be why skills-based volunteerism, in particular, is viewed by the C-suite as an effective way to satisfy employees’ desire for purpose. Which turns out to be a good thing for business, too. Providing more social purpose work, the executives say, actually boosts employee engagement and productivity. It’s a win-win.

Skills-based volunteerism has other benefits, as well. It’s seen as an especially effective tool for talent recruitment and retention, as well as leadership development.

“We recognize how important these programs are for companies committed to building up this region and making it stronger and more sustainable,” said Rebecca Lucore, head of corporate social responsibility and sustainability for Covestro. “That’s why the Covestro Center for Community Engagement is open to any company that wants their employees to get involved.

A number already have. Alcoa, Arconic and PNC are among the companies who have deployed skills-based teams into the community.

The City of Pittsburgh also has utilized SBV teams to help realize the City’s goal of “Zero Waste” by creating a sustainable materials management plan.

“When Covestro first began this work, we understood that people want to contribute to the greater good,” said Lucore, “Now, with our new i3 Index survey, we see that senior executives at some of the largest companies across the country also understand the importance of empowering their employees’ personal sense of purpose and giving them more opportunities to engage meaningfully in their communities.”

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