A Sackful of Shared Value

Mary Wong, President of the Office Depot Foundation; Richard Crespin; Rex Crespin; Timothy Warner, Chief Engagement & Partnership Officer for Montgomery County Public Schools; and Jessica Tircuit-Peitso, Store Manager.

From left to right: Mary Wong, President of the Office Depot Foundation; Richard Crespin; Rex Crespin; Timothy Warner, Chief Engagement & Partnership Officer for Montgomery County Public Schools; and Jessica Tircuit-Peitso, Store Manager

As I stood there in my khakis and black polo shirt, Timothy Warner, Chief Engagement and Partnership Officer for the Montgomery County Public Schools, towered over me in his natty suit patiently explaining to me the demographics of Montgomery County and its schools. A relatively well-off suburb of Washington, DC, the county nonetheless is home to tens of thousands of kids, thousands of whom need help getting ready for school, he explained, and the Office Depot Foundation’s donation of a free sackpack to carry their school supplies would make a world of difference in how they started the year.

 

Later, I overheard him going over the same statistics with Jessica Tircuit-Peitso, the store manager, expressing his appreciation. And that’s when the magic happened. You know, she wondered aloud, I think we can do more. We will do more. On-the-spot she came up with her own idea for how to provide discounts and other supplies to the students in that area.

 

When you sit in a conference room the term “shared value” sounds great. But actually putting together programs on the ground and making them come to life takes more than a few words. It goes beyond reports and measures – and trust me as a board member at the Office Depot Foundation we have a lot of reports and measures. It takes heart and not just a little magic.

 

What happened in that store on that beautiful August morning outside of Washington, DC was something special. That store and its staff rediscovered themselves as part of the community. That community found an anchor. And those people made a difference in the lives of children.

 

Richard Crespin

Not everything that can be measured counts and not everything that counts can be measured. As the charitable arm of Office Depot, the Foundation created a platform. The sackpacks themselves provide a leg up, but there’s so much more to this program, so much more opportunity that it creates. In the hands of the right store manager and in the presence of the right local nonprofits, the giveaway program becomes a platform for creating enduring social value.

 

As you think about your own social innovations and shared value programs, consider adapting these lessons from this example:

  • Load up. The sackpack is a thing of intrinsic value that directly relates to the company’s business of office and school supplies. If the Foundation did nothing more than give away the packs, they provide value for kids and it’s literally something they can fill with product. Make sure you give something of special value that relates to your business and that invites an ongoing relationship.
  • Tie up. The sackpack program fits into the Foundation’s broader strategy of targeting the most vulnerable communities in its customer base: school children, small nonprofits, and businesses after disasters. Analyze your own customer base and community and then integrate each of your specific programs into a broader framework of service to those in need.
  • Sack up. Sometimes creating shared value involves taking a smart risk and going the extra mile. The Foundation could probably just as easily stay at its headquarters in Boca Raton and ship packs to deserving charities around the country. But by going into the stores in target communities and inviting those charities and the people they serve into the store, they create a platform, an intersection point where the store can become something more than a store. It becomes a pillar of the community. Think about how you can transform your shared value program into something that integrates your business into the community and your customer base.
  • Go deep. The Foundation knows what it’s good at. As Mary Wong, President of the Office Depot Foundation, often reminds me, “This isn’t rocket science, Richard. We’re giving away backpacks for crying out loud.” Mary and her team know how to stick to their knitting. At the same time, they work with the stores to extend the platform they’ve created so they can continue the good work that began with “just a backpack.” How can you create freedom and creativity for employees to take your program to the next level?

 

These are just three steps you can take right away. For more practical ideas like this, come to CollaborateUp Academy. Global Impact is co-hosting the next one on Sept 17-19 at their headquarters in Alexandria, VA. 

 

This August I had the pleasure of helping to give out backpacks in Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. No matter the state, no matter the store, in each one I met a dedicated set of local nonprofits doing whatever they can to make sure the kids in their community start the school year on the right foot. As the child of an educator, I watched my dad go the extra mile and often into his own pocket to give a kid a leg up. In each of those stores I watched company employees do that very same thing. That’s not something that can be measured. But damn if it doesn’t count.

 

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"Building up the capacity and capability of nonprofits to make a difference in the world is a core part of the Office Depot Foundation's mission. CollaborateUp had a really big impact on the nonprofits we support, giving them tools and insights they can use immediately." - Mary Wong
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“Even with a diverse set of stakeholders and a very limited timeframe, the CollaborateUp Formula allowed us cut through a complex set of issues and develop a concrete and pragmatic proposal for tackling a very tough problem. Richard Crespin is exactly what you want in a facilitator, someone able to bring people together to recognize their shared goals and the best ways to achieve them.” - Amit Ronen Director, George Washington University Solar Institute
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I soon discovered that it doesn’t really matter whether your introduction to CollaborateUp is through an issue solving workshop, or at an event as Richard brings all the chaos together with his savvy charm and good humour - the most important thing is that you get to engage and work with these great folks! My biggest take out over the past five years of being a part of their world – collaboration is a process and you’re not going to get very far unless you know what problem you’re all trying to solve together. The CollaborateUp framework helps by asking simple questions to help reveal the big answers. - Cate O’Kane, Founder, &co partnership consultancy
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