Corporate Philanthropy: New Perspective

In light of recent controversies at Facebook, Uber, Wells Fargo, United Airlines and many other companies, I’ve been thinking a lot about corporate responsibility lately. Specifically, what is the role of private companies in advancing social good? And what are the qualities of corporations that are effective drivers of social change?

I will admit that for most of my career, I’ve been skeptical about the motivations and social impact of corporations. I’ve seen few companies demonstrate a true commitment to investing in meaningful and sustainable change. In my experience, corporations too often support one-off projects that are good for PR, but fail to respond to the priorities of local communities or achieve sustainable impacts.

But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that life — and even corporations — can be full of surprises.

Cummins Executives meeting with Rise Up Leaders in Mexico.

Rise Up recently launched a global partnership with Cummins Inc., and this new collaboration is giving me a new perspective on corporate philanthropy.

Cummins Inc is a Fortune 200 company that is the world’s largest independent maker of diesel engines. Despite their seemingly low public profile, Cummins employs over 58,000 employees in 197 countries. And this year, Cummins also launched Cummins Powers Women, one of the most ambitious corporate responsibility initiatives I have seen.

As a company in the male-dominated field of manufacturing, Cummins’ leadership decided to prioritize advancing gender equality, both inside the company and through their global corporate responsibility initiatives.

Rise Up is partnering with the Cummins Powers Women program to advance gender equality in the U.S., Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya, India, South Africa, and Brazil. Through this partnership, we are activating girls and women to transform their lives, families and communities by investing in local solutions, strengthening leadership, and building movements.

Mexican Rise Up Leaders discussing the root causes of gender inequities and developing advocacy strategies to create sustainable change in their communities.

Last month, I was thrilled to participate in Rise Up’s Mexico launch with the Cummins leadership team in San Luis Potosi. Following a highly competitive selection process, we brought together 18 social entrepreneurs to participate in Rise Up’s award-winning Leadership Accelerator methodology. These social entrepreneurs learned to use advocacy and innovation to create large-scale social change, developing their own strategies to ensure that girls can finish school, women have access to economic opportunities, and communities can bring an end to gender-based violence.

With Cummins, Rise Up will provide these leaders with the funding, support, and networks they need to create sustainable change in their communities. These Mexican leaders now form part of Rise Up’s global network of over 500 leaders who have directly benefited 7 million girls, youth, and women, and advocated for over 100 laws and policies impacting 115 million people globally.

This collaboration with Cummins has given me new insight into the potential for companies to invest in large-scale social change. I’ve observed that Cummins’ approach to corporate responsibility is unique in a few important ways:

Walking The Walk

While a lot of companies talk about their corporate values, actually living those values takes intention, focus, and long-term commitment. Cummins infuses these values into every department and at every level. From the administrative assistant who organized my first visit to Indiana, to the structural engineer who sat down to listen to a group of Masai girl leaders in Kenya, to the company’s CEO who has a deep personal commitment to investing in girls and women, every person I’ve met at Cummins prioritizes the value of corporate responsibility.

Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

Unlike many companies that set aside a fraction of a percent of their annual earnings for corporate giving, Cummins has made a significant financial commitment to corporate responsibility. Rather than prioritizing small grants that have high visibility but low impact, Cummins invests in creating long-term sustainable change for girls and women globally. For Cummins, corporate responsibility is not a nice-to-have but is instead part of the company’s core business. Consequently, Cummins’ corporate responsibility is held to the same standard as all the other core businesses in terms of goals, outcomes, and budgets. This intentional integration means that corporate responsibility is critical to the business, not just window dressing.

Corporate Responsibility Is Everyone’s Business

Many corporate foundations operate independently from the company and hire their staff externally. By contrast, Cummins’ corporate responsibility team is integrated within the company and recruits internally. After working for a few years on the corporate responsibility team, these employees return to work in other areas of the business. Through this unique operational structure, corporate responsibility is infused throughout the company, and the impact is two-fold — the corporate responsibility team benefits from the diverse perspectives and skills of employees working across the company, and Cummins’ ethos is shaped by having people in all areas of the business with corporate responsibility experience. So rather than functioning externally and independently, Cummins’ corporate responsibility team, staff, and values are integrated within and throughout the company.

Launching our partnership with Cummins has given me new insights into what it takes for companies to invest in corporate responsibility in a way that is authentic, effective, and impactful. I see Cummins raising the bar for corporate responsibility — by living its values, investing meaningfully in the communities in which it operates, treating corporate responsibility as a core component of the business, and integrating corporate responsibility throughout the company.

And as I continue to reflect on the role of private corporations in advancing social good, I see that increasing numbers of companies are recognizing their responsibility to tackle social issues — from homelessness and gun violence, to climate change and net neutrality. At a time when the government is failing to address the critical needs of our communities, companies are stepping in to fill these gaps. Cummins’ commitment to corporate responsibility portends an important global trend and my hope is that other companies will follow their lead.


By Denise Raquel Dunning, Founder + Executive Director. Originally published via Medium in May 2018.