Event Coverage, SPECTRA 2020

Social purpose is not corporate-centric but issue-led: Jerilan Greene

On the second day of Spectra 2020, an online conference on reputation management, Jerilan Greene, Global Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer, Yum! Brands, Inc. explained in great detail how having a social purpose is critical for an organisation to best position itself in a very dynamic world.

Greene emphasised on how there is a tremendous value and need for organisations to have a social purpose that drives positive impact. Large brands and businesses have a unique ability to contribute meaningfully to challenges that affect us as citizens, she noted.

“Businesses have a lot of intangibles and intellectual capital that can be great for problem-solving. (They have) talent, networks, innovative thinking and processes and the ability to create partnerships to drive real results,” Greene said.

Globally, Yum! operates leading brands like KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, The Habit Burger Grill and Wingstreet (except in China). The organisation looks at the concept of social purpose as a key way to make a positive difference calling it, ‘A Recipe for Good’.

Greene, at the beginning of her discourse, reminded of where the world stood a year back before COVID-19 changed it all. There existed challenges, particularly those of climate change and inequality.

“The societal issues surrounding each business will be different and as professionals whose role it is to protect and enhance the reputation of the companies we work with, what’s different now, compared to a few years ago, is that these issues are brought right to the front doors of the business at a completely new level,” she said.

Greene pointed out how the public debate has shifted from ‘what do we do’ to ‘what should businesses do’ on far-reaching issues. Herein, she said how the next generation of youth is shaping the debate as well citing examples of Greta Thunberg and Licypriya Kangujam.

“If you have a brand that depends on the next generation as we do, you must do your part to create a long-term and relevant response to climate issues affecting your sector,” said Greene.

Further, she also cited examples of how corporate leaders like Larry Fink, CEO, BlackRock, and brands like PepsiCo are doing stellar work in creating a positive impact.

Come COVID-19 and while the world was dealing with a challenge like never before, the pandemic only amplified the existing issues. It became a threat multiplier. Be it environmental concerns or inequality, the pandemic has proved how concerns only worsened.

“Initially, the assumption among many people was that COVID-19 would push climate change off the corporate agenda, at least for some time. With so many businesses in survival mode, it is undoubtedly hard to maintain momentum on so many fronts on the priorities we had a year ago. However, COVID-19 has shown how everything is connected,” said Greene.

She cited Bill Gates who said how there are lessons from the pandemic that could guide responses to climate change and other risks, especially in business.

Greene also raised an important point when she said that investors increasingly are concerned about the social agenda of businesses and the rise of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) is a signal of how rapidly things are changing. Leading companies are being expected to deliver financial and social value hand-in-hand.

Switching to Yum!, Greene then revealed how the brand is particular about how it drives shareholder and stakeholder value and ultimately, social purpose.

The Recipe for Good is focused on caring for three resources – food, planet and people.

“We want to serve delicious food people trust. We want to grow sustainably with minimal impact on the planet. We want to unlock opportunity for our people,” she said.

With the pandemic, Yum! has pushed the envelope working tirelessly and taking concrete steps in areas of food safety, the protection of frontline restaurant workers and communities, customer safety, being more environmentally responsible, and investing in their people so they could unlock opportunities for themselves thereby fighting inequality.

With a sound base of social action, Recipe for Good has been formally elevated alongside the brand’s growth strategy that it now calls Recipe for Growth.

Greene said there has been a paradigm shift from traditional CSR to social purpose. It’s a mindset shift that has come in.

“It’s (social purpose) not corporate-centric but issue-led. It’s not motivated by strictly telling stories about the good that you are doing as a business. It is about what you say but more importantly, about what you do. It is issue-led. It is driven by a determination to solve issues that we see and deliver measurable impact over time,” she explained.

Standing for something and to act upon it in the current environment will put a business in the best position to drive growth, impact society positively and keep employees engaged.

Greene closed her presentation reminding her audience how as reputation leaders, this is an opportunity to play a pivotal role to help organisations navigate a changing landscape.

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