TED2013: CSR Lessons from Three Inspiring Talks

TED Ideas Worth SpreadingThe TED2013 conference just happened and we’re excited to share some of the talks that caught our attention. This year’s series was full of moving and informative stories by speakers from all over, including talks by North Korean refugee Hyeonseo Lee and “guerilla gardener” Ron Finley.

But what do these stories have to do with corporate social responsibility or employee volunteer engagement? Our answer: More than you think.

TED (short for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”) is a nonprofit dedicated to finding and sharing “ideas worth spreading.” Their talks cover a wide range of topics—from science, to art, to community—and prove that you can find inspiration everywhere.

Here are Some of the CSR Takeaways We Found from this Year’s TED2013 Talks:

What if More Companies Cared?


Jennifer Granholm, former two-term governor of Michigan, challenged viewers to consider a creative solution for pressing national issues through the use of CSR. Her talk, “A Clean Energy Proposal—Race to the Top!” begins with a familiar story about small-town America.

The hardworking people of Greenville, MI, were devastated when their main employer, Electrolux, decided to outsource work to Mexico. Almost overnight, 40% of the town’s population lost their jobs because the company wanted to make more money with cheaper labor and looser environmental laws. This inspired her to think harder about the challenges of developing American jobs and clean energy solutions in a global economy.

Imagine, she says, if the US were to create a competition similar to the “Race to the Top” challenge in education, but for clean energy efforts. What if, instead of waiting for our government policy-makers to agree, we created a private sector challenge for ourselves?

This is a model all companies could adopt—within their communities, in their states, nationwide or even globally. Granholm’s story shows the impact one company’s selfish practices can have on its community and presents a ground-up solution driven by CSR, in which companies, not government policy, can be the driving force.

Nonprofits May Be Stuck, But Companies Can Help!

Dan Pallotta’s sensational talk, “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong,” shows us a different way to look at charity. The nonprofit sector is “stuck,” he argues. Charities are kept tiny by society, which has made the concepts of “doing very well for yourself” and “doing good for the world” mutually exclusive.

We think that one way CSR-minded companies can help is to work with nonprofits in “capacity-building.” Instead of donating money towards an organization who doesn’t have the resources to use it effectively, consider developing a relationship with them using your company knowledge and employee resources as “skilled volunteers.”

VolunteerMatch Solutions provides some great ways to help you work with nonprofits in your area to create a “web of engagement.” One example is Walmart’s “Fighting Hunger Together” initiative. They are currently working with VolunteerMatch to fund hunger organizations around the country and to supply them with training on how to use these tools and manage their volunteers.

How could VolunteerMatch help your company link with a cause and effectively use your donation to make a difference?

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask (This Goes for You Also, Companies)

Another subtle-yet-inspiring takeaway was Amanda Palmer’s talk on “The Art of Asking.” Through her personal journey—from street performer to worldwide alt-rock icon—she explains how life is not always about giving and receiving. In order to accomplish something you often have to ask for what you need.

Relationships with nonprofits often seem one-sided. It’s often easy to think about what nonprofits need—more money, volunteers, help with a specific project—instead of considering your needs. But there are often things that’d be good for your company too, like community engagement, positive recognition and employee volunteer opportunities.

Remember: In order to build a meaningful and worthwhile relationship with your nonprofit partners, make sure to manage everyone’s needs up front and don’t be afraid to ask them to help you accomplish your goals.

Of course, these are only a few of the many inspirational TED talks out there. We also found Bono’s talk, “The Good News on Poverty (Yes, There’s Good News),” very uplifting.

If you ever need a short moment of inspiration or a little piece of motivation, watch a TED talk or two. You never know how much learning about the giant squid can relate to employee teamwork and community engagement until you watch the video!

Stephanie Rosenburg is a Communications & Social Media Intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach her at srosenburg@volunteermatch.org and follow her at @smrosenburg.


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