Collaborative Responsibility

A new initiative looks to exploit exchange expertise to tackle the job deficit.

By Michelle Greene

Job creation is one of the most pressing needs in America today, and big businesses have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups. To help make this happen, NYSE Euronext has launched the NYSE Big StartUp. It’s a nationwide initiative designed to address the need for job growth by mobilizing big businesses to collaboratively engage with small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups. The NYSE Big StartUp offers a unique, comprehensive approach, helping to increase demand for goods and services that these growing companies need, while mobilizing corporate America to contribute knowledge, expertise, and funding where it can be critical to job creation.

NYSE Euronext’s non-profit partners in this effort are the Startup America Partnership, Accion, and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). NYSE Euronext has established the Accion NYSE Job Growth Fund with an initial $1.5 million contribution, and is inviting other corporations to make their own nonprofit donations to help small businesses grow—and grow jobs. The initiative will provide a series of events throughout the country to provide training, mentoring, and procurement opportunities to growing businesses, and big companies will participate as hosts, also offering their employees as mentors and trainers. Finally, one of the unique corporate connection tools will be an online platform to link big companies with new potential smaller suppliers to drive new business relationships and commercial opportunities. Large companies can find innovative solutions when current and new suppliers compete for business, and smaller businesses can increase sales. Clearly, the program can only succeed if the NYSE Euronext corporate community (and beyond) actively participates. And it is this deliberate dependency in the design that makes the program so interesting from a CR perspective. We are hijacking the C in CR and calling this approach “collaborative responsibility”

As an exchange that is home to the world’s leading brands, including 89 percent of this year’s Dow Jones Sustainability Index companies and 87 percent of the members on this magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens List” in 2011, NYSE Euronext pursues a definition of corporate responsibility that necessarily involves the broader corporate sector. This relationship enables us to bring together thought leaders from corporations, academia and nonprofits to discuss challenges and emerging trends in the field. We celebrate our companies‘ CR achievements with the NYSE opening and closing bells. But the goal has been to do more than convene or celebrate; it’s been to move to a model of collaboration through which we create collective action that harnesses the strengths of a diverse group of companies to address a critical societal challenge.

Collaborative responsibility enables companies to work in complementary ways and strengthen the impact of each other’s efforts, producing top-down and bottom line results. But this requires an effort that is flexible enough that it makes sense for a wide range of companies to participate for business reasons, CR reasons or—ideally—both. The challenge addressed must be one that is shared broadly. In meeting it collectively, companies can do more than any organization could do individually.

Job growth seemed the right place to test the theory. Companies throughout the country care about this, because it affects business performance and growth, local communities, and the economy. Many companies already are taking effective action to help job growth through small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. Others would like to do so, but lack the channel to act. The NYSE Big StartUp should appeal to both groups. Opportunities for company involvement can be as big or small as appropriate. Some companies might provide in-kind services, others mentoring and training, and others financial support. Some might provide all of these, perhaps focusing on a local market. The ability to participate in tailored ways will be critical.

As the idea takes shape in the United States, we hope to take it to other parts of the world. And if collaborative responsibility takes hold, imagine the impact. Companies will find common cause in creating shared value around a range of issues in a particular geography, or seek out those with complementary offerings that address common challenges. Instead of duplicating efforts such that the sum of the resources expended is smaller than its parts, increased coordination and collaboration by the private sector could create a multiplier effect. Collective efforts exist, but few are driven by the corporate sector. It is time.

Given the past few years, big business could use a revised narrative, one that highlights large corporations as productive drivers of solutions to society’s most challenging problems. Collaborative responsibility through the NYSE Big StartUp can help both to revise the narrative and enable corporations to realize this potential.

Michelle Greene is vice president and head of corporate responsibility for NYSE Euronext.

Posted May 9, 2012 in Social Responsibility