Or, a beginner’s guide for launching a global Social Impact strategy during a global pandemic … and why I should have made it happen earlier.
In the midst of a global pandemic, a massive recession, civil unrest, and the end of “normal” as we know it — combined with an upcoming IPO — Unity decided to create and launch Unity Social Impact. The following is a hazy account of what went down, including my mistakes, and where we knocked it out of the park.
It All Started on a Flight
In February, 2020, I was traveling for work and had the fortuitous coincidence of being seated next to our CEO, John Riccitiello, for the long flight. We discussed everything from physics to US election politics to “enlightened capitalism,” a term John coined to mean essentially “doing well by doing good.” During the flight, we reflected on “enlightened capitalism,” noting that it had been the soul of our company since Unity’s founding, with a focus on democratizing access to Unity’s technology.
This belief has enabled thousands of Unity creators to leverage the platform not just to create 3D content, but experiences that encourage and inspire social change. We see experiences that run the gamut, from education to sustainability to health and well-being. This evolution solidified our company philosophy: “The world is a better place with more creators in it.”
On this flight, we realized now was the time to structure and proactively propel a focus on social change, within Unity and beyond. By the time we landed, there was a sketch of an approach in our heads, which we would “get to at some point.”
Four weeks later, most of our company (in 40+ offices around the world) went on lockdown in our homes while trying to seamlessly carry on with business as usual. The evolving pandemic, recession, and civil unrest fueled our company’s passion to make a much more significant, structured commitment to Social Impact. We went from “get to it at some point” to “launch fast.”
A Timeline for the Overly Ambitious
Despite my best efforts to find the “How to Set up Corporate Social Impact …Fast” CliffsNotes, I quickly realized no such manual existed. Instead, I doubled down on our vision to keep Social Impact deeply rooted in our core business (not a side CSR program) and called on a few trusted advisors to mentor me (Dr. David Washington and Jan D’Alessandro were critical).
- April, 2020 — Roll out the vision internally at a company All-Hands. Vision includes structure our Social Impact work by combining existing, related programs like Education, Unity for Humanity, Safety, and Accessibility.
- May, 2020 — Landscape analysis to quickly figure out who is doing what in our peer groups and make as many friends as possible. Pledge 1% was and still is my go-to. Reorganize existing team members into Social Impact.
- June, 2020 — Present to the board of directors a top-level approach to Social Impact strategy while asking for a significant pre-IPO equity donation 3 months before IPO. Learn that Pledge 1% was in the process of releasing the ”how-to” manual that I sought and get early access to their methodologies.
- July, 2020 — Not going on holiday anyway in a pandemic, double down with our core team of big thinkers to create the strategy (Theory of Change, Logic Model, Landscape Analysis, Program Strategies tied to UN SDGs, Business Model and Financial Model. Yes, this is about both making money and giving away money).
- August, 2020 — Do all of this simultaneously:
— CEO aligns board on significant equity donation
— Align all key stakeholders (almost 200 people: employees, exec team, external partners) on the strategic plan with slight adjustments.
— Set up DAF for pre-IPO donation with the Tides Foundation, saving both significant time and money to focus our efforts on impact v. paperwork
— Start preparing for the inaugural Unity for Humanity launch event.
- September, 2020 — Oh yeah … and go public virtually with all employees virtually ringing the bell together while showcasing our creators making social change.
- October, 2020 — Hold our first post-IPO virtual event with new investors, the inaugural Unity for Humanity launch event, with 150 speakers from all over the world, more than 12,000 attendees, most new to Unity, from over 7,000 companies. More than 100 countries are represented, with both executives and students making up most of the attendees (more on this in my next article).
- November, 2020 — Bring onboard key hires to round out the team. Ours were in Sustainability, Employee Giving, and Social Impact Outcomes Analysis.
Here’s where I screwed up and wish I would have done things differently:
- Start Earlier — I should have structured a formal approach earlier. Our equity donation would have been easier, our strategy would have been clearer, and our employees would have felt deeper engagement.
- Company Impact is Not Personal Giving — The company Social Impact playbook is not well known, and as a result, stakeholders often default to their personal giving approach as opposed to what is best to drive the business forward. I should have started off with a clearer hypothesis on how our Social Impact approach propels our business forward so it wasn’t subjected to personal experience. Once I learned about Pledge 1%’s 1–1–1 model of corporate philanthropy (time-product-profits and/or equity), I quickly got up to speed on how to formalize our equity pledge and educated our CEO. He embraced the concept and built board consensus around donating equity to a corporate Donor Advised Fund that would fund our Social Impact work for years to come. (To be confirmed, but our view right now is that our approach generates more creators, more experiences, and essentially more revenue opportunities.)
- Start with Employees — We should have launched a structured employee giving approach with employee volunteerism first. At Unity, we have the most passionate employee base I have ever had the privilege of working with. And we do a lot of ad hoc giving — employees volunteer sporadically, and we dedicate pro bono teaching, support, and development time when teams see fit — but we are just getting around to a global, structured program that provides access and engagement to all employees. At 40+ locations and almost 4,000 employees, we missed out on the massive impact their passion can fuel.
Here’s what made all the difference in the world:
- Doing Even Better by Doing Good — we structured our strategy with a focus on both impact and incremental direct revenue that will be created by the Social Impact strategy. It’s not just about increased employee engagement, elevated brand perception, ESG ratings, etc. — we committed to annual direct revenue we would generate as part of our strategy by selling discounted licenses for our products to nonprofits.
- CEO Champion — ESG informed investments by asset managers are real, but too early-stage for some to take seriously. I’d love to think that the hours or days of due diligence to make our board case for pre-IPO donation made a difference, but really it all comes down to the CEO’s passion and commitment to see it through.
- Killer Team — I’m the luckiest. I have the incredible privilege of supporting the most amazing team focusing on education, sustainability, health, and Social Impact. But even more, I’m so lucky to work with the most passionate, talented global team of global change-makers: Unity employees.
- Mentors — it takes a village … but really for me, it was two key people:
Dr. David Washington is the founder of Partnerships for Purpose, a Social Impact consulting firm leveraging our shared culture to unify and align the superpowers of influencers, policy, philanthropy, frontline non-profits, and corporate Social Impact to make a scalable change. If you need a silo breaker who understands how to empower each of us to make social change, he is the best.
Jan D’Alessandro is the co-author of the Pledge 1% Equity Playbook, in addition to this treasure trove, she is a proven corporate Social Impact executive and investor. When going toe-to-toe with a seasoned Board and CEO, there is no stronger partner to aid you in the negotiations, and no better advisor to help you build your Social Impact program.
- Telling the World — We announced our Social Impact strategy in the longest speaking slot at our IPO debut and followed up six weeks later with our two-day Unity for Humanity event, showing the world that our Social Impact program is core to our business — and we mean business.
If you’ve read this far, wow, thank you. DM me if you want more details!