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Why Shared Value is the Future of Social Change

06/18/2013 04:40 EDT | Updated 08/18/2013 05:12 EDT

"None of us can solve the whole problem -- but together, we can move the world," spoke President Bill Clinton at Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America in Chicago last week. And when Bill speaks, everyone in the room listens.

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the CGI America conference as Co-Founder and General Manager of AIR MILES for Social Change. CGI was founded in 2008 to help find shared value solutions that would boost the U.S. out of the recession. Every year at CGI, Clinton challenges business, government, not-for-profits and foundations to figure out collaborative solutions to the big, complex problems that face society. And at the end of each conference, hundreds of new ideas and commitments are created to drive real change. This year, over 1,000 leaders gathered and 74 organizations made significant new commitments, and over 200 reported on results from recent commitments.

It was not only inspirational but empowering to be in a room with ambitious, driven leaders who are taking accountability to not just create the solutions, but to own them; people who are willing to take risks and create innovative, radical cross-sector partnerships and venture into uncharted territory in order to make our world a better place. Over the past few years, several key government leaders have voiced the same message -- that society has too many significant, chronic problems. Governments need help. At CGI, both Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton in separate speeches spoke about the importance of bold new public and private partnerships to solve these problems. Also at CGI, Cristina Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that there are too many problems for government to handle alone.

And business leaders are listening. Michael Porter, Harvard Business School Professor extraordinaire is inspiring many with his Creating Shared Value model. Creating Shared Value, or CSV, espouses the notion of companies profiting while helping solve society's problems. Porter's point is that contributing to the bottom line is the only way to create a sustainable positive social impact model. And this is not just theory -- it can be done and is being done. The President and CEO of Walmart U.S. Bill Simon spoke at CGI about how they use shared value by partnering with municipalities to help deliver value back to customers and shareholders: "When you find intersection between shareholders, customers and government, magic can happen." Target also spoke at CGI about the importance of shared value in their business model.

And shared value is at the core of AIR MILES for Social Change (AMSC) -- an innovative social venture that rewards Canadians with AIR MILES reward miles for taking care of their health or for protecting the environment. We partner with all levels of government using the immense assets of the AIR MILES Reward Program to help save governments money and drive sustainable behavior change. And my belief since co-founding the program is that it is only through co-creation between private sector, public sector and not-for-profits that we can all bring our assets to the table to collectively find solutions to chronic problems society is facing.

For three years we've been using the power and reach of the AIR MILES Reward Program to create education and action for Canadians to encourage us all to conserve energy, protect the planet, and be healthy. We have over 10 partners who partner with us in a CSV manner. For example, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) has worked with AMSC since 2010 to create education and conservation behaviours. In 2010 a program with the Ontario Power Authority rewarded Ontarians for pledging to conserve energy and the program drove a five times increase in participation rates versus the previous year. And then in 2011 and 2012 we also rewarded Ontarians for taking conservation actions such as retiring their fridge or freezer. Participation in these programs drove increased energy conservation behaviours that ultimately drove energy savings for Ontario. In 2013 we've enhanced the campaign to reward consumers for taking direct action to conserve energy through three specific saveONenergy initiatives.

Participation in these programs all drove increased sustained energy conservation behaviours that ultimately drove energy savings for Ontario, plus did so at a lower cost than alternative programs. At CGI, I had the pleasure of participating in a special working group -- the Residential Energy Efficiency working group -- which was tasked with coming up with innovative solutions to drive consumer energy conservation behaviours across the U.S. I shared our AMSC OPA story plus other AMSC results and best practices. The AMSC education and engagement strategy quickly became the foundation of the Residential Energy Efficiency action plan for CGI America, and we were thrilled that Ontario and Canada could help lead the way for the U.S. energy conservation plan. This was a great validation of our CSV efforts, and that AMSC and our government/not-for-profit partners are leaders in the CSV space, inspiring others to adapt, innovate and fuel meaningful change as they relate to important social and environmental issues.

Prominent world leaders have said repeatedly that successful businesses and countries of tomorrow are those that engage in cross-sector collaborations today. Shared value is our future and we invite the rest of Canada to join in and get engaged. We are all innovators with a big steering wheel, and we all own the solutions for our future. It's time to collectively put the key in the ignition and take it to the next level, for Canada.

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