In the venture capital world, investors typically look for businesses that can scale easily. Scalability is a way to reach more consumers and leverage resources as a company grows. Socially-responsible businesses that are trying to scale, however, sometimes face a problem: how to scale, focus on results and profit, and still make an impact?
According to BusinessDictionary.com, Social Impact is defined as: the effect of an activity on the social fabric of the community and well-being of the individuals and families. Impact could be philanthropic, legacy-building or some other initiative or program internally or externally that aims to make a difference.
One example of a social enterprise that has scaled successfully is Airbnb. Founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky began the hospitality company in 2008 out of their apartment in San Francisco when they played superhost and rolled out air mattresses to 3 guests who couldn’t find accommodations at a design convention in town.
Airbnb’s mission is “create a world where people can belong when they travel by being connected to local cultures and having unique travel experiences.”
As they expanded beyond the Bay Area, the company targeted political conventions, conferences and other events around the country. They eventually expanded outside of the country as it grew slowly by word-of-mouth until it reached the critical point ripe for venture capital. The multibillion dollar company now operates in over 190 countries.
From the onset, the savvy founders not only wanted to create experiences for hosts to earn extra income while guests gained more affordable and generally better-value accommodations; they also wanted to create experiences. Airbnb guests receive one-on-one contact and maintain a direct relationship with hosts, and because they stay in homes of locals, they tend to assimilate better and feel like locals themselves. Hotel guests don’t typically have such “experiences”, unless they stay at exclusive 5-star accommodations, with 5-star service, and 5-star staff. The company is creating unique travel experiences both for hosts and their guests.
The founders crafted their vision and corporate culture to align with their mission. One of their mottos with employees is in fact, Champion the Mission, which continues to be a priority as the company grows to 3 million listings with over 150 million total guest check-ins (airbnb.com). It’s worth mentioning that the founders truly are altruistic, as evidenced by Chesky, Gebbia and the third co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk and his wife each agreeing to join The Giving Pledge to donate 50% or more of their assets to charity.
On top of that, the company has used its leverage and resources to provide solutions in times of crises. The company’s Disaster Response Program mobilizes locals in disaster areas who volunteer and provide free housing to displaced persons and relief workers deployed to help in the areas. The program was created as a response to Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Caribbean and East Coast of the U.S. in October 2012, leaving thousands of people without homes. One resourceful host in Brooklyn, NY, stepped up to volunteer and house victims, which led to over one thousand Airbnb hosts in New York opening their homes and volunteering to help those who lost their homes or businesses.
Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s Head of Global Disaster Relief, who started a disaster recovery project called HandsOn New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, said “Throughout my career, I’ve seen the terrible devastation that disasters can inflict, but I’ve also seen the powerful ways that communities come together to respond and recover. At Airbnb we have a real opportunity to use our disaster response program to help these communities in a time of need.”
After the rollout of President Trump’s controversial immigration plan during his first week in office, many U.S. residents, immigrants and refugees were left stranded in airports across the world, prevented from entering the U.S., or deported back to their home countries. Airbnb decided to deploy the concept of the Disaster Response Program and create a special page for affected immigrants in need of housing. Chesky sent out a series of tweets January 28-29, 2017 from his Twitter account @bchesky:
Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right, and we must stand with those who are affected. Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Stayed tuned for more, contact me if urgent need for housing. If you’re able to host refugees in need via Airbnb, you can sign up here:http://abnb.co/VH9hWbChesky, Gebbia and Airbnb encourage those who wish to volunteer their homes to sign up as hosts for said immigrants and refugees who have been displaced all over the world. Much like Facebook’s Safety Check that uses the social network’s reach to allow those in disaster areas to confirm they are safe, Airbnb’s response is a perfect example of how resourcefulness, leverage and social responsibility can make a major impact on individuals and communities around the world. Ancillary benefits to the business include a big boost in PR and social media exposure, not to mention increased goodwill among customers and shareholders that share in the company’s mission.
For companies like Airbnb, making social impact a priority is just good business.
About Alexandra Figueredo:
Alexandra is a Social Entrepreneurship and Impact researcher and strategist, freelance writer and author and founder of Mission Based Branding Institute research and training platform for social impact. This reformed banker turned entrepreneur is also an arts and culture lover, traveler (5 continents and counting!) and citizen of the world! Follow her musings at @OnAMissionAlex