Making the Business Case for Social Change

In business, competition is a primary driving force. But when it comes to addressing our region's most pressing issues, collaboration is far more critical. Issues like hunger, homelessness, poverty and lack of education have long been the domain of nonprofits and the public sector, with companies often relegated to writing checks on the sidelines. Despite the generosity of many businesses, the recession made it clear that this model no longer meets the needs of our community. It's only by unifying the private and public sectors around the common agenda that we can unlock the door to collective impact.

Company leaders should invest in the community not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it's fundamentally good for business. Recent Gallup research shows that employee engagement is directly linked to productivity, particularly for those in the millennial generation. Encouraging and supporting employees to take part in solving complex community problems with meaningful social purpose validates the relevance behind their work and deepens the bonds among teams.

As business people, contributing to long-term solutions – like raising high school graduation rates, increasing financial stability or improving well-being – resonates with us because it generates a solid return on investment. According to Heart of Florida United Way, every dollar spent on prevention saves $7 on intervention. By aligning our corporate social responsibility efforts and providing under-served families the support along the cradle-to-career continuum, we can help tackle the root causes of social issues and break generational cycles of poverty

Taking a disciplined approach to evaluation which emphasizes outcomes rather than efforts is crucial to success. Accountability for results helps ensure the dollars are being spent effectively.

Removing barriers to education, like hunger or homelessness and improving graduation rates will ultimately lead to a stronger, more affluent workforce – which benefits our entire region. By leveraging the support of the community to provide critical funding and resources to Central Floridians in need, we'll develop a healthier economic landscape for businesses to thrive.

In order for Orlando to reach its full economic potential we must address these social obstacles. Business leaders play a critical role in developing solutions for these critical issues. We can take a long-term view and offer vision, strategy and a focus on accountability – along with skill-sets and financial resources. We can leverage our ability to convene groups of leaders around common goals, and we can use our platforms to "know the story and tell the story" to lead the charge for important causes. Making an impact is simple – in fact, it can be summarized in three words: give, advocate and volunteer.

Day in and day out, the business community delivers our best efforts to drive profits and achieve results. Imagine what could happen if we applied a similar tenacity to serving our community and addressing the most complex challenges head-on. The opportunity has never been greater for companies to claim their seat at the table to effect social change. There are more than enough seats to go around.

Tom Sittema is Chief Executive Officer of CNL Financial Group and Heart of Florida United Way's 2013-2014 Campaign Chair and Founding Board Chair of LIFT Orlando.