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Worku Gachou, Head of Social Impact for North America, Visa

September 2021


4 - 5 Minutes

Leading with purpose to drive business success

Social impact and business goals are no longer mutually exclusive. Here’s how both can coexist.

Consumers are increasingly making decisions about where they shop based on their values and whether a brand aligns with those values. For businesses big and small, success requires an emphasis on your brand’s purpose and embedding social impact strategies deep within your business and operations.

Visa is committed to purpose-driven work that aligns with our mission to enable individuals, businesses, and economies to thrive. And we are driving greater returns at the same time — for our business, clients, partners, consumers and the communities in which we do business.

We spoke with Worku Gachou, Head of Social Impact for North America at Visa, about effective ways clients can drive business success by focusing on their company’s purpose across all aspects of their business.

Q: Why is a purpose-driven mindset critical for businesses today?

Gachou: Corporations are being asked to take a stand on issues like never before. The expectation of younger generations in particular, as well as other stakeholders and governments, are driving that change. Ninety percent of millennials would switch brands for one that champions a cause. Purpose-driven companies also far outperform ones that don’t prioritize social impact, delivering as much as three times the growth rate and higher market share.1 In order to compete today, companies need to deliver exceptional financial performance while also helping to improve societal health. This is also critical for employee retention and recruitment. Purpose-driven companies have 40 percent higher levels of workforce retention2 than competitors so it makes good business sense to do so while also being the right thing to do.

Q: How should companies be thinking about social impact strategies throughout their business?

Gachou: We recommend a four-pronged approach. First, embed social impact in your company’s vision, strategy, and operations. Focus on identifying your company’s “sweet spot” across three factors: societal needs, your organization’s business objectives and your organization’s unique value add. What are the skills and technologies that you can bring to the table that provide a unique opportunity for your company to improve society?

Next, set ambitious, evidence-based, and transparent targets. Unlike other functions where there are clear P&Ls, people can question the efficacy of social impact programs. At Visa, we have clearly defined measures around the number of lives touched and lives transformed to assess the effectiveness of our programs. It's important to communicate the impact of your investment, especially to secure executive support. It also helps you figure out if you need to iterate or alter your programming.

Third, execute your programs to deliver meaningful impact. You need to be committed to and invested in social impact over the long term. It is at minimum a two- to five-year game, and sometimes executives are surprised by that because they're used to seeing results immediately. Patience is key in this work.

Finally, engage and advocate change via a broad set of stakeholders. This means creating clear external and internal communication, conducting regular reporting, driving engagement, and establishing governance.

Q: How do you get employees engaged and executives on board over the long term?

Gachou: When first developing our North America social impact strategy, we solicited the views and opinions of our colleagues and executives via surveys, workshops, and interviews, totaling about 1,000 different engagements. We took those insights to shape our focus areas and prioritize programs. Importantly, we made sure our stakeholders bought into the strategy process early and often. Now as we’re turning to execute the strategy, our employees and executives have a clear vision of where we’re headed and why.

That said, an important part of any social impact strategy is ensuring that everyone in the organization recognizes and appreciates that the work that they're doing is really helping drive change – in our case at Visa, helping drive economic growth and inclusivity in our communities.

For the last two years, for example, Visa Foundation has partnered with Kiva, a nonprofit microloan originator using technology to fund small loans that empower micro-businesses in emerging markets. We encouraged employees to select micro-businesses of their choice on Kiva to receive a $50 loan, provided by the Visa Foundation. (Of course, they were encouraged to make an additional loan with their own money as well.)

Thanks to an internal campaign across our global offices, Visa surpassed Kiva’s record in large corporate program participation numbers, reaching 85 percent of employee participation in North America and as high as 98 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. These are metrics we can take to our leaders to show strong levels of employee engagement and meaningful impact toward our mission to uplift micro businesses.

In fact, I was sitting in meetings where executives were sharing their stories of how they chose their loan recipient, which really showed the executive buy-in to other employees. If a senior leader can take the time to look at borrowers’ online profiles and their business goals, every employee can. I found that really powerful and a testament to the program’s success.

What would you say to businesses that may have limited resources and are not in a position to launch a multi-year philanthropic campaign?

Gachou: When people think of resources they immediately think of the monetary contribution. But if you’re a smaller institution, some of your employees are dedicating their time monthly or quarterly to volunteering efforts that can have a great impact too. Socially-minded actions are just as important as financial support. You can volunteer, you can shape products and technologies to address social impact, there’s a lot you can do without the need for financial spend.

Q: You mention partners like Kiva. What is the key to finding the right partners to drive social impact?

Gachou: It’s important to choose partners who are aligned with and excited about the social impact work that you are doing. As a best practice, you want to be clear about what you are each bringing to the table and invest in metrics to gauge the investments of that partnership. Partnerships are essential to expanding the reach of your programs too. Visa’s business model really lends itself to partnerships with a lot of different organizations in a lot of different industries around the world. You can take an inclusive approach and think outside the box for partners who may be smaller and might not have the publicity of a larger organization but who are closer to the ground and really addressing the needs of the community. That’s where the magic happens, when organizations with diverse skill sets but similar visions come together and deliver meaningful results.

But make sure that you stick to your sweet spot. You’ll find that there is no shortage of opportunities to support your community. But ensuring that you stay within your focus areas and what aligns to your business will drive greater impact over the long run rather than trying to be the solution to a diverse set of needs.

What are some examples of Visa’s partnership success in this space?

Gachou: Our partnership with Marvel Comics has evolved since we teamed up in 2012 to create financial education-themed comic books for families and adults. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket's Powerful Plan comic book, which introduced readers to concepts like budgeting and saving, became available at public libraries nationwide through our partnership with the Public Library Association. We are in the midst of developing a new, exciting custom comic with Marvel that will be released soon.

In North America, we’ve also been focused on elevating underrepresented segments of our communities. We’ve sought opportunities to work with like-minded partners, like iFundWomen, to provide women entrepreneurs access to capital, business coaching, and a network of women business owners. We’ve also reached Black women-owned businesses, which were hit disproportionately hard during the pandemic, with grants and promotional support, through the partnership. Visa Foundation also launched the Equitable Access Initiative in 2020, a 5-year program to support SMBs, with a focus on women’s economic advancement.

The space for social impact work, and philanthropy in general, can really coexist with your business goals if they both ladder up to your mission. These are no longer mutually exclusive. By realizing your purpose, you help everything else that comes with it — the brand recognition, the consumer choice, and ultimately the greater returns. People often say you can do well by doing good. And that is truer today than ever.

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All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

1 Deloitte Insights. “2020 Global Marketing Trends” https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/consultancy/deloitte-uk-consulting-global-marketing-trends.pdf

2 Deloitte Insights. “2020 Global Marketing Trends”

All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

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