Ford employees help renovate an underprivileged primary school in Thailand. Photo by: Ford APA / CC BY-NC

Matthew Clark, senior director for startup engagement for Microsoft’s strategic and emerging business team, explores corporate “good-doing” in a new blog called The Best Intentions. Here’s his inaugural post:

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Titans of Industry. They long ago gave up cigarettes, three martini lunches, and dirty jokes in the workplace.

Now people expect them not only to do business but to “do good.” Increase profits, create jobs, and raise the stock price? Sure, do all that. But what about poverty in Africa? Climate change? The rights of seamstresses in the Mekong Delta Basin? What are you doing about that?

Somewhere in the Swiss Alps in between discussions of the Y2K bug, it was agreed. The private sector is not the answer to our most pressing societal challenges. But we do expect the private sector to make solving these challenges part of its mission.

So, the Titans of Industry replaced their navy blue suits with Herringbone blazers. They sent their subordinates out to create private-public partnerships – “PPPs” – with NGOs, universities and charities. They would do business, do good and do it visibly. PR departments happily obliged with press releases and video testimonials.

Among these modern Titans, there is a group who never had ties and never wore suits. They drank mochas before Starbuck’s became a drive-thru on every corner. The lucky ones. The tech executives.

Technology = progress = good. They already were at an advantage in this new world. You’d think there would be little for them to prove. Besides, the best of them run technology platform companies, a most special breed. Citizens, community organizations, entrepreneurs and enterprise rely on these platforms to achieve their goals and dreams. Like electricity, technology platforms have become essential to the modern economy. Technology platforms enable innovation, communication, productivity, and advances in science and medicine.

By definition, all good, right?

The compulsion corporations feel to do business and “do good” in the public sphere is what this blog will explore. Why do some companies get this balance right? When do efforts backfire? What does it really mean to be a private company operating in the public sphere?

For over 15 years, I’ve experienced this compulsion first hand as an associate of an industry association, a public servant, a consultant and a business owner, and now as a manager with Microsoft. I’ve traveled to every continent visiting over 50 cities and towns, from Atlanta to Addis Ababa. I’ve worked with NGOs, not-for-profits, government ministries, state-owned enterprises, startups, universities and corporations. I’ve helped set public policy, negotiate PPPs, do deals, and market a technology platform. In all that I’ve experienced, it’s clear the compulsion to “do good” extends beyond simple altruism. It’s ingrained in the very mission of the most successful companies, particularly in the technology sector.

And, if you’re wondering, yes, I do think corporations can “do good.” But it is not easy. At times, I’ve felt joy at what I’ve accomplished with others. I’ve also felt utterly disillusioned.

Re-published with permission. Read the original blog post.

About the author

  • Matthew Clark

    Matthew has more than 14 years of experience driving business strategy and building private-public partnerships. He has overseen Microsoft Inc.'s worldwide relations with international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Finance Corp., and currently serves as senior director for startup engagement with the company’s Strategic and Emerging Business Team, responsible for Microsoft BizSpark™ One, a global program that accelerates the growth of high-potential startups and builds a supporting community of incubators, investors and advisors around them. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Microsoft or Devex.