Powering Social Change

Angela Baker of Wireless Reach shares lessons in driving business with purpose

by CLAIRE BAUMANN

Pick up any mobile phone, scroll through the latest social media, digital news, professional opportunities and it’s hard not to miss that businesses built with purpose are on trend. From Larry Fink’s call for companies to realize their social responsibility to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement on Facebook’s business model – a manifesto for a purpose-driven platform – it’s clear that the time is ripe for socially-conscious business.

But is this all simply public relations? And are strategic business decisions with purpose in mind yielding growth? A recent report from Columbia Business School on corporate purpose and financial performance found that firms with a high sense of purpose and clarity will deliver higher future accounting and stock market performance. Moreover, talent and consumers are increasingly demanding organizations stand for more than simply shareholder returns. With increased transparency and public action on authentic social impact (note: avoid ads with haphazard protests that front for purveying soft drinks), how does a business, trade or social enterprise create purpose with depth and reach?

Enter Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach headed by acclaimed woman in tech leader Angela Baker. The organization’s 12-year wireless technology initiative – boasting more than 100 programs across 47 countries – offers both the tech industry and other enterprises valuable lessons in moving the needle on social issues like climate change and women’s empowerment.

Global Daily sat down with Baker on the launch of Wireless Reach’s new film Power of 9 to discuss their impactful programs.

Global Daily: Do you have advice to companies looking to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or social impact into their business?

Baker: It’s important to work across sectors to get these programs off the ground. Take a look at Sustainable Development Goal 17 on partnerships. At Qualcomm, we’re leveraging our technology – we’re not shy about the fact that it’s our product – and we’re working with local community organizations to look at how we can work together to address the challenges that they’re facing. One thing that we never do is to say, “we think that our technology is the solution”. Instead, we look to communities to say to us, “we have this challenge and we think your technology can be helpful.” As an example, we’re working with fishing communities in Colombia. We’ve had a lot of success there because the government was bought into that program – it’s really helped us to spread it to each of Colombia’s coasts. We’re working with fishermen to get them access to market pricing, to use GPS through their phones, to check the weather, and to also see where they’ve fished the day before so that they’re not overfishing.

Taking a step back, it’s important to use the SDGs as a framework to solve some of these challenges – like overfishing – and that’s what I think the UN was doing when they helped craft and spearhead these Goals in 2015. It’s helped governments and businesses find a framework from which they can work from. Now, we’re seeing even more that companies are rallying around the SDGs and purpose because it’s doing good but it’s also proving that its doing well for business.

Global Daily: How have you seen your work in purpose impact talent engagement and recruitment?

It’s also important to engage employees internally and we’ve seen how this gets people excited about working at Qualcomm. We can say to our employees in a tangible and meaningful way, look at these fisherman in Colombia using GPS, which was started at Qualcomm for 911 services, but now it’s being used in Colombian communities as they fish. These unique stories help tell the Qualcomm story, but additionally, it helps engage employees internally to build the technology of the future but also to get them excited about where they work.

Global Daily: Ahead of International Women’s Day and as a noted female leader in tech, what do you see as the unique role mobile plays in social impact?

Baker: It should be no surprise to anyone that there isn’t parity for women in access to mobile phones. But we’ve seen when women have access to mobile phones there’s sort of a multiplier effect: they’re able to learn more, they’re able to share resources with their family, get access to health information. We work with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Womenin Vietnam, and there we’ve seen where women can’t leave the home because they are the primary caretaker. But through mobile, they can still earn a living. As the data shows, women who earn are more likely to reinvest their money back into their family.

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