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Audible’s Community Impact Beyond Giving

Friday, January 18, 2019

Too many corporate philanthropies and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are restricted in their ability to produce substantive change. And, corporations’ relentless pursuit of business success, and the consequential harm to people and places that resulted, was long considered the price of living in a capitalistic society. 

But today’s consumers have shifted expectations. According to Nielson, 66 percent of consumers are willing to spend more on sustainable brands. That number is even higher for millennials who also overwhelmingly prefer companies make public statements about their beliefs.   

As consumers become more loyal to conscious brands, more businesses are concerning themselves with the triple bottom line. Are these sincere efforts or merely good PR window dressings intended to increase profits?

Instead of exploring the full organization’s potential for constructive societal influence, corporations tend to look at their corporate philanthropy and CSR departments as “do good” arms of the larger body: The corporation continues to create messes in the lives of average Americans through practices likewage stagnation, the pursuit of aggressive penalties and leaning on corporate welfare, while the “do good” arms write checks for the brooms we in the nonprofit sector can use to clean the messes up.

I’ve long believed that there must be a better way for companies, beginning with those whose corporate giving arms are staples in our social justice giving community, to better align their efforts in order to be profitable and strong American businesses that also help support cities and citizens.

Thankfully, it looks like there is a case study in Newark, New Jersey, where Audible, the Amazon subsidy created 22 years ago by Don Katz, is transforming the community.

Audible, which has grown to become the largest producer and seller of audiobooks, saw its move from suburban Wayne, New Jersey, in 2007 as an opportunity to “impact a community in need at its core” and bring “economic vitality” to a dwindling city. Audible offered a housing lottery for 20 employees to support downtown redevelopment, a program that has now expanded to a $250 monthly subsidy for employees who want to relocate to the city.

In addition to bringing in new players to spur the local economy, they are inviting the people and businesses that have long called Newark home into this reimagining. The company offers prepaid debit cards for employees to frequent the city’s restaurants and uses locally sourced food in their office cafeteria each day.