Published in Fortune Magazine June 7, 2021
Software has disrupted the world. It has changed our routines and established a new order to our lives. Consider the advances in short-term housing, ride-sharing services, electronic payments, streaming services, and so much more. Software and technology have moved from sector to sector, helping companies reimagine the speed, scale, and depth of how they operate. Think about how Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) reinvented the world of customer management and transformed Salesforce into the machine that underpins so many organizations.
Now, software has turned its attention to the world of social and environmental impact. The era of Impact-as-a-Service™ has arrived. It’s a concept EVERFI is fully committed to in its business model—so much so that we even trademarked the term.
Corporations are approaching corporate social responsibility (CSR) and engaging in social impact initiatives with renewed energy and vigor. They are being asked to take a real and public stand on a myriad of issues, from the environment and racial justice to mental health and financial capability. They are relying on innovation to tackle these massive problems at scale, and they require data-driven solutions.
Corporations are committing to CSR in ways we would never have expected just a few years ago. Large companies like Morgan Stanley are standing up in the fight for net-zero carbon emissions and making a concentrated push in communities for mental well-being. The National Football League is taking on character education in schools across the country and furthering education on Black history. Kroger is tackling the epidemic of opioid misuse in communities nationwide. And this isn’t just a shift being made by large organizations: There are hundreds of smaller companies and startups that are adopting social impact strategies as central to their ethos. The shift to stakeholder capitalism and the focus on strengthening environmental, social, and governance practices has become a strategic imperative for public and private companies alike.
There is a massive network coalescing around the notion that a company’s success is directly tied to the impact it has on the communities it serves. And all for good reason.
The past year has underscored that CSR is no longer a top-down, discretionary initiative, it’s now a bottom-up business imperative. Stakeholders including customers, suppliers, regulators, and employees, have become increasingly vocal in their expectations of Corporate America. It is no longer enough to just earn a paycheck—employees want to know that their employer is driving positive change. Consumers want to know that the brands they support and fund uphold their beliefs. And boards and regulators want to know that the companies they invest in and monitor are recognizing diversity and inclusion across the board. This shift has been seismic. It has birthed a new crop of companies in a new category we call Impact-as-a-Service.
So what is Impact-as-a-Service, who is building it, and who is leveraging it? Simply put, Impact-as-a-Service enables companies, through technology, to tackle and report on intractable social issues at scale. Phase one of this technology has concentrated on four key areas: employee diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias, and harassment prevention training; upskilling courses and critical skills education to help students and employees stay up to date with changes in technology, to ensure long-term opportunity and career advancement; programs to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and corporate giving and volunteerism programs.
Not surprisingly, tech and financial giants including Microsoft, Google, ADP, and JPMorgan Chase dominate the ranks of early adopters of this software. But major companies outside those data-centric industries, including Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss, and Honda, are using Impact-as-a-Service, too. As has been the case with most software-transformed industries, Impact-as-a-Service will be broadly adopted and implemented with an unparalleled speed of innovation.
Entrepreneurs working to solve these global problems are asking companies to step up, own, and scale this Impact-as-a-Service category. The Rise Fund and EVERFI are at the forefront of the category creation. The Rise Fund, a $5 billion global impact investing fund committed to achieving measurable, positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns, has backed or partnered with several Impact-as-a-Service software providers. Among them are:
- Greenhouse, which helps more than 400,000 companies promote and track diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring;
- InStride, which works with colleges like Arizona State University and the University of Virginia to enable employers to offer college-level courses and degree programs to their employees;
- Benevity, which manages social responsibility programs such as online giving, grants, and volunteer work for more than 650 companies, their employees, and customers;
- Persefoni, which supports organizations in their goals to measure and reduce their carbon footprints.
Recently, with the move to virtual learning, we have seen Corporate America looking to scale critical skills education for the digital age. Impact-as-a-Service companies like InStride and EVERFI have moved to the foreground of this sector and are reimagining the space like never before. In 2017, The Rise Fund partnered with EVERFI for its inaugural Impact-as-a-Service investment. EVERFI helps companies build the missing learning layer, and to date has developed a premier Impact-as-a-Service offering for over 3,000 large enterprises, reimagining K-12 education on critical skills that can drive ecosystems of change for generations to come.
At EVERFI, we believe that financial capability can be mastered without a series of devastating financial mistakes. Mental health can be more than whispers in school hallways. Health care literacy doesn’t need to be fraught with confusion and fear. Sustainability education can focus on more than understanding recycling. By leveraging Impact-as-a-Service solutions, EVERFI offers turnkey, data-driven, and scalable programs that can help address some of society’s most intractable problems. EVERFI reaches students across the country in all communities, with a special focus on reaching students in disadvantaged communities to help level the playing field and further opportunities for life-long success.
EVERFI’s Impact-as-a-Service solutions and digital educational content work hand-in-hand with thousands of leading brands, global companies, sports leagues, and foundations. Through sponsorship and engagement around issues like education, these organizations are delivering critical solutions to their communities while receiving metrics and board-level reporting to show how they positively impact society. For corporations, Impact-as-a-Service makes stakeholder engagement more authentic, accessible, precise, scalable, and most importantly, measurable.
As sustainability, upskilling, diverse hiring practices, issues like the missing learning layer, and broader social impact initiatives become firmly embedded in companies’ agendas, the need for Impact-as-a-Service technology that enables them to implement and drive change at scale is certain to grow. Soon, most companies will employ full suites of Impact-as-a-Service solutions, which will rival their SaaS systems in size, to help steer their environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) and CSR objectives to fruition. And following the trends of other markets transformed by technology, we expect that there will be fierce competition over the next few years as Impact-as-a-Service companies jockey to be leaders within the space.
SaaS quickly became a $123 billion industry making companies more efficient and productive. We anticipate that Impact-as-a-Service will expand at a similar pace, enabling companies worldwide to scale their impact and address our global challenges while building strong businesses that benefit all stakeholders.
Tom Davidson is the founder and CEO of EVERFI. Steve Ellis is co-managing partner at The Rise Fund.