Social change: the dual importance of doing no harm while doing good

Many people might assume that social change is limited to flashy projects, big budgets, and high profile recipients; after all these are the projects that often make headlines and inspire people around the world. Others may assume that successful social change is best achieved through incremental progress. This means building capacity step by step, achieving a small but sustainable rate of change that adds up over time. A company’s values determine what its social change efforts should be and whom it should impact. Initiatives that work in one place may fail in another. Two of SAS’ values are curiosity and innovation. These values help shape its efforts to drive social change. SAS achieves social change by combining a hands-off approach overseas that lets its foreign offices adapt initiatives to the local culture with more domestic efforts. At home in the US, SAS achieves social change in part by ensuring that its products and business processes are designed with human rights in mind.

SAS achieves social change globally by allowing its global offices to run some of their own CSR initiatives. As a global company, SAS has offices in many countries around the world, from the Middle East and Europe to South America, making it difficult to determine exactly which change model to follow. Each of these places has a different set of values and customs; an initiative that might work in France would fail miserably in Argentina. SAS tackles this challenge by letting its offices run some of their own CSR programs independently. During my work I have gotten to preview some of the foreign offices’ CSR supplements to the main SAS CSR report; they detail variations in programming that might not be readily apparent to an outside observer. For example, recycling is huge in Europe but is not as common in some South American countries because it’s not embedded in the culture and they lack recycling facilities. By enabling its offices to take responsibility for their own initiatives, I think that SAS achieves social change more effectively in these locations because it is adapted to the local culture rather than imposing initiatives only by executive decree.

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Data privacy is a challenging topic for SAS and one area where it is critical to design products with human rights in mind to achieve positive social change. Recent legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulations in the European Union, have made these concerns more pressing for any company that processes European citizens’ data. Due to its position as a major supplier of data analytics software to governments and businesses around the world, SAS software handles a wide variety of sensitive data in the EU. SAS uses industry standard protections and is beginning to incorporate “Privacy by Design” principles into its software to accommodate privacy concerns. “Privacy by design” is the idea that privacy principles and human rights protections will be built into business processes and technology in the beginning rather than added at the end. If SAS’ software was to be used by the wrong party or somehow hacked, it could be used achieve enormous social harm. Doing no harm is one of the best ways to achieve social change, because it allows SAS technology to be used for its intended purposes and only achieve a net positive in society. I think that SAS has done an excellent job at raising awareness of the potential harms and ensuring that its technology is secure enough to avoid potential problems. Protecting customers and user’s privacy by ensuring that it is a core part of the design of products helps everyone in the long run. One only has to look at Europe’s past experiences with repressive governments to understand the importance of doing no harm.

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SAS’ Code of Ethics is another effort that helps the company achieve social change, as it raises awareness in the company of the values and priorities that should guide its business. One of my primary tasks this summer has been to assist the Legal Department in overhauling the Code of Ethics to align with modern standards and industry best practices. For example, when the original document was created privacy concerns were not as pressing as they are in the current era of big data. The document is supposed to set the tone of business for the company by showing how employees should act ethically in many situations. I have found the Code of Ethics to influential in informing other corporate policies and encouraging employees to have an impact in the community. I think that people generally want to do the right thing, and the Code of Ethics makes the company more successful in achieving social change. By empowering employees to volunteer and raising awareness of issues they may face, social change can be more effectively pursued because employees feel supported when helping out causes they are passionate about. SAS encourages this passion by funding some prominent educational initiatives in STEM related to its core identity as a technology company and matching some types of employee donations.

Social Change: How Data Analytics Became a Force for Good

As a privately held software corporation with roots at North Carolina State University, SAS is one of the largest data analytics companies in the world. Its suite of analytical software underpins most of the Fortune 500 companies, many governments, and a whole host of important customers. SAS understands that it customers face enormous challenges, and bases its business on helping them to divine the solutions they need via its proprietary data analytics technology. SAS takes a two-pronged approach to fostering social change; it sponsors local causes and initiatives it is passionate about and empowers the community to analyze and solve their own problems with its analytics software and expertise. “Data for good” is part of this second prong and a signature part of the SAS Institute’s efforts to improve our world; an initiative that joins a larger movement to use data analytics to solve global humanitarian problems like poverty and climate change.

At home, it is easy to see how SAS’s efforts for social change have paid immediate dividends to its workers and its community. SAS engages with its local community and empowers its workers to devote their time and money to causes they are passionate about. SAS promotes this culture through its Employee Volunteer Fund, which offers money to nonprofit organizations focused on education after an employee has provided at least 50 hours of volunteering to the organization over a period of 12 months. SAS employees donated almost 25,000 hours of their time through the program and the company gave more than 91,000 dollars in 2017. In addition, SAS volunteers globally have contributed to causes of their choice, such as collecting professional clothing for needy individuals seeking employment in France or collecting toys and gifts for low income families in Scotland. These are just a few examples of initiatives that SAS encourages its employees to take part in.

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Education is a fundamental part of SAS’s focus on building capacity at the local level. SAS’s primary charitable focus has been sponsoring programs that encourage children to learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related fields. In particular, it offers a lot of resources to help students learn data analytics and prepare themselves for computer related careers after they graduate. At its headquarters in Cary, North Carolina, SAS hosts a STEM Career day where employees visit schools and describe their careers to students. The idea is to excite kids about a career path in a STEM field and expose them to the options they have. SAS helped found the SummerSTEM experience, where it hosts immersion experiences related to STEM for teachers in conjunction with other corporations. These initiatives empower employees to contribute to causes they are passionate about, and the company itself has pushed STEM education initiatives to help prepare the local community for a globalized economy.

SAS’s efforts are most powerful when seen through the second prong of its approach to social change. Due to its business focus on analytics software, it makes an enormous difference when it uses that expertise to focus on humanitarian and social challenges. This effort is a part of the “Data for Good” movement, where SAS showcases its belief that the best solutions to vexing issues comes from deeper analysis. This movement attempts to match analytics expertise to issues and communities that do not have access to such technology. Examples of such projects can be found on its website, and include efforts to improve child welfare and prevent abuse by using data and analytics to allocate resources more effectively, or text mining to help the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau protect consumers more effectively. SAS wants to incorporate data analytics into public policy making so decision makers can create more informed policies. The potential for this initiative is seen in the wide variety of applications of data analytics detailed on its website, as its software helps assist local people in fields as diverse as counterterrorism and chemistry. The “Data for Good” movement connects SAS’ advantages to the people who need them most.

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As part of my work here at SAS, I have been learning about Corporate Social Responsibility in the setting of a private corporation. SAS’s two pronged approach to social change is readily detailed on its new CSR website. The website showcases SAS’ main focuses in the realm of CSR, including but not limited to responsible governance, environmental awareness and responsibility, and the “Data for Good” movement. The CSR strategy is good for the community and the company because it contributes tangibly to the community and makes employees happy.

I think that SAS has an effective and unique approach to social change highlighted by its CSR initiatives. Its philanthropic and educational initiatives, as well as its contributions of data analytics expertise to the “Data for Good” movement show this ethos. As the world becomes more interconnected each year by data, SAS should be positioned to help achieve effective social change by increasing awareness of the efficacy of incorporating data analysis into public policy making and problem solving.