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How to Help

What Good Companies Can Do

Helping can be hard, expensive, slow, and right.

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Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash

Last week, Apple announced a major new set of innovative software features that are absolutely incredible. Undoubtedly, they took many hundreds of hours of work and likely cost a huge sum of money in research and development. The new features set an industry standard that other companies will struggle to copy quickly.

And these are software features that you are likely to never use.

The software updates, detailed in this press release, are all accessibility improvements. For example, watch the remarkable video on something called AssistiveTouch, designed for Apple Watch users that can't use the touchscreen. And for blind users, iPhones and iPads can now describe what's in a picture, using machine learning algorithms to identify what's in the scene. The list of new features is quite long worth the read. It's inspiring.

Most people are surprised to learn that corporate philanthropy makes up just 5% of annual charitable giving. I’m a consistent critic of it not because of the amount, but because most company giving done as an afterthought by undertrained staff prioritizing image over impact. What’s worse, it completely ignores the power of collective effort embedded in every corporation.

Companies are fundamentally groups of people in collaboration. In that way, they wield tremendous power. I love what Apple has done with its accessibility efforts, because it teaches a lesson about how good is done. Helping others is often unprofitable, hard, and slow. Certainly that description applies to all of what Apple just announced. These features took creative, persistent thinking to overcome failures in expensive ways. The odds are quite high that Apple loses money on all of this effort.

So why do they do it? Here's what Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's head of global accessibility, had to say in an interview last year:

“It’s fundamentally about culture. From the beginning Apple has always believed accessibility is a human right and this core value is still evident in everything we design today.”

This is exactly the kind of corporate-speak you'd expect any company to say, but outside observers have documented Apple's long-term dedication to making their products work for everyone they can, despite their abilities. It's long been a place where they put their energy, not just their money. While Apple certainly has other major issues to confront, like its business in China, but on accessibility they’ve consistently led the way.

We’re entering an era where more and more companies are focusing their efforts into solving big problems. All of that collective effort is sure to bear fruit. It’s exciting to think about what other advances companies will yet produce to help those who need it most.

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The UN Global Compact is a voluntary collection of global companies who have committed to sustainable, responsible business and contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Member companies uphold ten principles focused on human rights, fair labor practices, environmental sustainability, and anti-corruption. Members include over 12,000 signatories in 160+ countries.

For an example, watch this video illustrating the approach Hilton (the hotel company) has taken to help reach the SDGs. The Global Compact Library is a resource for companies wanting to improve their impact.
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Promotional Stuff

Chaplain George Youstra is a six-foot-eight former Green Beret, a retired Air Force Colonel, a former advisor to eight four-star generals, and one of the friendliest people you’ll ever get a chance to meet. He’s also my guest on this week’s episode of the How to Help Podcast. I guarantee the episode will be uplifting and interesting.

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