In 1853, a man gave a $5 donation to the Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco, California. He did this shortly after he founded his namesake company, but well before the then dry goods business started to turn a profit. That man, of course, was Levi Strauss and his focus on philanthropy – or “profits through principles” – continues within our company today.
In May, Levi Strauss & Co. celebrated its 15th annual Community Day — a day when our employees around the world step away from the office to volunteer in their local communities. This year, more than 4,000 employees in 70 countries volunteered on more than 120 projects — all focused on making a contribution in their local communities.
Community Day is just one way that we bring our company values to life. It also demonstrates the inextricable link between business performance and community giving. Simply put, the more profitable we are as a company, the more we are able to give back to the communities around the world where we do business.
I believe the role of an enterprise goes beyond creating wealth for investors or shareholders. It must ensure long-term sustainability of the enterprise and its key stakeholders — not only employees, retirees and suppliers, but also the environment and the communities where we live and work. Companies must do more than just earn the next buck. We have an obligation — indeed, a responsibility — to give back.
Over the past 60 years, we’ve donated an average of 2.5 percent of all of our pretax earnings to our communities, including to organizations supported by the Levi Strauss Foundation, which is committed to asset building, financial literacy and social justice. This makes LS&Co. a benchmark company (according to the most recent survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy on the top 100 corporate philanthropists in the United States, LS&Co. is ranked No. 8 in cash giving as a percentage of pre-tax profits). And we’ve done that consistently in good years and bad.
We are fortunate to be headquartered in the Bay Area, which offers so much talent, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. Yet despite living in one of the world’s most successful economies, there is still massive need here. Poverty today is at nearly peak levels for the region.
Just imagine what would be possible if every enterprise in our region contributed a small fraction of their earnings to local programs that directly addressed the most critical social needs of our community. Wouldn’t it be powerful if we all adopted a similar mindset and stepped up to fill the gaps in our communities?
As I reflect on our 15th Community Day, I am so proud to see our founder’s values come to life through employee volunteerism, but I also recognize that the challenges our communities face are bigger than any one company and any one effort. There will always be more, new and better ways to embrace the concept of profits through principles, and I hope that the business communities where we operate around the world will join us in being part of the solution.
The following article was originally published on LinkedIn, where LS&Co. leaders periodically share their perspectives and expertise on business trends, industry issues, careers and the workplace. Have thoughts or reactions to this piece? Head on over to LinkedIn to share them.