What is a 'Social Good'

A social good is something that benefits the largest number of people in the largest possible way, such as clean air, clean water, healthcare and literacy. Also known as "common good," social good can trace its history to Ancient Greece philosophers and implies a positive impact on individuals or society in general. It also provides the basis for charity or philanthropic work.

Breaking Down 'Social Good'

The capitalism-based definition of business states that companies exist only to provide the maximum possible return to shareholders. This has often not run parallel to serving the common good in ways such as promoting clean air and water, and financial independence for all citizens. As corporations focus more on corporate sustainability efforts and social responsibility in recognition of a de facto social contract with the public, their business models may expand to include more work to promote social good in their day-to-day strategies and operations.

Social Good and Corporations

The decision of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the wealthiest person in the world, to allocate a significant sum of his wealth to solving some of the world's most intractable problems is an example of work benefiting the social good. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation runs programs to alleviate and cure diseases such as HIV, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, and more in developing countries.

Corporations keen to promote an image of themselves as socially conscious and responsible have created programs that seek to highlight their work toward social good. Aside from the positive feelings such programs generate, doing work that benefits the social good can give a company a sense of purpose and passion. That can help with productivity, innovation and growth, as employees who believe in their company's mission tend to invest more of their effort and passion into their work. Working toward a social good also has the effect of building bonds with the community. In helping a community or group of people a company may hope that their effort is rewarded with sales.

Corporate investment in the social good can also help a company build and maintain its brand and its identity, as well as loyalty. A good example of this is the Newman's Own brand, which discloses clearly on its label "all profits to charity." Those charities include ones related to ecology, conservation and religious causes, among others.

Social Good and Social Media

Increasingly, social good has been connected with social media in that its definition has expanded to include a shareable deed or sentiment. Social media platforms are becoming a part of the social good in that they are an efficient way to educate the public, and advocate and fundraise for programs that support the social good. It also means that individuals, not just governments, corporations or charities, can advocate for the social good.

Aristotle described the common good as "proper to, and attainable only by, the community, yet individually shared by its members."


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