It is no secret that corporate social responsibility campaigns can be powerful sales tools.
More and more companies are aligning their values with a cause so they can market their good deeds right along with their products.
But CSR campaigns can be equally effective when leveraged to complement advocacy messages. Just take a look at Uber.
The mobile-app-based transportation company has undergone tremendous growth over the past few years. In that time, it has also garnered some bad press. To combat that, Uber has embarked on a new CSR strategy.
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Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, a women’s rights resolution adopted by the UN at the end of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. The intended purpose of the resolution was to “advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere.”
It is fitting then that Uber chose the date to announce that it would partner with UN Women to create 1 million jobs for women by 2020. While the move is a timely and significant step toward gender equality, the partnership is also a shrewd strategic move on Uber’s part.
In the U.S. and around the world, lawmakers enjoy the convenience of ridesharing and are experiencing the value of Uber first-hand. But in Washington, Uber is as well known for its long-running and contentious fight with the D.C. taxi industry as it is for its convenience.
Negative publicity gave credence to taxi lobbyists arguing for stricter ridesharing regulations on the local, state, national and global levels.
Faced with an onslaught of policy threats, Uber hired former Obama advisor David Plouffe to head its Washington policy and strategy office.
In the company’s announcement of Plouffe’s new role, CEO Travis Kalanick stated that Uber was engaged in a “political campaign” against “the Big Taxi cartel.” Taxis, according to Kalanick, were guilty of using “decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers.”
In that same announcement, Kalanick affirmed that his company needed to start participating in the public debate about the value of his car service to communities.
“Uber has been in a campaign but hasn’t been running one,” Kalanick said. “That is changing now”
And so it has.
Uber as Corporate Leader
This latest partnership with UN Women is not the first of Uber’s social responsibility efforts. In 2014, shortly after hiring Plouffe, the company launched UberMilitary, a campaign to provide 50,000 members of the military with jobs.
If Uber can make a case that it is bringing substantive, lasting, positive change to the communities it serves, lawmakers will have a hard time coming up with good reasons to block Uber’s operations—especially if successful social responsibility campaigns make it more likely that voters will side with Uber in the long term.
The company has its work cut out for it: Uber’s Legislation Blog currently lists legislative battles in Florida, Texas, Maryland and Hawaii.
But with the recent announcement that Uber would be expanding funding by $2.8 billion (bringing the company to a $40 billion valuation) and partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to create an Advanced Technologies Center to focus on “autonomous car technology” (aka, the driverless car), Uber is behaving like the corporate leader it is.