Connecting Leadership Development and Corporate Social Responsibility

Guest post by: Andrew Upah

I recently had the privilege of attending the two-day ON Societal Impact summit at Deloitte University. The goal of the event was to create a common vision that connects talent strategy and corporate social responsibility. In addition to several subject matter experts from Deloitte, approximately 35 leaders from business, non-profits, and venture philanthropy attended the event.

Within the larger group, my team was tasked with creating a corporate leadership development program anchored by social impact. We identified that the main challenge to creating this type of program is companies’ organizational structure. In a typical corporation, leadership development programs would be led by Learning and Development (L&D), social impact would be led by Corporate Social Responsibility, and other HR programs, such as talent retention, would be led by a specific Center of Excellence.

Our solution was to create a leadership development program that centered around a full- or part-time social project. By providing emerging leaders with the opportunity to manage a philanthropic project, they would develop leadership and general business skills while making a positive impact in the community. The program would also cut across previously isolated corporate divisions: Learning & Development would define the project requirements and learning objectives, Corporate Social Responsibility would help identify the opportunity, and talent Centers of Excellence could nominate and select high performers.

Unsurprisingly, Deloitte is already a pioneer in this space. Through D2international (Developing our People, Developing our World), Deloitte pairs high-potential Analysts and Consultants with international NGOs for skill-based service projects. Recently, D2i worked with the Highland Support Project (HSP), which offers empowerment classes and job training to Mayan women in Guatemala. The Deloitte team enabled HSP to monitor and track the effectiveness of its programming, improve its processes and make more informed supply chain decisions. In just one month, Deloitte’s work helped HSP to increase revenues by $30,000.

Hybrid programs such as D2i that combine engaging activities, experiential learning, and a social goal have four key benefits:

  1. Development of individual competencies through real-world experiences
  2. Strengthening of companies’ leadership and corporate culture
  3. Increase in corporate reputation and brand value
  4. Positive impact on social issues in the community

For companies that do not have the resources to identify and execute these types of opportunities, there are intermediary organizations that can provide similar programs. My company Virtuali, for example, has a global leadership development experience (called Go!) that helps companies develop and engage emerging leaders. Part of the Go! program enables participants to “give back” through skills-based volunteering in Virtuali’s international locations. (For more information, please visit

Regardless of whether companies develop these programs on their own or work with an intermediary like Virtuali, there is an opportunity to follow Deloitte’s lead by donating their employees’ time and skills to philanthropic causes. It’s time for companies to work across organizational divisions to create leadership development programs that have a positive social impact.