This post is a part of our “Standing on the Platform for Good” series. For the original essay please see “Building a Platform for Good: Creating Value While Adding Value.”
Over the last few posts, we’ve read about the resiliency of the human spirit and the capacity each one of us has to accomplish meaningful, lasting impact. These are stories of people…being people. It’s not about the company in which they work, or even the individual circumstance in which they rose to the occasion. It’s about community—the community that grows more interconnected than ever as this world shrinks into itself aided by technology and globalization. It’s about what each of us adds to that community.
In today’s post I’d like to expand on this idea of individuals adding value to explore what’s possible when a person, backed with the resources of a business mindset, recognizes an opportunity to fill a need. This individual is Ken Poletti, a Benefitfocus associate of 15 years. As the company’s eighth associate, Ken was tapped to carry the Benefitfocus core values to San Francisco. He opened our West Coast office in 2012 and has been vital in maintaining our vibrant culture so far away from the corporate headquarters in Charleston, SC.
As the Senior Vice President of Ecosystem Partner Solutions, a major aspect of Ken’s job is recognizing the power of collaboration and partnership. This ability to see potential in seemingly unrelated components has benefited not only Ken throughout his career, but recently produced a notable amount of value for Peer Health Exchange—a community of volunteers set on giving teenagers the knowledge to make responsible health decisions.
After meeting with Louise Davis Langheier, Peer Health Exchange (PHE) co-founder and CEO, Ken championed for Benefitfocus to sponsor Lighthouse Community Charter High School in Oakland, CA. The funding provided a full year of PHE curriculum to 75 9th graders who would have otherwise not received health education, and the following year Ken chose to use his own money to provide continued support for the program.
To date, PHE has trained more than 7,500 college student volunteers to lead workshops on sexual health, substance abuse and mental health. By using college students who are only slightly older than the students they are teaching, honest conversations arise organically out of this affective peer model. One roadblock, however, is coordinating sufficient accommodations to train volunteers. When Ken discovered a last-minute need for space for one such training session, he gladly opened the Benefitfocus office on a Saturday, personally moved desks and chairs so the PHE staff and volunteers would have room to work and even bought lunch for everyone involved.
Ken also drew from his deep well of experience and fine-tuned skill set to offer strategic advice and leaned on his professional network to introduce Peer Health Exchange to businesses willing to donate time and resources to nonprofits. Many companies around the world have programs in which they offer their services or products for free or deeply discounted for nonprofit organizations, but sometimes it takes a new perspective to make these connections and amplify the nonprofit’s capacity for good.
It’s in this intersection of business and societal need where tremendous potential lies. Think for a moment about the scalability of adding value if we were able to connect our professional skill sets with the needs of society—if we could leverage the power and precision of for-profit business to drive innovation within nonprofit and socially conscious organizations. The reality is we can, and as Ken has shown us, it only takes one person to recognize a need and apply his or her skills to produce large, lasting impact, to quietly connect business motivations and social change.
And that is the thing the team and I have been searching for in this research—looking to cut through the buzzwords and lip service of corporate social responsibility to find the truth: that these communities exist naturally. That we don’t have to force them or brand them. We just have to nurture them, to give them the space in which they can flourish. So as we go forward and explore what it means to create shared value, we merely have to remember that everything we do in our own little communities ripple out and affect the greater whole, one selfless act at a time.
For more stories of associates adding value in their communities, please see the following posts from the "Standing on the Platform for Good" blog series: