The end of a year, and even more so, the end of a decade, is a time when companies look back, take stock of their accomplishments and progress and set new goals for the coming year and beyond. Last week, Qualcomm released its 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report, with provided an update on its environmental, social and governance performance over the past year. Corporate social responsibility—that is, the work that for-profit businesses do to give back to their communities and society at large—is not a new concept. However, it has gained importance in recent years, as more socially conscious millennials join the workforce and desire to both work for and patron companies that share their values. CSR efforts have become even more critical in the pandemic context since so much of the world faces unprecedented economic and emotional hardship. The tech industry’s place in this is particularly unique, given its role in enabling remote work and maintaining social lives. Overall, I’ve been very impressed by how the industry has stepped up to meet the moment. Let’s take a look at how Qualcomm exemplifies the change it wants to see in the world.
2020 in retrospect
Qualcomm divides its corporate responsibility efforts into four areas where it believes it can make the most significant impact: purposeful innovation, STEM education, responsible business and “our people.” In its efforts to foster equity and inclusion within its ranks, Qualcomm reported a 17% increase in women’s representation in engineering roles over the last two years. Qualcomm said its workforce had seen a 12% increase in historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups within the tech industry in the same period. When put to the people, a diversity survey of Qualcomm employees found that workers’ regard for Qualcomm as an inclusive workplace had increased by 10% since FY19.
On a larger scale, Qualcomm shared that its Wireless Reach programs have reached 20 million people in 48 countries and five continents. Wireless Reach brings Qualcomm’s wireless technology to many different parts of underserved communities—education, healthcare, public safety, environmental sustainability and entrepreneurship, to name a few. Wireless Reach is a big part of Qualcomm’s overall CSR strategy and what I would consider one of the program’s biggest differentiators.
Another accomplishment Qualcomm highlighted was the launch of its Small Business Accelerator program. Through this initiative, Qualcomm delivered its solutions, collaboration tools and support to boost 33 small businesses in their transition to a mobile-first digital workplace—a long-term necessity for any business hoping to remain viable in the coming years. Qualcomm says this program has enabled these businesses to keep operations going and stay afloat through the pandemic.
Qualcomm also shared that its Thinkabit weeklong summer camps for STEM grew in 2020. Since the program began, Qualcomm says it has inspired over 78,500 students to pursue engineering. Additionally, the company said that as of 2020, it had provided access to FIRST programs (for STEM), to over 29,000 students, predominately from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
In the realm of environmental responsibility, Qualcomm orchestrated its first climate scenario analysis in 2020, which the company says will help address climate-related risks and opportunities. The 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report features two climate-related indices—the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, TCFD, and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, or SASB.
What the future holds
Qualcomm’s report also laid out its corporate responsibility goals for 2025. These include:
- An impact on 27 million people in underserved communities worldwide via Wireless Reach
- a 15% increase in both the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in leadership roles
- a 20% increase in underrepresented minorities in the business overall
- a 30% reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions (from 2014 levels)
- a 10% yearly reduction in power consumption for flagship Snapdragon Mobile Platform offerings
- an audit of all manufacturing suppliers every two years to verify compliance with its Supplier Code of Conduct
- an impact on 1.5 million students and teachers worldwide via STEM initiatives
The report also included some information on the company’s 2030 plan, though these items were more “big picture” than specific targets. By 2030, the company hopes to:
- employ a diverse workforce that is more representative of the communities it operates within
- be regarded as a global leader in business conduct and ethics
- adhere to supplier code of conduct in the extended supply chain
- factor human rights into all business decisions
- engage stakeholders in CSR programs
- transparently manage sustainability efforts around climate and water impact across the value chain
Naturally, there is a fair amount of overlap between the other CSR programs out there. However, the 10% yearly reduction in power consumption stuck out to me as something I hadn’t heard before. A one-time 10% reduction, while still helpful, is not all that ambitious. But achieving that year after year could make a huge impact. I’m also impressed by how Qualcomm spreads its efforts across many different causes—many others tend to pick and choose which projects to undertake instead of using such a broad brush.
I’ve got a small list of companies in mind who I think are knocking CSR out of the park. Qualcomm is one of them, along with Cisco Systems and HP Inc. These companies at the vanguard are doing important work, showing that big business doesn’t have to succeed at the expense of sustainability, equality and good public works. Qualcomm is following the right recipe for success: setting goals, monitoring progress and achieving measurable results. The world will be better for it.