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It’s Not About Charity, It’s About Producing Great Products

Among companies today, there’s a great deal of talk about corporate social responsibility. The term has become a buzzword for many businesses that lacks specific meaning. For some, philanthropic donations or employee volunteerism are believed to fulfill these responsibilities. Others support charity work in other ways in an effort to give back. While these activities are certainly admirable and helpful, they fall short when it comes to true corporate social responsibility. Charity might be good, but business products that benefit society should be the actual focus for these companies. This is where the most good can be done on a broader scale.

A big part of the problem when it comes to true corporate social responsibility involves a deep misunderstanding. Many believe anything that is environmentally friendly or benefits society falls into this category. But a more authentic approach to CSR doesn’t ignore a business’ ultimate mission or its values. Companies are in business to succeed, and that means making a profit and optimizing business performance. Therefore, it’s essential that business leaders develop a comprehensive and integrated strategy to excel while also being socially responsible. And that means designing, developing, and manufacturing business products that benefit society and that are also in demand.

(Dig into the topic of the social implications of disruptive technologies in this Bold story.)

“Many companies start with pet projects, philanthropy, or propaganda because these activities are quick and easy to decide on and implement. The question is how to move toward CSR strategies that focus on truly cocreating value for the business and society.” – Tracey Keys, Thomas W. Malnight, and Kees van der Graaf, Excerpt from McKinsley Quarterly

The Three Common Approaches to CSR

In a recent survey conducted by Harvard researchers, a poll was taken of 142 corporate managers. They were asked about current business practices related to CSR and described current activities. In analyzing the result, it was noted that three typical approaches were most common. The first, and most common, involved simple philanthropy, which failed to focus on business performance at all. The second included changes in operations that led to greater sustainability or better social conditions. While these might lead to higher profits, this was also not a priority concern. The third then involved a transformation of existing business models that sought to solve real social problems through new products. The development of these types of business products that benefit society reflected true corporate social responsibility.

These varying perspectives of CSR highlight many of the misperceptions about these concepts today. Indeed, philanthropy and charity are valued, but these lack the capacity to really help a business excel. Other than perhaps some positive public relations and brand promotion, these efforts are insufficient. Likewise, operational efficiencies and sustainable practices can lead to better profits. But the impact of these on both performance and society are usually minor at best. In contrast, business products that benefit society and address key problems are much more impactful. As true corporate social responsibility, these pursuits align social needs with business needs. As a result, these provide the most powerful results in total.

“Most people yearn to contribute, make the world a better place and have success…. all at the same time… Make sure to give your business a background, a mission and a story.” – Blake Mycoskie, CEO of TOMS

True Corporate Social Responsibility in Action

Fortunately, when looking for examples of true corporate social responsibility, many exist. Perhaps, one of the best examples involves TOMS shoes. The company donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every one purchased. This might initially be considered a donation or charity in isolation. However, TOMS utilizes its expertise to create products that meet social needs. It has now provided over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in poverty. Another example involves Hindustan Unilever Ltd. And its Project Shakti. Rather than utilizes existing wholesalers and distributors in rural India, it adopted a new business model. It recruited and trained rural women in sales and provided then with microloans. There are now more than 65,000 such women in India, and the project generated over $100,000 for the company. These companies designed business products that benefit society and excelled in the process.

Shelves full of great products
True corporate social responsibility is all about producing great products. That’s it.

The companies above are perhaps some of the better known ones that have designed business products that benefit society. But many companies today are adopting this new approach to true corporate social responsibility. For example, Seabin  is a company that introduced floating sea devices that collected ocean trash. Orbital Marine Power has designed and launched a massive tidal turbine facility that can power 2,000 homes with electricity. DB Breweries have introduced ATM-like machines that churn empty beer bottles into sand. The sand can then be used for beach restoration or construction. And some companies are exploring solar panels that can be used for roads. Not only could these contribute to the electricity grid, but they would also keep roads warm to enhance road safety. These are the types of products that create the real win-win needed in today’s world.

“Management time and resources are limited, so the greatest opportunities will come from areas where the business significantly interacts with—and thus can have the greatest impact on—society.” – Tracey Keys, Thomas W. Malnight, and Kees van der Graaf, Excerpt from McKinsley Quarterly

Transformation, Integration, and Congruence

True corporate social responsibility is about businesses transforming themselves with a greater focus on societal needs. This requires that businesses stay true to their mission and values, and it also demands an awareness about societal needs. Throughout history, new business products that benefit society have made tremendous impacts. The steam engine, printing press, and penicillin are important examples of this. Others have been introduced that make the world a healthier and safer place. Today’s electric car companies, solar energy designs, and recycling systems offer additional illustrations of these pursuits. The bottom line is while philanthropy and charity are needed, these fail to represent the best contributions businesses can make. Businesses have much more to offer when it comes to true corporate social responsibility.


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Diagnosing Brain Illnesses with ‘Eye Selfies’

As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Given the state of healthcare expenditures in the U.S. today, this valued insight has tremendous relevance. Of the nation’s total GDP, roughly 18 percent goes toward healthcare expenses. And despite these investments, the U.S. boasts far less superior patient outcomes than many other countries. Because of this, healthcare scientists are focusing more and more on preventative efforts to detect illnesses earlier. They also appreciate screening measures that are both inexpensive and easy to use. This has led to some pretty interesting considerations recently, especially with major advances in consumer technologies.

Most everyone is aware of the boom in health and fitness apps as of late. (Read more about that boom in this Bold story!) But this is likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumer engagement in self-care. Recently, researchers at the University of California in San Diego explored how an eye-selfie test might reveal early neurological illness. Using a neurological screening app that measures pupillary size changes, they observed some intriguing findings. For several brain-related conditions, their eye-selfie test showed changes that seemed to correlate well with more involved and costly testing. If these findings can be validated for specific illnesses, then their neurological screening app could be a game-changer.

“While there is still a lot of work to be done, I am excited about the potential for using this [eye-selfie test] technology to bring neurological screening out of clinical lab settings and into homes.” – Colin Barry, Electrical and Computer Engineering Ph.D. student, UC San Diego

A Window to the Soul and the Brain

For many years, clinicians and researchers have recognized that pupillary changes often correlate with some neurological conditions. In essence, our pupils constrict and dilate as a result of specific nerve inputs and neurochemicals. Therefore, if an illness affects these nerve impulses or chemical substances, pupillary movements may change. This may not only involve the speed with which constriction and dilation may occur but also the degree. This has led to using specific tests to assess these pupillary changes, which involves the use of in-office medical equipment. In recent years, it has been recognized that pupillometry can often provide early detection of some neurological diseases.

Interestingly, with advances in smartphone technologies, an in-office pupillometry machine may no longer be required. The eye-selfie test being proposed by UCSD researchers requires only the use of an everyday smartphone camera. Relying on the near-infrared capabilities of most built-in smartphone cameras, pupillary size changes can be tracked. In fact, the precision with which the eye-selfie test measures these changes are nearly as good as the in-office machines. Driven by a neurological screening app, changes in the speed and size of pupillary constriction and dilation can be determined. And if abnormal, it could indicate a number of conditions that range from dementia to neuropathy.

“A scalable smartphone assessment tool that can be used for large-scale community screenings could facilitate the development of pupil response tests as minimally-invasive and inexpensive tests to aid in the detection and understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. This could have a huge public health impact.” – Eric Granholm, Professor of Psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine and Director of the MHTech Center

Neurological Conditions for Pupillary Screening

It might seem odd that pupillary changes can suggest early disease. But the mechanisms that cause pupillary constriction and dilation share common pathways with other brain functions. Specifically, our autonomic nervous system regulates these changes. Therefore, diseases that alter autonomic nerve impulses can cause delays in the velocity or size of pupillary movements. In fact, pupillometry has been shown to provide early detection of diabetic neuropathy because of this. Using the neurological screening app and the eye-selfie test, early neuropathy disease could potentially be identified. In turn, this might offer earlier treatment to delay progression or even detect the presence of diabetes.

A drawing of a woman with something in her eye
A neurological screening app on your phone is the latest innovation in super-portable healthcare.

The neurological screening app may be used to detect the presence of other illnesses as well. The same eye-selfie test could show speed and size changes in pupillary movements reflective of some dementias. Specifically, reductions in cholinergic chemical activity in Alzheimer’s dementia causes such changes in pupillary activity. Even those with early brain tissue changes without clinical disease show slowed and reduced pupillary dilation and constriction. Pupillometry has also been used in screening for Parkinson’s disease and to measure changes in age-related attention spans. Understandably, the neurological screening app and the eye-selfie test could have broad applications.

“For us, one of the most important factors in technology development is to ensure that these solutions are ultimately usable for anyone. This includes individuals like older adults who might not be accustomed to using smartphones.” – Colin Barry

Next Steps for the Neurological Screening App

As you might imagine, one of the issues in using a neurological screening app on a consumer device involves usability. An eye-selfie test sounds simple enough for most, but many older adults lack technology skills in this area. These are notably the same group of individuals who may be higher risk for many neurological conditions. With that in mind, the researchers at UCSD tested their eye-selfie test among hundreds of older individuals. Using voice commands, image instructions, and inexpensive plastic scopes, usability was found to be quite good. Through a process of experimentation and feedback, they were able to refine their neurological screening app for the masses.

At the current time, there is not enough research to clearly define where an eye-selfie test might be useful. Indeed, it is as effective as pupillometry in the early detection of several illnesses. Likewise, the neurological screening app is user-friendly enough for widespread use. But more vigorous testing is needed in larger populations to determine how such a screening test may be most effective. Several researchers are in the process of doing just that in an effort to better guide screening practices. But existing research looks incredibly promising. In addition to data from our wearable devices, we might soon be sending eye-selfie-test results to our providers as well.


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Luxury Cabins Suspended by Space Balloons–Would You?

As we have seen over the last few years, the space tourism market looks to be growing. But not every luxury space travel company plans to compete with companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origins. Some are taking a different approach with one of the most recent ideas involving space balloons. Recently, a company called Space Perspective announced its plans to enter into the space tourism market by 2024. The company expects to offer space travelers an experience like no other. Their luxury cabins suspended by large hydrogen-filled balloons is much less intimidating when compared to rocket ships. And the price tag is significantly cheaper as well, which attracts a much larger segment of the space tourism market. In fact, Space Perspective is already booked out its first year highlighting the demand for luxury space travel. By making space journeys more accessible to the masses, these are the types of businesses that may truly excel.

“We wanted to find a way that really changed the way people think about spaceflight that makes it much more approachable and accessible.” –  Jayne Poynter, Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Space Perspective

Traveling in Space in Luxury

For those wishing to indulge themselves in luxury space travel, a space balloon might just be the way to go.  At least, this is Space Perspective’s take in the industry. Their space balloons strive to provide the perfect ambience for seeing space and the Earth from miles away. Each luxury cabin has five-foot high windows, allowing for a 360-degree panoramic view. At the same time, space travelers can relax in reclining seats with subdued lighting offering the ideal environment for viewing. And the décor, which itself boasts purple hues, also creates a relaxing atmosphere to optimize the journey.

According to Space Perspective, these types of features have been lacking from other prototypes in the space tourism market. Other space capsules are more sterile in their design and presentation. But their vessel, aptly named Neptune, hopes to greatly improve this situation. In addition to the features already mentioned, the Neptune also has a space lounger where travelers can enjoy food and beverages. The luxury space travel accommodations also have telescopes and interactive devices for guests. And of course, it offers Wi-Fi service so one can show friends and family their experience.

“The quintessential spaceflight experience is a shared human experience and we’re super proud of this significant milestone as we move full steam ahead toward commercial flight.” Taber MacCallum, Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Space Perspective

The Space Balloon Experience

The luxury space travel offered by the amenities on Space Perspective are appealing, but at what price? Can the space tourism market support such an offering? Compared to other space experiences, the space balloon seems like a good deal. For $125,000, one can secure a space balloon seat, much less than the $450,000 cost of a Virgin Galactic voyage. Once purchased, space travelers can expect a six-hour experience. Of this time, two hours are required for the ascent and descent with the remainder spent gliding above the Earth. Then, the experience concludes with an ocean splashdown.

(Read how Virgin Galactic won the billionaire space race in this Bold story.)

Based on the response thus far, it certainly seems like the space tourism market finds this option attractive. The company has planned 25 flights its first year, and all have booked already. In essence, this totals roughly 600 eager individuals ready to explore the luxury space travel Space Perspective offers. In addition, riding in the space balloon requires no special training, and it’s ecofriendly. The hydrogen gas used will be obtained through renewable energy sources and has zero emissions. In total, the space balloon looks to be a nice addition to the space tourism market.

“Our mission is to inspire space explorers to connect more closely with our planet and each other, and the environment in which they travel with us is central to this.” – Jayne Poynter

Space Travel or Not?

While luxury space travel in a balloon has many appealing features, some have issue with it. Specifically, some claim it doesn’t qualify for the space tourism market because its elevation is adequate. Space Perspective’s Neptune reaches a height of 20 miles above the ground, which is significantly higher than commercial flights at 6 miles. But it fails to reach the Karman Line of 62 miles, which purists say is needed for true space tourism. As a result, space travelers on the balloon never experience weightlessness during their experience. This contrasts with Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in this regard.

A fancy looking space cabin
The next evolution of the space tourism market? Apparently it’s all about riding in luxury cabins suspended by balloons into the upper atmosphere.

Despite not reaching the desired elevation, Space Perspective’s journey still climbs above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere. For the founders, they believe this is more than enough to achieve their overarching goals. Their primary mission is to make the space tourism market more accessible to more people. But at the same time, they wish to reinforce the importance of ecologic conservation and protection. Even at 20 miles above the Earth, it’s easy to appreciate the finite aspects of our environment. Thus, as far as their concerned, luxury space travel in a space balloon more than qualifies for space travel.

The Burgeoning Space Tourism Market

Initially, those wishing to explore space as individuals envisioned shelling out big bucks and investing in serious training. SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic looked to be the heavy hitters in this regard. But it now looks like the space tourism market may have a variety of options for space travel at varying price points. Certainly, the experiences won’t be the same, but it offers greater opportunities for people to explore this evolving frontier. Space balloons are simply the latest in this regard, but they’ll likely not be the last. The future of the space economy is definitely worth watching over the coming years.


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