It’s rare I walk away from an interview and am genuinely blown away by what I’ve just heard, but when I attended Adobe’s Creative Conference MAX in Los Angeles last week, I found myself doing just that.
Speaking with Adobe’s Angie Bush, global head of technology to transform, and Amy White, global head of corporate social responsibility and social issues communications, I was genuinely enthralled by the conversation.
It’s easy to be cynical of big tech these days and particularly with their CSR efforts. However, Adobe is one of few technology organisations that can still hold its head high and walks its talk. Take, for instance, the fact that it, along with Apple, is one of only a handful of giant tech firms that didn’t indulge in the Elon Musk-triggered orgy of mass layoffs in 2023.
Make no mistake, Adobe is a big, for-profit organisation (US$250 billion big) and not shy of making hard business decisions. It’s not just green-washing, charity-washing or any other form of fake philanthropy to solely benefit its public relations image or share price.
Instead, it’s transforming what doing good means from a big company’s perspective. Not only that, it is demonstrating that the organising of effort to do good is sometimes just as important as the effort itself. For one thing, that organising and that effort must be driving relevance for your employees and your customers otherwise it just falls by the wayside.
It was exactly this organisation, to avoid a Tower of Babel situation, that White was brought in to execute. As with most happy endings, this project started with a look inward.
White says in 2020 the CSR function within Adobe reevaluated what its core beliefs were, which was a matter of asking what unique contribution can Adobe make.
She admits she was attracted to Adobe because it has been doing purpose-driven work for 40 years.
“And sometimes not in the shiniest way, which I actually think is quite different from many other companies that are trying to garner a lot of visibility with customers and with the press. Adobe has been giving away millions of dollars, been trying to give away product and what I liked about where we were was that all this goodness existed, but no one had ever really strategically organised it to say: Okay, we know we’re gonna give away money. We know we have these markets that we care about where we have employees, we know a handful of issues that are where we’re at the unique intersection of where our products and our philanthropy can impact a social issue. No one had built a framework, and that is what I love most: I like to put the framework around it to enable velocity.”
For Bush, who’s been with Adobe for four years, she was fortunate enough to attend her first Max Summit. “It was like fire hose and Kool-Aid all at the same time. I think it was just like wow: this really is the creative company. …
“Being in the CSR world and seeing that the [Adobe Foundation] that had already been built, the work that was going on, there was just so much that had already happened and so much to build on. And I think we had a lot of trust in the company to go and do that.”
Fast forward to today and Adobe has landed on four key pillars: Adobe for all, Creativity for all, Technology to transform and Sustainability at scale.
Adobe for all, is both Adobe’s diversity and inclusion work internally and supporting employees globally, but also how it shows up in its communities globally.
Creativity for all works on the idea that telling your story is the most powerful tool you have. So raising the voices of diverse creators and helping indigenous communities make sure that their stories, legends and ways of living are documented and preserved.
Technology to transform leans into Adobe’s great product mix that can transform the way that good is done in the world, White explains. “That is not just a nonprofit conversation anymore, either. It might be talking with Adobe’s enterprise customers to say: you have climate targets; you need to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. Here are three solutions we offer that are going to help you do that.
“But also making sure our nonprofits are alive and healthy and well well-appointed with products.”
Sustainability at scale is what it says on the tin. The entire Max conference with 10,000 delegates was this year carbon neutral for the first time, for example.
“I think we’ve made a lot of headway. We have a framework; we know what we’re doing. We know who our core grantees are. And we also know where we’re headed from a product and technology perspective. What the world needs. What are some of the unique ways we can go after some societal issues, whether that’s reading and reading acumen, whether that’s creative storytelling and marketing for small nonprofits. We have a couple of niche places where the products we offer can change the trajectory of the mission or an organisation,” White says.
A new era of CSR
Through its Technology to Transform pillar Adobe isn’t just giving away back-office product (such as Acrobat or InDesign), but is actually codesigning new products with its non-profit partners enabling them to achieve their mission. “We can help you get to your end game faster, hadn’t really been applied systemically,” White explains.
“That’s the era we’re in. That’s the new way of corporate social responsibility. You can’t just make a business case for doing good. If you can’t show how it’s driving relevancy in your customer segments, or bringing employees along on a journey in their local markets currently, you’ve lost the thread, but then to take a systems approach and bring in experts like Angie and others to say, this is what good looks like to drive that work forward,” White says.
Bush adds that what she has come to love from day one about Adobe is the authenticity. She tells me while she has worked with some really authentic large brands, for far too many others, CSR is just a tick-a-box exercise. She points to the launch of Adobe Express including a specific product for nonprofits.
“Taking a big product moment for Adobe and then making the premium version free for nonprofits everywhere. And we didn’t just do that. We went out we got an early adopter nonprofit cohort of 13 nonprofits globally. And they came in and they were doing early testing and they were telling us this is what we, we don’t really need this … We really wanted to tailor it to the nonprofit sector. We created training days, we created all kinds of resources, and really honed in on the offer and the ecosystem around that really benefit nonprofits and not just be like, here’s a product we’re going to slap a label of for nonprofits on it, we’re actually going to build something that you need,” Bush says.
We’re not only creating but we’re teaching at the same time and I think we have so many examples like this, you know, at the National Center for Missing Exploited Children is another great example of using Adobe products. We had. They use Photoshop too, and we worked very closely with some of our design team. It’s actually changed how the product works. They actually engineered new things in there based on this use case, where they were using our technology to age progress missing children who have been missing for five to ten years. And it’s actually helped bring children home.
Then they’re using our marketing tools to actually go out and target where they want to actually go and put the faces out into the communities.
Lead image credit: Limbitless
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