Starbucks: Creating Jobs and Digital Innovation

Esha Chhabra

June 15, 2012

This originally appeared in

Adam Brotman serves as Chief Digital Officer at Starbucks and attended the UN Social Innovation Summit recently.   He speaks to Dowser about Starbucks’ Create Jobs campaign and how the company is using the digital space for social impact.

Q: As Chief Digital Officer, how can you help implement digital strategies that have social impact, not just convenience?

Key aspects of our digital strategy involve telling our story and engaging with our customers.  This includes digital storytelling and engagement around our history and current efforts in the areas of community involvement, job creation, ethical sourcing and environmental responsibility.  We are able to activate our social channels, our Starbucks Digital Network and our web and mobile platforms to share these stories with our customers, engage them to learn about our values and our efforts,  and invite them to participate alongside of us in areas such as raising money to create jobs, serving alongside our partners (our word for our employees)  in community service activities, and to see what we are doing in our new store designs centered around environmental stewardship.

Q: Can you provide an update of the Create Jobs project that Starbucks initiated earlier?  What stage is it at now and much support/ funds has it been able to garner?

Since the November 2011 launch of our Create Jobs initiative, we’ve raised more than $10 million in donations, thereby directly supporting approximately $70 million in new financing. Part of the goal of this program was to bring in other like-minded companies so that we can amplify the good we’re doing and ultimately create more jobs. Both Google Offers and Banana Republic recently joined us in their support of Create Jobs and each held special programs to engage their customers. Google Offers hosted a special social gifting offer whereby people could purchase a $10 Starbucks Card eGift card for $5, and for every offer sold, Google Offers donated $3 to the Create Jobs initiative. Banana Republic introduced special shopping events where customers receive 25 percent off their purchases, and Banana Republic donated 5 percent of total purchases to the Create Jobs for USA Fund. Together these efforts have contributed more than $2 million to Create Jobs for USA.

Q: How do you think Starbucks can use the digital realm to have a broader conversation with consumers about social issues – whether it is sustainability, free trade, jobs, etc.?

We’re fortunate to have very passionate and engaged partners (employees) and customers throughout our social media and digital channels, and this is a natural place for us to have conversations around social issues and using Starbucks’ scale for good to make a positive, relevant and enduring impact. We get incredibly energized to see the feedback and ideas from our customers and partners, and then put them into action in ways that are meaningful and personal to them. For example, we pay close attention to our customers suggestions on, and we empower our partners and customers to engage in community service projects and share their experiences at  And we both listen and engage with our customers and partners at scale on channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Q: Was the Create Jobs project a shift away from general corporate philanthropy and a more innovative approach to bolstering existing organizations that are addressing some hard hitting issues, such as unemployment?

We know that the unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, and it’s been at more than 8 percent for more than three years (since Feb 2009). That translates to more than 12 million unemployed people, and that doesn’t even account for the people that are discouraged and have given up looking for work (1+ million people), or those who are working part-time due to the economy (8+ million).

To address this, we weren’t seeking to shift away from anything, but rather to extend our existing community efforts where we are lucky enough to be partnered with organizations that already have a strong infrastructure and knowledge base in area that we want to make an immediate impact in.  For our community stores in Harlem and Crenshaw, for example, we teamed up with Abyssinian Development Corporation and the L.A. Urban League to help make quick impact with the donations from our customers purchases in those stores.

And in the case of having an impact on the unemployment crisis, Starbucks teamed up with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) to introduce a program that would empower and activate Americans to help create and sustain jobs. Given OFN’s existing infrastructure and relationships with its member CDFIs, the Create Jobs for USA program is able to immediately put to work 100% of received donations to provide capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) across the country. In turn, these CDFIs provide loans to community businesses that need financing in order to create or sustain new jobs. These community businesses include small businesses, microenterprises, nonprofit organizations, commercial real estate, and affordable housing. By providing them much-needed financing, we’re helping to get the jobs engine in America moving again.

Q: Where do you feel that Starbucks has shown the lead in terms of social innovation?  And where can it continue to improve?

We are constantly learning from our customers, our partners and ourselves about how we can best impact the communities where we do business. We know that to create lasting change, we cannot do it alone, so we are excited to be working with like-minded organizations and with our amazing partners to have the right impact on our communities.   We have been fortunate to have been able to harness the power and passion of more than 200,000 global partners (employees) in more than 17,000 stores to mobilize and be a catalyst for change – equal to more than 1 million hours of community service. But, we are continually learning and improving, and are by no means are we done.

Q: What was a big takeaway for you from the UN Social Innovation Summit – what idea/ speaker/initiative intrigued you the most?

Jeffrey Swartz, former CEO of Timberland, was simply amazing.  He talked about “moral capitalism” and the importance and practicality of balancing doing well with doing good.  He was inspiring, as were so many of the speakers and attendees.  I was humbled to be there, and I was very impressed with the summit.  I came away inspired and educated, with a hunger to do even more.


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