How Twilio Embeds Social Impact
Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, is a widely respected serial founder and investor. He is an active philanthropist who is fiercely committed to the San Francisco Bay Area. His personal belief system is woven into Twilio’s modus operandi. This deep infusion of collaborative, long-term thinking is evident across the company: in the impact team’s organizational structure, organizational and strategic business decisions, as well as in Twilio’s responses to changing social dialogue.
Here are five ways Twillio strategically embeds social impact into its operating mode:
Resourcing Social Impact
- The Impact team’s organizational structure aligns with Twilio’s impact goals
It’s not surprising for a messaging company to think in waves and networks, but it’s remarkable how intentional Twilio has been in setting up self-perpetuating impact initiatives, including its own impact team.
We deliberately bucked the trend of operating a nonprofit arm separately from the core business, instead establishing Twilio.org as a business unit within Twilio. This allows Twilio.org to tap into corporate teams in employee engagement, marketing, sales, partnerships, and product — rather than exist as an outsider — and infuse a social impact and community engagement perspective across Twilio’s global workforce.
— Twilio 2020 Impact Report
Twilio.org is unusual among tech company impact organizations: the team was not spun out as a corporate foundation. Twilio.org is funded by the 1% of Twilio equity set aside in 2015, as part of its commitment to Pledge 1%, to fund its impact arm for 10 years. This capital carve-out — which Twilio manages via a Donor-Advised Fund — ensures the team’s grants and investments are funded until 2025.
What happens in 2025? Unlike other tech company social impact teams, Twilio.org was intentionally created with a revenue model: Twilio.org sells Twilio’s products at a big discount to nonprofits. Those sales fund Twilio.org’s grants and startup investments, and will eventually sustain all Twilio.org’s expenditures, including grants, investments, and salaries, in perpetuity.
2. The Impact team has the seniority, visibility, and resources it needs
“Social Impact is a C-suite business unit”
— Suprita Makh, Impact Manager at Twilio.org
Chief Social Impact Officer Erin Reilly is part of the Executive Team and reports to Jeff Lawson, Twilio’s CEO. In late 2020, Twilio hired its first Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Officer — another C-suite role. It also assembled an Ethical Use Working Group to determine the ethical use of the company’s services, led by a newly-named VP of Ethical Use.
3. Twilio leverages business systems and processes for impact objectives
During the protests that followed the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Twilio — like many large companies — made a statement committing to being an anti-racist company. Unlike many, however, Twilio set company-wide goals. It publicly tracks its progress against its commitments to anti-racism. Accountability for hitting these goals was held by various C-suite members, led by the CEO himself.
Twilio’s virtuous circles of impact
4. WePledge 1% helps Twilions expand their impact
Under Pledge 1%, companies commit 1% of equity, time, product, and/or profit, to do good. Twilio’s Impact Corps provides nonprofits a seamless way of leveraging Twilio employees — who call themselves Twilions — who want to volunteer their time and skills. The company built WePledge 1%, a platform providing curated, updated opportunities for its employees to volunteer and donate time, money, and company equity.
5. Twilio built a platform to mobilize all tech employees
The company wants to expand this approach further, and has made WePledge 1% open-source. So far, Okta, Zoom, and Atlassian have signed on, with 8 additional companies joining in Q3 2021. WePledge 1% is also open to individuals who have taken a personal 1% pledge or are curious about how they can give back.
“This is a core example of Twilio’s virtuous cycle approach: build a system that will sustain itself, and expand the organization’s impact beyond its direct footprint.”
— Suprita Makh, Impact Manager