Sophie Wolfe enthusiastically shakes my hand when we are introduced. This recent college graduate is the Head of Social Impact for Leesa, the online mattress retailer that is one of the fastest growing companies in the world. It's her "gap year" job before she heads to graduate school to earn a master's degree in social work (Sophie studied clinical psychology and child development). I'm meeting Sophie in connection with the launch of "The Leesa Dream Gallery" (on Wooster Street in SoHo, New York), one of the projects she is "overseeing" as the head of the company's social impact program. Her passion for her role is evident from how she describes joining forces with ArtLifting to provide homeless, formerly homeless, and disabled artists with the opportunity to earn their own income through selling their artwork in The Leesa Dream Gallery. Let's get real here - this college grad is not simply "overseeing" the social and community matters the company is implementing, Sophie is defining the program, and the future impact the role will have within the company.
Leesa's social impact program is as bold and audacious as its plans to disrupt the mattress industry: its mission is to support organizations that are working towards long-term solutions for homelessness. Leesa partners with 501(c)(3) organizations that share its conviction that everyone deserves to be treated with compassion and dignity. And that social mission is a central part of company's DNA, playing a role every day in every aspect of the business - from the customer experience agent arranging donations to the marketing team working with Leesa's giving partners to help spread their mission.
Here's the program Sophie is currently overseeing:
- Leesa's One-Ten program which donates one mattress for every ten the company sells. Sophie connects with partner shelters to understand their needs and then coordinating the bulk donations of brand new mattresses (partner shelters include Norfolk Union Mission and the Bowery Mission). Since Leesa launched in January 2015, the company has donated over 5000 mattresses.
- Leesa is committed to minimizing its impact on the environment, and Sophie oversees the company's robust environmental responsibility initiative which includes a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation (Leesa's One-Earth program plants one tree for every mattress sold). Leesa's CEO has made a personal commitment that his company will plant over 1 million trees over the by the year 2025.
- Leesa's social impact program is the heart and soul of the business, so Sophie really is the steward of company culture. The Leesa One-Community program provides Leesa employees with time off to engage with the community. Employees also have the opportunity to visit Leesa's giving partners during donation events.
Sophie came into this corporate role having real-world experience working with the homeless population, but lacking a real sense of how these types of social issues can be approached at the macro level (specifically through private sector companies, like Leesa). Now, with work experience under her belt, Sophie offers up this guidance for other emerging companies looking to implement a social impact initiative:
1. Choose a clear mission that relates to your company and to which you can make the largest impact. (i.e. because Leesa is a mattress company, focusing on homelessness and donating its product to organizations serving homeless populations made sense for the brand).
2. Understand your impact and don't try to recreate infrastructure that already exists for social issues (i.e. Leesa intentionally chose to partner with organizations with established and effective methods for helping individuals transition out of homelessness).
3. Be genuine and don't see your program as something simply to drive business! The number of companies that boast a social mission (and uses it to advertise their product) continues to grow. Make your program real and meaningful--because it is the right thing to do as a company in today's world and because you care.
4. Engage your employees. Allow your team to feel ownership over the program so that it stays relevant for all employees and is built into the company culture.
Starting in August, Sophie begins graduate school to pursue her Masters degree in clinical social work and plans to serve as an intern at an agency that provides clinical care for the homeless. Taking on the social impact role at Leesa has allowed her to understand societal issues at a macro level, an experience she knows will help her offer effective care to individuals at the micro level. For other post-college millennial job-seekers looking to work for a company making an impact, Sophie has these suggestions:
1. Look for a company dedicated to a social cause that you deeply care about. If your thing is environmental responsibility, find a company that puts it at the core of its social impact program. It feels good to go to work everyday and create an impact on something you deeply care about.
2. Make sure the program is genuine and not just a marketing ploy. If social impact is something you value, you want to work for a company that you respect and are proud of.
3. Recognize that one company alone cannot change the world. Facing deeply rooted societal issues head on can sometimes be overwhelming and seem like a hopeless cause. Look for opportunities to partner with other organizations that share your mission.