It is becoming widely accepted that the millennial generation is defined, in large part, by a “socially conscious” mindset. This commitment to social responsibility, awareness, and change is increasingly seeping into the world of business, where millennials — by sheer size and influence — are growing into target consumers for a massive range of companies. Businesses are increasingly incorporating social impact into their DNA in order to engage their employees, appeal to consumers, and ultimately be more successful.
Understanding the demands of this socially conscious generation, Alexandre Mars created Epic Foundation as a platform to bridge the gap between individual and corporate donors and organizations supporting children and youth globally. After successfully launching and selling several companies in Europe and North America over the last 15 years, the French-born entrepreneur pivoted in 2013, leveraging his business skills and acumen in an effort to bring philanthropy into the 21st century.
Epic enables donors to engage in their charity through technology, allowing them to select, monitor, and experience their impact in real time. “We believe that individuals and companies have a responsibility to share their success and give back,” Alexandre says, “and our goal is to make giving the norm in our society.”
In this IVY Magazine interview, Alexandre shares his journey to founding Epic, the strategies his company is innovating to make philanthropy a central component of everyday life, and insights from a career that has people calling him the “Bill Gates of France.”
Alexandre Mars, CEO & Founder of Epic Foundation. Credit: Leonard Stall / How to do good
What was the inspiration for creating Epic?
I always knew I would use my success for good — it was embedded in me from a young age. Upon selling my fifth startup, I went on a journey to decide how exactly that would be. My wife and I pulled our kids out of school and spent months traveling the world — from Peru to Mongolia, Sydney to Moscow — sitting down with local people, philanthropists, policy makers, and NGOs, asking: “How does giving work in your country? How do you experience social impact? What could help you give more?”
This period of market research revealed that there were three majors reasons that prevented people from giving more: they did not trust social organizations, they did not know which organization they should give to, and they did not have the time to look into it.
We live in a digital age, so it doesn’t make sense for philanthropic organizations to rely on antiquated paper reports and solicitation letters as a way to reach impact or engage with donors.
As an entrepreneur, I was able to identify these gaps and understand how I could use my two decades of skills and experiences to fill them in. If we could bring solutions that increase trust in the act of giving, that connect donors to their impact, and that increase their awareness, we would make a difference. Epic was born.
How does Epic use technology to promote awareness?
During my market research, I quickly noticed a disconnect between donors and the organizations they support. We live in a digital age, so it doesn’t make sense for philanthropic organizations to rely on antiquated paper reports and solicitation letters as a way to reach impact or engage with donors. At the end of the day, donations are an investment in social good and as an investor, you want to know where your money is going, what it’s doing, and who it’s serving.
At Epic, we use technology to change the act of giving. Our team not only builds and manages a portfolio of rigorously vetted social organizations, but we track and monitor their social impact through a data platform called the Impact App. We leverage technology to keep donors connected and engaged with the portfolio organizations through ongoing reporting of performance and accountability so that giving becomes a two-way conversation. Our app allows the donors to not only interact and see what’s happening with the organization, but it also enables them to see the impact of their donation. It’s tangible ROI in the social sector!
What do you look for when selecting organizations? What makes an organization stand out?
Each year, we go out looking for the world’s most impactful organizations working to empower children and youth in order to connect them to our global network of philanthropists and corporations looking to give in a more strategic and engaged way. To identify these organizations, we built a new network across the world of leading foundations, funders, and think-tanks. This has enabled us to identify and receive unique applications from over 3,500 organizations across 110+ countries since 2015.
We’ve only felt the tremors of a new socially-conscious generation hungry for impact — the wave is only getting larger! — so the market is definitely on your side.
We measure each organization by carefully reviewing quantitative and qualitative findings across three focus areas: impact, operations, and leadership. Within each of these three focus areas, our team analyzes fifteen factors unique to each focus area for a total of forty-five data points.
We really dive deep to get to know the organization. Our process is like an investment. Basically, if you were to invest your money in any for-profit start-up, you would follow almost the same rules: what kind of impact does the organization have, what kind of management team is in place, and what’s the structure of the organization? Making it through our selection stages is what makes an organization stand out. The first two stages of our review process are rigorous. They’re designed to surface the best organizations. If you make it far, it’s not because you had one shiny achievement or one stand-out department, it’s because you have a solid organization with a good mission, approach, and make up that is achieving impact.
What are the new giving strategies you have introduced, and what will they accomplish?
In line with our mission to provide solutions to the problems restricting people from giving, we’ve created a set of solutions that make giving painless through systematic change.
We started with the launch of several pledges – Epic 1% Profit Pledge for profitable companies, Epic Sharing Plegde for venture capitalists, Epic Founders Pledge for entrepreneurs. We just announced our most recent pledger — AI incubator All Turtles and their CEO, former Evernote Co-Founder Phil Libin.
More recently, we launched our options of Payroll Giving and Transactional Giving to enable employees and consumers to turn rounding change into meaningful impact. We’re working with a number of brands to make this approach more pervasive at a consumer level, and we continue to bring onboard more companies for payroll giving — the most recent one being French fashion powerhouse, Christian Dior Couture.
In practice, we worked with Christian Dior Couture to create an option of payroll giving for their 1,300+ employees. With our help, the employees of Christian Dior are blurring the lines between work and purpose by donating a small part of their paychecks to organizations that empower disadvantaged children. At the same time, Dior is better able to engage with their employees by matching their donations. Systematic, painless, and rewarding!
Credit: Epic Foundation
When did you realize that you wanted to focus your efforts on being a social leader?
It started pretty early. As a child, I was greatly influenced by my parents. My mom worked for a French skincare company and then made the decision to leave everything to raise her children. She enriched my life with her devotion to humanity. Growing up with such a strong role model, I developed many of her passions and interests in helping others. My father was an entrepreneur as well, and I learned a great deal from him. I adopted his strong work ethic.
The first social endeavor I ever participated in was also the first time I felt a sense of community. At 14, I was the class leader in my middle and high school, elected by the community. I attended board meetings, advocating for the rights of students.
Years later, my wife’s work with the Missionaries of Charity – the late Mother Theresa’s organization in India – had a profound impact on me. When I was working as a venture capitalist in NY at 25, I traveled to Delhi to spend time with her in an orphanage for underprivileged children. I saw first-hand the effects of poverty and inequality on children. It’s why I chose to focus on child and youth-related causes when I founded Epic Foundation – I wanted to build an organization that would help children grow up healthy and protected from harm, so they can reach their full potential.
What advice would you give to someone looking to begin their own philanthropic endeavor or socially-conscious start-up?
I would say, start now. We’ve only felt the tremors of a new socially-conscious generation hungry for impact — the wave is only getting larger! — so the market is definitely on your side.
Figure out what you’re good at — something only you can bring — and put it to work for purpose, not just profit. Then become successful; we need people like you out here.
Can you name three specific ways individuals can make a concrete social impact in their daily lives?
Get engaged. If you’re giving, find out how you can do more. If you’re not, start figuring out which cause you’re passionate about and do something meaningful to defend it.
Put your skills, network, and capital to work. Find out where you excel. Maybe you can’t donate as much as you’d like right now, but you can offer us your skills. Maybe you’re still attaining skills, but you know people that really want to do more and you can connect us.
Talk to your Manager or HR. Ask them about current CSR initiatives and results. Ask them how you can get involved. We have made several giving solutions available to suit various types of industries so you can choose to utilize them. Perhaps your company will be the next to join us and support the lives of underprivileged children and youth!