KateAntonacci_wTitleBy Kate Antonacci, Panera Bread

At Panera Bread, we believe in the power of turning our core competencies against societal ills. When we first decided to address the issue of hunger in America through the development of a donation-based cafe model, there were many who told us that as a publicly traded company, it didn’t make “business sense” for Panera to devote time and resources to building a non-profit enterprise. On that score, I’d argue that they were wrong. Our concept – Panera Cares – is about a conscious approach to business in which making a difference in our communities makes a difference for our business. Panera Cares is a powerful differentiator that helps build trust with our customers, pride with our associates, and ultimately enhances our competitive advantage.

At the end of the day, unless we take care of the society we live in, there won’t be any society left to support us. If we don’t view ourselves and our companies as part of a sustainable model, we won’t be around very long. We must give as much as we extract. Not only is it a smarter way to do business, but it’s also the right thing to do.

As citizens of this world, our companies have an obligation to contribute to society in a way that goes beyond philanthropy. It’s time for us all to look within and figure out how we’re going to harness our non-renewable resources— namely, our time and know-how— to directly address the world’s inequities. This is about taking an unconventional path to create better solutions. This is about proving that our companies can use their core competencies to make a substantive and lasting impact in this world we all share.

Kate Antonacci is responsible for Panera Bread’s initiatives on fighting food insecurity, fixing a broken food system, and being a good corporate citizen. She’s helping Panera elevate the national discussion about hunger and food policy issues in America. She’ll be at MCON14, discussing with other industry leaders how companies can change to incorporate cause work and a Millennial workforce.