09/27/2012 08:08 pm ET Updated Nov 27, 2012

Creating Thriving Communities -- Leveraging Partnerships to Create Community-Based Impact

We've all heard the saying "walk a mile in someone else's shoes." The lesson that you can't understand another person's perspective until you've stood and looked at the world from their viewpoint was instilled in me from a very early age. It is now a lesson that I hope to pass on to my daughters. It's also a philosophy that we take seriously at Starbucks.

In an era when cities are going bankrupt and the need for jobs is heightened, corporations have a real opportunity to redesign their community engagement and be innovative in how they can create sustainable change. It's no longer impactful to pick one overarching cause and hope that the contributions will reach all communities in need -- it's imperative that corporations take a moment to walk in the shoes of the communities they're trying to reach.

At Starbucks, we work to determine how we can do better while being more intentional and embedding long-term sustainability into our community engagement. As a result, we launched an exciting new business model last year in two historically underserved communities -- Harlem in New York City and Crenshaw in Los Angeles. We teamed up with change making organizations that know these markets best -- Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC) and the Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) -- to create not only a profit sharing partnership but a meeting place intended to promote community interaction and cultivate conversation. Our belief is that if we empower a model of shared success and fund programs with proven track records, it will result in a stronger culture and community connection.

As it turns out -- it's working.

Over the past year, ADC and LAUL have received a combined total of nearly $245,000 in additional funding for their programs, but more importantly, we've seen these communities come together in entirely new ways. In Crenshaw, LAUL organized meetings between community members and the local police at the Community Store to discuss safety and put faces and names to the men and women meant to protect their neighborhood. In Harlem, ADC has had great success with its Community Store funded program YouthBuild, which provides area youth with important workforce skills and has resulted in students who are empowered and excited to give back to the neighborhood they grew up in.

This week, we're thrilled to announce that we're taking the next step in cultivating and growing the Community Store program by opening our third store in Houston's East End Neighborhood in collaboration with the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA). We're again looking to this organization to help us best understand the unique challenges of the neighborhood. AAMA is a grassroots organization serving nearly 30,000 people in the Mexican American and broader Latino and new immigrant communities of Houston. We know from the most recent U.S. Census that a large portion of the nation's economic growth will depend on the millions of Latino children in the U.S. public school system and on the educational employment opportunities that they are given. Together, with AAMA, we're working to help ensure that students in the Houston area receive the best possible education and are prepared to be the workforce leaders of the next generation.

The best part of this process is that we're learning from each other. We've learned through our experiences with ADC and LAUL how important immersion is for both our Starbucks partners (employees) and the nonprofits. In Houston, partners will have to opportunity to shadow AAMA leaders as they work within community and members of the AAMA team will be spending quality time in their new Gulfgate Community Store. This type of cross-learning by taking a spin in one another's shoes not only makes us more compassionate as people, it makes our investment in the community that much more meaningful, sustainable and mutually beneficial.