Executives don’t like to be told they’re missing out on opportunities to expand their business. The fact is they are.
Most view donating to campaigns to solve world problems as nice things they do to make their customers like them better. Some elevate their efforts to strategic marketing initiatives. But in almost every case, these contributions are actually investments, usually in untapped markets, that are apt to reap a return.
Does that make the gifts less honorable? Hardly. It makes them more sustainable.
When Hillary Clinton became U.S. Secretary of State in 2009, one of her top priorities was to create a new infrastructure of public-private partnerships to tackle social crises worldwide. She recognized a reality: Cross-border global problems are too vast and complicated for one government, one foundation, one public interest group or one company to solve.
Secretary Clinton used what State called the “power to convene” to reach out to disparate corporations, foundations and public interest groups through the Global Partnership Initiative she launched. I helped create and lead that agency for the next four years, and our pitch to the private sector was, “Do good so you can do well.”
Lots of companies and nonprofits still didn’t get it, but fortunately companies like Dow Corning, Morgan Stanley and Shell Oil did. They joined with several foundations and public interest groups to attack a world crisis that most people still don’t recognize as a problem—making sure people have clean cookstoves to use. Sound a little too micro to be thought of as a global concern? Consider this data: It is the fourth largest killer on the planet, taking the lives of 4 million people annually. That’s more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
Cross-border problems are too vast and complicated for one government, one foundation, one public interest group or one company to solve on their own.
Nearly 3 billion people daily cook on open fires and cookstoves fueled by coal or wood. In places like Africa, Asia and Latin America, the pollution from the smoke and toxic emissions disproportionately sickens women and children, who tend to do the cooking or at least be in the home where the cooking is done. Inhaling these fumes causes lung cancer, heart disease, childhood pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as burns from open flames, home fires and low-birth weights. The black carbon and methane discharges exacerbate already deadly air pollution, particularly in urban areas, and are considered a contributor to worsening climate change.
We organized a partnership of these three companies, the United Nations Foundation, the World Health Organization and public interest groups such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India and formed the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. We raised $30 million directly and another $115 million in U.S. investments, including up to $50 million from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. We enlisted Julia Roberts and Chef José Andrés as spokespersons, and to date have engaged 38 countries to sign on—24 that are addressing the issue within their borders and 14 donor countries.
Rather than give cookstoves away, the aim of our campaign was to create markets and standards for cookstoves and then help people purchase them. We opened a business, not a charity, with a target of 100 million households adopting clean cookstoves by 2020. For Dow Corning, Morgan Stanley and Shell, we provided an opportunity to become more acquainted with emerging markets, particularly in Asia and Africa, in a way that focused on their core business strengths in technology and innovation. We also afforded a chance for the emerging markets involved to get to know the companies.
By creating similar models for solving global problems, we are helping to make these often-overlooked consumer markets in the developing world more easily accessible and potentially productive to multinationals. This ultimately can translate into more investment and economic growth for the regions.
The Global Partnership Initiative also created the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA), a partnership that helps first-generation Americans to economically assist family and friends remaining in their countries of origin. In 2012 more than $534 billion was sent to developing nations as part of this diaspora largesse. The money flow ultimately enhances the image of the U.S. and helps raise the standard of living in the recipient countries. IDEA, which works with companies such as Western Union, provides support to diaspora entrepreneurs and encourages diaspora giving and technology exchanges.
Another example of a thriving public-private partnership is mWomen, which works to close the gap between the number of men and women who own mobile phones—estimated at 300 million fewer women in 2009. Spearheaded by mobile phone industry trade association GSMA with support from the State Department and the Cherie Blair Foundation, this campaign has managed to increase cell phone ownership among women in Iraq from 20 percent of the subscription base to 40 percent, to give one illustration.
John Kerry is keeping the office Secretary Clinton began. But there is no reason why corporations and NGOs can’t exercise the power to convene on their own and form alliances to identify global problems that need addressing. From climate change, to hunger and poor nutrition, to insufficient supplies of clean water, to the lack of preventive health care or any health care, to the need for more access to education, to discrimination against women, the world is facing plenty of large, cross-border problems that not only take a village to solve, they need a partnership.
Photo: Georgetown University, U.S. State Department