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Poverty Solutions: What Can Businesses Do?

Leon Kaye | Monday March 18th, 2013 | 2 Comments
Poverty solutions, Vodafone, India, Leon Kaye

Vodafone’s poverty solutions program includes sending employees to work with NGOs (Leon Kaye)

Poverty solutions of various approaches have been underway for decades, many of which have shown only mixed results. While the global middle class is still growing and many developing countries have made impressive gains, clearly more work can be done. Government and NGOs are unable to solve poverty on their own; and therefore the past few years have witnessed a trend of businesses partnering with non-profits to take on the globe’s most pressing challenges. Market-based solutions are starting to show results as the world’s poor have always proven they want a stake, not handouts, in their local water sources, environment and economy.

So how can business work with NGOs, local governments and directly with the world’s poorest citizens on finding poverty solutions? Here are three ways businesses can start:

Help build expertise and capacity:

Instead of writing checks to charities, an effective poverty solutions strategy a company can launch is to lend their employees to non-profits on a part- or full-time basis. In India, the telecom giant Vodafone partners with the NGO Dasra and assigns 25 employees to work within NGOs of their choice across India for several weeks. The World of Difference program allows these employees to share their insights and experience on a variety of functions, including information technology, communications, human resources and communications. The German enterprise software company SAP operates a similar program in which employees participating in a four-week sabbatical program work with social enterprises in remote areas of India, South Africa and Brazil. Building organization capacity and NGOs while inspiring employees? A win-win for Vodafone and SAP.

Invest in Women:

Women often bear the brunt of poverty’s ravages in both the developed and developing world. But there is hope: if 10 percent more of a country’s girls attend school, the rising tide lifts more boats. That same country’s economy in turn can grow 3 percent. Women also tend to invest in their families and communities at a rate more double than that of men.

Funding and staffing investment and training programs for women in countries in which a company does business is one way that an organization can become an engaged and effective stakeholder. For example, the retailer Anthropologie has trained artisans in Rwanda to make scarves sold in the company’s stores. ExxonMobil through its foundation invested in programs that taught women how to use mobile telephone and other technologies. Avon has launched a variety of projects, including no-interest, low-capital program training women to sell its products.

Earlier this year Avon took a courageous and political approach: its foundation helped rally its sales representatives in Hungary to mobilize and push their country’s parliament to pass a law declaring domestic violence a crime. To Avon, domestic violence was not just a moral issue, but a business and economic problem.

Partner on water and sanitation projects:

Without water nothing else is possible, so I mention a few inspiring projects to highlight World Water Month. In emerging economies, the old days of digging a well or building a public latrine are over. More companies are partnering with non-profits to arrive at market-driven solutions to tackle the programs of water scarcity and unsafe sanitation. Beverage companies and breweries find themselves at the forefront of projects that tackle microfinance, tap into water mains and the build safe and clean private toilets. SABMiller works with WWF to build groundwater recharge structures giving farmers a more reliable source of irrigation water. PepsiCo and Water.org collaborate to provide microloans so citizens can pay for rainwater harvesting systems and gain access to municipal water supplies.

Training, water and women’s empowerment are just a few of the low-hanging pieces of fruit a company can take on to join the quest to find more poverty solutions. If your organization has found success tackling global poverty, we welcome you to share your ideas.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. Most recently he explored children’s health issues in India with the International Reporting Project. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: Leon Kaye]


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  • http://twitter.com/GSKChristie Christie Murphy

    GlaxoSmithKline actually runs a partnership program program with NGOs, called PULSE partnership program. PULSE is a skills based volunteer program, where GSK lends its employees out to NGOs for a 6 month immersion experience. I am actually in Ghana at the moment working with Jhpiego, a non profit working with Johns Hopkins University back in the States. It is a great program that I think benefits the GSK employees as well as the NGO partners. I feel privileged on a daily basis to have this opportunity. I whole heartedly agree with the three initiatives stated in this article and plan to take this knowledge back home with me to share with my US based team.

  • AnInspiredEntrepreneur

    Solar Sister is a much better example of investing in women than Avon could ever hope to be.