Rethinking a CSR Strategy for Frontier Markets

public internetBy Mehrunisa Qayyum, PITAPOLICY

What is the real harm in offering free Internet hubs if budding thinkers or programmers have access to ideas and improve upon programming, and develop the next innovation?  Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanuel has already made free internet a public good in Millennium Park.  I challenge corporations, like the hotel industries in lesser developed countries, to consider providing free internet hubs for their next corporate social responsibility project–especially if they are operating in lesser developed countries.

Topics like public services and social enterprises providing free internet hubs to its surrounding communities, was one of the biggest takeaways I took away from the “Millennial Ideas Forum” held in Washington, D.C. on January 19th. The mission: share how the power of collective efforts in public-private partnerships propel social and environmental goals for diverse communities.

The forum was co-organized by the Millennial Trains Project and the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, through speakers, films and performances at the M Central in Northeast Washington, D.C. Topics included:

  • Tinkering: How Millennials Are Making Government Better
  • Tenacity: Magic and Tragic Tales from Merlindia’s Main Man
  • Rethinking: The Costs and Values of Global Leadership
  • Disruption: Techonomy: Reinventing Business As Usual

The Millennial Trains Project was initiated by Patrick Dowd’s goal to harness the energy coming from the Occupy Wall Street Movement and channel the questions regarding corporate social responsibility into action.  Dowd was a Fulbright Scholar in India who organizes problem solvers in the business and the activist community.

Rethinking a strategy: Frontier markets

The Costs and Values of Global Leadership panel invited both the private and public sectors’ perspective on why to invest in innovation overseas. The Huffington Post Chief of Staff, Koda M. Wang, moderated the Rethinking panel by asking the panelists to explain why global initiatives need both the public and private sector. The quick answer: capitalize on community innovation. Venture capitalist and Founder of the Missing Middle Initiative,  J. Skyler Fernandes, framed the private sector perspective by describing how leading countries, like the U.S., might consider investing in certain sectors or expanding its notion of public good.

What the public sector calls development, the private sector calls corporate social responsibility, or “intraphilanthropy.” Considering the explosion of mobile phone use in lesser developed countries–like Egypt and Afghanistan–why not reframe them as “frontier markets” since the ICT community tends to innovate in challenging environments, according to Fernandes?

Qualcomm has already approached this question with a business strategy that connects its potential consumers.  They operate an “Internet bus” in Egypt to provide connectivity to communities so that they may connect with other communities.  If the social and financial gains outweigh the costs, that this is not just another corporate social responsibility program.  That is a savvy investment to catalyze local innovation.

[image credit: SMAL 2013: Flickr cc]

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3 responses

  1. hi, Those are very interesting examples of how companies are thinking out of the box.
    Definitely something companies in the Middle East can be inspired about since CSR here is mostly donation-driven or marketing-centric. As the Middle East’s largest jobsite we are want to improve understanding of organizations on CSR. Here’s our
    latest blog post on how management can choose the best CSR initiatives for their company:

  2. The writer’s understanding of CSR is fundamentally flawed. As it’s commonly understood and defined, corporate responsibility refers to the social, ecological and economical responsibility of a company’s CORE business — taking into account all of the societal impacts of all of the company’s operations. As such, it has nothing to do with philanthropy. Or rather, charity projects, such as building wells or setting up an open local internet network, tell nothing about a company’s responsibility in the CSR sense. Which of course doesn’t mean that such extracurricular activities could not have positive impacts.

    Open public internet can be found in a lot of cities around the world, and also increasingly on trains, buses etc. And that’s definitely good, although some people are now saying that people can connect anywhere with their mobile devices anyways… Granted, it’s a pretty privileged position.

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