Can a luxury car company make a difference in a country with a per-capita income of $1,200 and where many of its citizens lack access to safe water? Jaguar Land Rover believes it can. Yesterday the United Kingdom-based premium automobile manufacturer kicked off a new project in western Kenya that adds to what the company describes as its “ambitious” worldwide corporate social responsibility program.
Working with the social enterprise ClimateCare and the Swiss company Vestergaard, Jaguar Land Rover will provide smart water-filtration systems that the company claims could provide up to 300,000 students in the Bungoma region of Kenya with clean, drinkable water. Over the next five years, 375 schools will benefit from these water systems, which Jaguar Land Rover says will improve the health, education and employment projects of students who live in this corner of Kenya.
The key to this program’s success is Vestergaard’s technology. The company has been in business for almost 60 years, and is known best on both sides of the Atlantic for its water filters coveted by hikers and trekkers. This project in Bungoma will deliver Vestergaard’s LifeStraw water filters, an easy-to-use contraption the manufacturer estimates is used by as many as 780 million people worldwide. The filters in these LifeStraw products filter out pathogens that cause diarrhea, improving the health prospects of those most vulnerable, including children, pregnant women and people living with HIV.
Vestergaard has a long history in Africa, which started with the manufacture of mosquito nets. Once a textile and uniform manufacturer, Vestergaard has expanded its business into a bevy of product lines. It is committed to a social mission as well; for example, a similar program last year expanded access to LifeStraw water filters to 125,000 Kenyan students.
That focus on impact is also what led Jaguar Land Rover to develop a relationship with ClimateCare. One of the United Kingdom’s first B Corporations, ClimateCare has been in the middle of several global environmental initiatives, from the expansion of access to cleaner-burning cookstoves to researching new ways to finance clean-energy technologies in East Africa. The organization has also worked with Jaguar Land Rover and Vestergaard to improve clean water access throughout other regions in Kenya.
For Jaguar Land Rover, partnerships with organizations like Vestergaard and ClimateCare are integral to the success of its Global CSR Program. Its strategy has a two-pronged approach: First, the company wants to bring educational opportunities to at least 2 million young people. In addition, Jaguar Land Rover says it seeks to improve lives, whether in public health or environmental stewardship, for 10 million people by 2020.
The “doing good” portion of this initiative may seem counterintuitive to outsiders. The company insists such efforts help to ameliorate its carbon emissions and environmental impact. But whether you buy that angle or not, one has to admit that allowing employees to immerse themselves in programs such as what is ongoing in Kenya gives them the opportunity to build new skills and work under a different type of pressure. Furthermore, the perspective gained from being involved in such a project is invaluable. Too many employees’ minds wander because many want to make a difference and cannot see how it would ever be possible from their office or cubicle. A program like this opens many doors, with the effects going far beyond cleaner air and water.
Image credit: Jaguar Land Rover