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Condom Companies Should Focus on Violence Against Women

Michael Porter and Mark Kramer famously coined the phrase “shared value” to describe companies’ efforts to embed a social agenda within their core business. This trend is particularly welcome in today’s climate of fiscal austerity where the private sector is increasingly important for social development and where businesses, in order to remain competitive, must unlock new markets for growth.

Most businesses identify shared value based on straightforward connections. Education technology companies gain market advantage by paying attention to what students and teachers need and public schools benefit from the resulting innovation.  Mining companies cannot survive if they don’t address environmental concerns driving the discovery of more responsible methods for the extraction of natural resources.

Unfortunately, areas where connections are not immediately apparent are typically left out.  This deprives many critical social challenges of the risk capital and innovation associated with the private sector, while businesses miss out on opportunities to unlock hidden growth potential. Family violence is a prominent example: a major global epidemic where corporate champions are few and far between.

There is one industry, however, that has both the "spikes" and economic incentive to address this global challenge  - the condom industry.

Condom sales are not dwindling. The global market is projected to reach USD $6 billion by 2015, from USD $4.2 billion last year. But, if they want to fully realize the market, condom companies need to invest in reducing violence.  Specifically, violence against women with children.

Why? First, according to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control, when there is a threat of violence, women are less likely to negotiate condom use. Second, growing up in a violent home as a child is one of the best predictors of being a victim or perpetrator as an adult. However, if condom companies help reduce violence against women now, these women will be able to negotiate greater use of condoms today and odds are their children will be better clients in the future.

In Brazil, Durex demonstrated how this could work. In 2002, they partnered with Promundo, an organization based in Rio de Janeiro working to promote gender equality and end violence against women and children.

Durex provided USD $250,000, which was used to develop a project that contributed to reductions in self-reported use of violence by men against their partners from 27 percent to 7 percent, and increased use of condoms. The program helped generate sales of 100,000 condoms to 15,000 men and increased the probability that their kids would be violence-free condom users when they grow up.

Promundo then used this experience to design an adaptation of the program in India, which contributed to a reduction in self-reported use of violence by men against their partners from 45 percent to 18 percent, and increased use of condoms.  Replications in the three Balkan countries and Ethiopia found similar results.

However, there was an even bigger value proposition in the project than the direct effect on sales.  One staff member working at Durex at the time recalls learning how to incorporate social norms around masculinity into marketing strategy. Selling condoms had to be about selling a version of manhood that was based on treating women with respect and caring for their children. It was about making these attributes "cool." In this way, the project resulted in unexpected and practical marketing data.

The point here is not that the responsibility for solving violence lies with condom companies alone, but rather to suggest that if they look carefully, they will find a profitable motivation to play a leading role.

Try to imagine - with just one percent of industry leader Durex’s annual revenues (approximately USD $455 million in 2010 and assuming growth of 5 percent per year), parent company Reckitt Benckiser could drive USD $60 million into a decade-long profit-making and violence-preventing effort. These resources could establish a global innovation fund to invest USD $48 million in 48 violence prevention projects around the world and use the remaining 20 percent to research and evaluate the impact.

Durex could prevent hundreds of thousands of violent acts and we would all know more about how to stop violence before it starts. Just like Promundo was able to adapt and spread its expertise, these examples could accelerate progress against violence around the world. Also, condom sales would rise.

The evaluations would gather rich marketing data to learn how to effectively reach men in countries where condom use is growing most rapidly and among populations in existing markets who are untapped – perpetrators and victims of violence.  This information would give Durex a stronger market position.

The effort to prevent violence against women and children needs an equity investor to accelerate progress. If condom companies step up, the dividends will be paid in sales, strong women and happy kids. It’s a unique opportunity to do good and do well.

Of equal importance, they will demonstrate that although shared value is not always intuitive at first blush, below the surface there are exciting matches to be made on big societal challenges where new thinking and risk capital is badly needed.  This kind of partnership will help deepen the thinking of companies and activists on how to work together to promote growth and to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Michael Feigelson is originally from New York City and has been a child and youth advocate for the last 13 years. He is dedicated to working with children and young people to prevent violence and create positive change in their communities. He currently serves as the Programme Director at the Bernard van Leer Foundation. In this position he oversees programme development and grantmaking in the Netherlands, India, Peru, Brazil, Turkey, Uganda, Tanzania and Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @mfeigelson1
[image credit: Shawn Latta: Flickr cc]
3p Contributor

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