Despite the recent financial madness, most FTSE 100 companies aren’t on the breadline … but many of them try to help those who are.
There are a few whose social involvement statements are a little like the beauty queen’s vapid ambitions to work for world peace – all motherhood and apple pie; and a few whose statements go no further than that they support health and education projects.
Don’t get me wrong: health and education projects are essential, and perhaps these companies subscribe to the view that charity should be conducted secretly, and don’t want to brag … but others provide a bit more detail, and if we dig a bit, we can see that there is some great work being done to try to alleviate poverty.
And surely these big companies are ideally placed to help, if anyone can.
How can big business help pull people out of poverty?
There are several different ways that businesses provide assistance to individuals or to smaller businesses.
By donating cash or goods
Some companies donate hard cash or goods in kind to charities aimed at particular problems, such as disaster relief and homelessness. This is a direct route to alleviate poverty, but doesn’t necessarily solve a long-term problem.
- For example, Sainsbury’s donate food that is past the display date but before the eat-by date to various charities. This avoids waste and provides food for those in need – definitely a win-win.
- Or ICAP, who donate money to VSO – in 2007, this was enough to send two teachers to Nepal, where “a single volunteer shares skills with people who go on to train hundreds more, and eventually change the lives of thousands”
By donating time
Some companies donate time by allowing their staff to volunteer in work time to support charities. This type of action is often local and small-scale: one-off barn-raising type events, or fun fund-raising events – but can be regular literacy sessions at a school, for example. And there is no doubt that education is one of the best ways out of poverty. Again, this is a win-win game: staff feel good, the company gets credit, and the people they help get the benefit – and that could be several children who improve their literacy skills, and therefore their life-chances.
By donating expertise
Some companies donate expertise to build entrepreneurial abilities – a great way to lift people out of poverty.
- Several provide support for small entrepreneurs, such as:
- BG, who supported women in Brazil in developing their business skills and marketing their craftwork
- SABMiller, who work to develop a culture of entrepreneurship among young people in South Africa by providing training, grants, mentorship and assistance during the set-up phase of a new business
- and Compass Group, who helped improve a Colombian fish breeding programme by teaching best safety practices and handling procedures.
- Others provide financial support for entrepreneurs, such as Shell and AngloAmerican, both of whom support micro finance schemes.
What else could be done?
Here are some places where people are coming together to try to work out how business can help solve some of the issues around poverty:
- Transforming Business is a research and development project based at University of Cambridge and is looking at how “the creative forces of free enterprise be effectively applied to the most pressing social, economic, and moral challenge of our time: the elimination of poverty”. It has an impressive array of advisers from big businesses, including many FTSE 100 or other multinationals
- Business Fights Poverty is smaller scale, but is “a network for professionals passionate about fighting world poverty through good business”
- University of Cambridge (again!) offers a training programme called Business and Poverty Leadership. It’s not cheap, but is intended for Directors and Senior Managers with responsibility for business development, CSR, or business units in emerging economies (some scholarships available)
Not FTSE 100? Not even close?
Here are some initiatives that you could consider as an individual or very small company (big ones welcome too):
- Mentori – (online) offer time as a business mentor to an entrepreneur in a developing country
- Skills Venture – (offline) offer time as a business mentor, combined with a holiday, as a working holiday or as a sabbatical – even as a team-building venture.
- Kiva – offer micro loans to individual entrepreneurs. There are many of these organisations, but Kiva is perhaps the best known.
How can your organisation help? Something for us all to ponder, I think.
Last year’s Blog Action Day post, on the environment: Techniques for enticing the green investor