In 2002, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were agreed, the goal with respect to living standards was to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. There has been significant progress since then, with half a billion fewer people living below the poverty line.

However, it is believed that more can, and should, be done. Cameron’s UN panel calls for extreme poverty to end for good by 2030 and sets out a clear roadmap to do so, principally by tackling the underlying causes of poverty.

The question must be asked: is the eradication of poverty the sole responsibility of government or do the world’s citizens – businesses, brand custodians and even consumers – have a role to play?

Three brands have answered in the positive: Unilever, Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

1- Unilever: Improving access to basic sanitation
Working through its Domestos brand, it has taken up the challenge to improve the health and well-being of those in need. Partnering with UNICEF, it has developed a sustainable programme that improves access to basic sanitation while promoting good hygiene practices and raising awareness of the sanitation crisis.

By contributing 5% of average proceeds from the sale of specially marked bottles of Domestos to UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) programme, the first year of implementation has resulted in an estimated 600 000 people living in open defecation-free communities in Gambia, Ghana, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan and Vietnam.

But it doesn’t end there. Education, training and community involvement are also key components of the campaign.

Vietnam has seen 600 community and local government workers trained on how to implement community- and school-led sanitation programmes. In Sudan, some 200 village committee members now operate and maintain sanitation and water facilities, and in Gambia 150 local masons have been trained on latrine slab construction.

That’s Unilever’s performance on the “do good” level, and it is quite impressive. But, where Unilever has really hit the mark is by tying the campaign back to Domestos’ brand purpose.

“This is part of our brand contribution to improving health, and is a natural progression from our heritage of protecting families from germs for over 80 years,” said Jen Laurent-Ingles, Global Brands Vice President Household Care, Unilever.

2- Coca-Cola : Supporting women entrepreneurs
Another company to have stood up and answered “yes” is Coca Cola.

This global organisation has seen value in helping to create thriving and sustainable communities, and is partnering with women as the key accelerators of economic growth.

Coca Cola believes that small businesses grow livelihoods, and investing in capabilities training for women has a ripple effect on the wider community. Its 5by20 campaign sets out to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million female entrepreneurs by 2020.

By developing and implementing programmes to break down the barriers to success that women face as small business entrepreneurs, they hope to create thriving communities in over 200 countries.

The initiative talks to all aspects of the value chain: from book-keeping, pricing and merchandising skills development workshops for store owners in the Philippines to crop efficiency training for farmers in Kenya and Uganda. It is designed as a win-win for women, communities and the Coca Cola business system.

Initially focused on four pilot countries – Brazil, India, South Africa and the Philippines – the programme expanded last year into China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, and Thailand.

“Working with and investing in women is one of the most powerful ways to spur sustainable economic growth and development,” said Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. “I’m excited by the progress we’re making toward our goal to empower 5 million women. We are transforming lives and communities, making a profound and lasting impact on global issues and also growing our business.”

3- Microsoft: Helping modernize teacher training
This idea of fostering growth in communities in which an organisation trades makes perfect business sense, and Microsoft is another brand that appreciates this.

Through its Shape the Future campaign, and in partnership with the relevant government authorities, it is helping to modernise teacher training in Guatemala.

Guatemala had developed a digital strategy for bringing technology into the classroom. This called for pairing every child in the public school system with a computer by 2012. But, one the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving this was the teachers themselves.

On the one hand, less than 20% of teachers in Guatemala owned a computer. On the other, given children’s seemingly innate ability to grasp technology, teachers felt they knew less than their pupils and were uncomfortable bringing computers into the classroom.

The partnership between Microsoft and the Ministry of Education funded 75% of the value of teacher’s computers, the balance to be paid off by teachers over three years at approximately US$10 per month. This has enabled 8 out of every 10 teachers in Guatemala to buy a computer. A total of 85 000 computers were delivered to their homes in just six months.

The success of the project lies beyond the technology. The holistic approach required one-hour basic computer training prior to shipment. Additional training software and applications relevant to teacher training were installed on each machine. Self-learning courses and teaching materials were also distributed via the web to address Guatemala’s policy of decentrelised teacher training.

With Microsoft’s help, Guatemala is well on schedule to building a knowledge-based society.

The result: making a real and lasting difference to society
The three campaigns and businesses by Unilever, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, that were highlighted above have certainly acted within MDG guidelines – that is, they’ve tackled one or two of the underlying causes of poverty. And, they’ve done it in a way that is sustainable on many levels, including ensuring there is spin-off for their brand.

Equally important is that they have partnered with public sector entities. While brands certainly can, and in many cases do, have an impact on the communities in which they operate, public/private partners appear to unlock the greatest opportunities to make a real and lasting difference to society.

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Image credits: United Nations

Written by Camilla Howson, Project Director, Added Value South Africa.

 

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