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Pooling Corporate Philanthropy Efforts for Real Progress

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“There are 600 million young women between the ages of 13 and 19,” said Louise Guido, president and CEO of the Foundation for Social Change. The organization works to unite leaders from non-profits, governments, and companies, to share best practices and collaborate in their efforts toward improving environmental and social issues.

Guido continued, “Helping a few thousand people is great, and it’s necessary, but if you really want to change the world, it takes a lot of resources.”

“We really need to share the cost and the outlay. And what we’ve been trying to do seems like it’s working,” she added.

The Foundation is currently launching a program designed to provide job training and education for young women around the globe. But unlike most corporate philanthropy efforts, in which one company “owns” the project and might contract with local non-profits, Guido’s project is bigger.

“We are getting as many corporations involved as possible.” The network includes a major technology company, financial corporations, and hopefully telcoms – and more. Through a “shared enterprise platform,” Guido said, the program will be able to reach more girls, provide more resources, and create better programming.

The initiative will involve several programs around the globe, featuring learning and development modules around business and life skills, as appropriate to each individual culture. These programs will enable the participants to improve their job prospects, and hopefully become the next generation workforce for companies sponsoring the program. “So there’s an HR sustainability component as well,” Guido explained.

Benchmarking Progress and Impacting Women

Besides collaboration, Guido said the next step in major philanthropy work is longitudinal benchmarking – that is, measuring the impact of the program over time. With the FSC’s new development program for young women, she explained, the participants’ progress will be tracked for years after they complete the initial program.

Guido said, “In a 15 year period, there were 374 programs for young women funded by the World Bank. Very, very few showed that they tried impact measurement. If you aren’t measuring your success, you’re throwing the money away.”

By measuring progress over time, organizations can not only insure that their program is working, but they keep program participants in the fold, which can also increase impact levels.

She continued, “Women, if you get to them when they’re young, have the ability to make a difference. They are a tremendous asset to a community.”

“They carry through,” she added, pointing at studies showing women are more responsible with repaying microloans, and that putting money into women’s skills development programs correlates to higher GDPs and lower domestic violence rates.

“They’re rockstars,” she said.

Can Girls Change America?

“We’ve lost so much in our own education system,” Guido said. “There’s a fundamentally financial problem that education has to overcome in the US.”

Guido said that while the FSC’s development program for girls and young women is focusing on international locations, the US may be the future of of the program as well. She is hoping the program will have as broad an impact as possible, and it’s hard to deny that the education system in the US needs help. “We plan to be places that are overlooked,” she said.

“Young girls can make a difference across the board.” She added, “I would like to see success for young women more than anything else.”

The Value of Collaboration

Guido explained that the FSC was organized about a year ago. “It’s an organization that provides a platform for a lot of different groups to get together to collaborate on issues. We are facing really big issues, and we have to go beyond the normal structure of responsibility.”

She continued, “Some companies do a lot of corporate responsibility work, and some companies do very little. Responsible product delivery should be part of their DNA, not just a nice thing or an extra.”

“We’re not trying to educate the CSR people – they already get it. The Gen Y people don’t need to be convinced. We are educating the top level of companies – the ones who will be in charge for the next ten to twenty years – about how this will improve their bottom line.”

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