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Sustainable Investment – The Next Phase in Corporate Philanthropy

By Melissa J. Anderson

Last week marked the Foundation for Social Change’s second annual conference, kicking off the event with a day-long Women and Girls Education Summit. For an audience composed largely of corporate responsibility professionals and other individuals in the sector, the Summit detailed the ways that corporations are contributing to and creating education and professional development initiatives for females.

Louise Guide, founder and CEO of the Foundation for Social Change opened the conference explaining that she hoped attendees took away concrete ideas for their own companies or organizations. She explained, “The reason we’re here is that we ant to show how people are taking action – they’re not thought leaders, they’re do-leaders.”

One of the key ideas that speakers discussed repeatedly was the importance of funding programs that create sustainable development. Here’s why.

Collaborating on Sustainable Investment

Amir Dossal, Founder and Chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum, opened the conference discussing importance of sustainability and collaboration. He said, “It’s not about charity, it’s about smart philanthropy. It’s about investing in people for social change, not just giving away money.”

And he continued, sustainable social change also requires collaboration. He explained, “Innovation only comes when we work together. You can have a great idea, but you cannot implement them unless you partner with someone.”

SAP’s Director of Global Social Innovation Partnerships Nicolette van Exel agreed. SAP is partnering with the Foundation on its e-Life program, an initiative in Colombia to bring girls to the classroom. The company is considering the Colombia launch a pilot program to see if it would work in other areas around the world.

She said, “If we can replicate this as a model we can roll out wider, that would be fantastic.”

Van Exel explained that looking for sustainability in social investments makes the projects more valuable. “CSR can be a standalone department in a large organization with money funneled through grants, and you can be effective that way. Or you can be really effective and work through different departments.”

She continued, “Go out and pitch the program to them and explain the value to the business.” Internal partnerships between corporate departments and teams on social investments are important for creating truly sustainable programs, because stakeholders have to be convinced in the value they are building. By generating buy-in, companies can be more sure that their projects are in line with strategic goals.

Sustainability and Self Esteem

The Wayuu Taya Foundation has found a way to partner with other groups so that it can provide sustainable education and business development for its community.

Patricia Velasquez is the founder Wayuu Taya, an organization that provides schools for indigenous children of the Wayuu community in Venezuela and Colombia. The Foundation is funded in part through donations from partners like HP and Microsoft. But it is also sustained by the community’s women, who create hand-woven purses to be sold by high-end retailers. In order to get paid for the bags, the women themselves must enroll in courses with Wayuu Taya.

She said that the organization’s success is due to the fact that its goal is to empower individuals in the long term. “Charity – giving money – doesn’t work any more. It has to be, and it can be… sustainability,” she said. “It is the true form of charity. It is what empowers people and makes them proud of who they are.”

According to Velasquez, empowering individuals is a key part to creating a sustainable program. She said, “We try to keep and maintain indigenous culture. Pride is what sustains a community.”

Similarly, a large component of Brazil’s Consulado da Mulher initiative has to do with empowerment.

The Consulado, funded by Whirlpool but legally separate, has two programs: Enterprising Women and the Work Stations program. Enterprising Women provides business advice and resources (like Whirlpool appliances) to help women take their own businesses to the next level of organizational growth. Their performance is evaluated based on 31 indicators. The Work Stations program grew out of the success of Enterprising Women. Because Whirlpool only operates in 4 of Brazil’s cities, Work Stations certifies external groups to provide the same professional development and resources for women building their businesses in other locations.

Paula de Santis, CSR, Whirlpool Latin America, explained that one of the big goals of the program is to invest in families by investing in women. “We saw that investing in women means also investing in children.” Women put their money and skills back into their families and communities, she said. And being a successful business owner does a lot to improve these women’s self esteem, she added.

And now in its tenth year, the program can claim real sustainability – the women are now making more money than Whirlpool is investing in the program.

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