What do the following organizations have in common: EcoSecurities Group Limited, Community Development Venture Capital Alliance (CDVCA), McKinsey and & Company, International Trachoma Initiative, and Unilever North America? All of these organizations are "doing well by doing good".
That was this year's theme at the 2003 Social Enterprise Conference held in Uris Hall on October 24th. At the conference, Managers in International Development Initiative (MIDI), a Columbia Business School organization sponsored the "Partnerships in International Development" Panel, which was one of the first discussions to reach capacity shortly before the entire conference was sold out.
In today's environment of industrial outsourcing to developing countries, over-usage of natural resources, and corporate accounting scandals, there is a growing trend among businesses to push towards social responsibility. This is a trend that was clearly evidenced by the popularity of the Social Enterprise Conference at which all the speakers at the Partnerships in International Development Panel spoke of the unavoidable tie between social and environmental responsibility and profitability.
C. Perry Yeatman, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Unilever Home and Personal Care-North America, demonstrated this direct connection through a discussion of how a product as trivial as fish sticks, was going to be directly impacted by over-fishing. A seemingly obvious connection between environment and business, but Yeatman discussed that Unilever actually acted on the issue. Unilever leveraged its size and influence, worked with NGO's and created a regulatory agency that limited fishing and that continues to study the effects of fishing practices across the world. Today, although Unilever play no direct role in the regulatory agency, Unilever continues to use only fish provided by approved sources.
On a different front, and yet still reflecting the trend towards social and economic justice, Philip Bylund, Director of International Strategy and Special Initiatives at Community Development Venture Capital Alliance (CDVCA) spoke of his organization's push to increase primary sponsorship of community development venture capital outside the United States. Formed in 1993 and incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1995, CDVCA is the trade association for the rapidly growing community development venture capital industry. CDVCA promotes the use of venture capital to create jobs, entrepreneurial capacity and wealth to advance the livelihoods of low income people and the economies of distressed communities. Bylund spoke of the "fly over zones", where venture capitalists just don't stop - areas such as Nigeria where "any investment is social development and venture capital." Often, investments in these "fly over zones" means that the just matching the investors to the businesses or governments is not enough. CDVCA goes so far as to advising government as to laws that should be drafted in terms of venture capital and creating social metrics to quantify the results of fund usage.
Jeffrey Mecaskey, Vice President of International Trachoma Institute spoke of businesses that have the ability and the incentive to "do good". There is an increased understanding that stakeholder interests and the perception of value that includes social impact, in addition to profits, will affect an organization's worth. The International Trachoma Initiative began as a product donation center, partnered with Pfizer to address Trachoma, a disease found mostly in developing countries among the poorest of the poor. Trachoma has already blinded six million people worldwide and can be controlled with a strategy that combines treatment with prevention.
Paul Oppold, Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company, continued the discussion of efforts of pharmaceutical companies to work with organizations to make an impact in developing regions. Recently, McKinsey & Company participated in a joint collaboration between UNAIDS, top pharmaceutical companies, and the Ugandan government to develop a distribution strategy for free antiretrovirals to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in that country. Oppold discussed the challenges his team encountered, including decisions around equitable distribution, the development of distribution networks, consistent follow-up treatment, and sustainable proper administration of HIV-related drugs. In one vivid story, Oppold described seeing people on the side of the road, mixing chemicals for HIV tests on top of cardboard boxes.
The fascinating panel, moderated by Columbia Business School Professor Bruce Usher, ended with a hearty round of applause and a fresh sense of renewal and community propelled attendees and panelists together to the cocktail reception that was held shortly afterward. It is possible to "Do well by doing good". In fact, it seems that it is more important now than ever before.