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Think Global, Give Global

April 15, 2013

The phrase "Think Global, Act Local" has been with us for many years. Although its origin is in dispute, it has been attributed to the environmental movement since the 1970s, and it has been used as a business strategy since the 1980s. It has been used to encourage citizens and employees to think about the health of the entire planet (or the global marketplace) while they are taking action (or developing markets) in their local communities.

I was reminded of all of this while reading an article by Stan Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for IBM, which appears in this month's Corporate Responsibility Magazine on "How IBM's Corporate Service Corps Solves Problems, Grows Leaders and Builds Markets."

In it, Stan asserts:

  • In decades past, people were fond of saying that companies needed to "think globally and act locally." But in the 21st Century, companies need to do more than think globally. They need to act globally as well, which entails taking a coordinated approach to integrating citizenship with core business functions.

Nowhere is this truer than with corporate philanthropy.

There's been a lot written about how corporate philanthropy has "gone global" in the past few years, but I recently came across a year-old article entitled "Corporate Philanthropy in Emerging Economies" from the March 2012 issue of Alliance Magazine that I thought was particularly good.

In it, author Andrew Milner (Associate Editor of Alliance) begins by asserting that corporate philanthropy is "well-established and often fairly sophisticated" in developed countries, but asks how it's faring in emerging countries.

Corporate philanthropy is "one of the most quickly growing parts of Russian philanthropy," says Natalya Kaminarskaya of the Russian Donors Forum. Jorge Villalobos of Cemefi in Mexico and Atallah Kuttab of SAANED in the Arab region describe the growth of corporate philanthropy as "exponential."

In South Africa, Colleen du Toit of CAF Southern Africa states that the NGO receives about 25 percent of its funding from business. Serah Makka of the Tony Elumelu Foundation observes that "corporate philanthropy is becoming more prevalent in Nigeria as organizations are being called upon to take responsibility for the ways their operations impact societies and the natural environment."

In Indonesia, corporate philanthropy has developed as a way of countering labor problems, conflicts over land, and increasing environmental degradation, according to Natalia Soebagjo of the Centre for the Study of Governance at the University of Indonesia. In Brazil, the concept of corporate philanthropy has undergone a change in the past two decades towards "activities that can have sustained effects" according to Marcos Kisil and Paula Fabiani of the Institute for the Development of Social Investment.

In India, corporate philanthropy is not new, but it's undergoing a surge, according to Meenakshi Batra of CAF India. The government of India is fostering this trend, and proposed legislation that would require companies to invest 2 percent of their profits in CSR is being debated there. In China, the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 provided the impetus for many multinationals and local companies to augment their philanthropic portfolios according to Cy Yeung of Intel China. And, in Turkey, multinational companies and "holding companies" are leading the way in corporate philanthropy.

According to Alliance, the reasons that companies engage in corporate philanthropy in developing countries are much the same as those in more developed countries: peer or official pressure, general social expectations, desire for improved public image, desire to make restitution for environmental and human wrongs, as well as a genuine wish to promote the well being of those among whom they operate.

An emerging trend is encouraging employees to volunteer and give in their communities around the world. Long practiced in the U.S., volunteering and giving are viewed as successful ways of engaging employees in their communities and giving back. Countries like Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Mexico are seeing an up-tick in employee community involvement.

At American Express, we have been engaged in global philanthropy for over 100 years. One of our early grants was made to a relief effort in Martinique after volcanic eruptions there in 1902. Similarly, we donated money to the American Hospital in Paris in 1916 and to aid sufferers of the Russian War of 1916. We established the American Express Foundation, which has made grants internationally from its beginning, in 1954. And, we made our first international grant to support historic preservation in 1977 to assist with the preservation of the Acropolis in Greece.

Today, we make contributions in about 20 countries where we have a significant business presence or a large number of employees. Primary countries include Canada, Mexico, India, China, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, Spain and the UK – although we make contributions in emerging markets when appropriate. We also operate employee giving campaigns in India, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., and have engaged thousands of employees around the world in volunteer activities.

Of course, more can be done and needs to be done.

Cy Yeung suggests that businesses can do more than give. They have an "immense opportunity to do well by doing good through shared value." There is an opportunity for business to become involved through social innovation in areas like heath care, aging, education, the environment and social service delivery to "ignite another 30 years of growth."

If you have a question or comment, please share it here. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter at @tmcclimonCSRNow and comment there.

P.S. Did you know that in 2010, 32 percent of total grants in Mexico came from corporations?


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