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Taking Notice: New Survey Reveals That Employees Believe Companies Should Join the Fight against Global Poverty

By Tom Watson on August 22, 2007No Comment

Taking Notice by Shannon Bond and Alisha Fernandez
Taking Notice: New Survey Reveals That Employees Believe Companies Should Join the Fight against Global Poverty
By Shannon Bond and Alisha Fernandez, 8/22/2007

You might consider the fact that more than a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day motivation enough for every profitable company to contribute to the fight against extreme global poverty. But “contributing” – while seemingly simple – becomes staggeringly complex when terms like “strategic philanthropy,” “accountability” and “measurement” are involved.

As more and more companies design and implement philanthropic programs with an eye toward enhancing the bottom line, motivating them to fight global poverty can be a challenge. Giving to the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” – those living in extreme poverty – doesn’t necessarily open a new market or consumer base and therefore, may not be particularly attractive to many corporate donors. And the perception that American consumers don’t care as much about global issues as they do domestic ones may help to explain why 88.6% of corporate philanthropic dollars remained in the U.S. last year.

So why should U.S. companies include “fighting global poverty” on their list of philanthropic objectives for 2008 and beyond? Organizations like Millennium Promise are getting attention by appealing to companies in a language they can understand. A new survey conducted by Millennium Promise and and released today shows that companies have a strong motivation to give to global poverty: their employees expect it.

In the survey, nearly three-quarters of U.S. employee respondents reported that they believe their company should help people living in extreme poverty outside of the United States. The survey, based on responses of 6,823 private-sector American employees, placed Africa highest on the list of places most in need of assistance in front of North America by a 30% margin. While the situation in Africa has certainly begun to penetrate U.S. mainstream media, “to see it registering in this way [with U.S. employees] was really encouraging” said Martin Edlund, director of communications for Millennium Promise, “there is more than enough wealth in the world to address domestic problems as well as problems in Africa and a little money can go a long way there.”

When asked to identify the top three issues affecting people globally, survey respondents chose hunger (31%), education (22%) and HIV/AIDS/diseases (15%). This result proved to be another thought-provoking finding for Millennium Promise, an organization started by development economist Jeffrey Sachs, whose mission is to engage the private sector in achieving the millennium development goals. The organization does this with its Millennium Villages, which address corporate needs for results and outcomes. Now in 80 villages across ten countries, Millennium Villages take a comprehensive approach to addressing poverty, working with experts in the global and local communities to address major problems of poverty simultaneously: health, food production, education, access to clean water, and essential infrastructure.  Sponsored by individuals and companies like CareerBuilder, the project aims to make these communities self-sustaining (another selling point for corporate donors) and the results thus far have been impressive.

But is all corporate aid used so effectively? We suspect the answer is a resounding “no.” The world has spent $2.3 trillion (measured in today’s dollars) in aid to developing nations over the past five decades and one child still dies every five seconds from hunger-related causes. The challenge then, is using employee expectations to drive international corporate giving in an effective way. 

The survey results suggest one meaningful approach: education. While the majority of respondents think it’s important to help fight extreme poverty, only a minority are aware of the exact extent of the issue (measured by responses to a question asking about the number of people living under $1 per day). Edlund suggests that companies interested in joining the fight against extreme global poverty partner with credible organizations with experience in the developing world in order to educate themselves and their employees on the issues. Additionally, sending executives and/or employees to project sites to see the issues firsthand and to experience the impact a small amount of money can have can be extremely effective.

“There’s a real hunger among American employees to be involved in the fight against extreme poverty,” said Edlund. “Corporations ought to take that seriously and be responding to the interests their employees express.”

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