Powerful opportunities for companies to profit and solve global problems
Global pro bono experience—or “international corporate volunteering” (ICV)—prepares next generation leaders to maximize corporate profits by solving vital problems in emerging markets. The case for companies and the world to benefit from global pro bono was made abundantly clear at PYXERA Global’s Fifth Annual ICV Conference held in April in Washington, D.C. Aptly named “Catalyzing Growth in Emerging Markets,” the event included a new “Public Private Partnership Forum,” and was attended by hundreds of influential experts from multinational corporations, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations over the course of two days.
Speakers and panelists from dozens of companies, including The Dow Chemical Company, EY, Credit Suisse, IBM, SAP, and Merck, testified to the experiences of more than 6,000 employees who have worked in pro bono across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, to assist educational institutions, social enterprises, NGOs, and local governments to be successful. ICV contributions help their local clients—particularly in emerging markets—to strengthen their operations thereby building economies, providing jobs, expanding access to healthcare and education, and improving the quality of air, water, and arable land.
Global pro bono is smart business
The greatest opportunities for companies to profit in the next two decades are in emerging markets, where three billion people will enter the middle class. According to McKinsey & Company, in Africa alone, consumer-facing industries will grow by $400 billion. Women also represent an important emerging market for companies, as they will control close to 75% of discretionary spending worldwide in the next five years.
By helping to develop economies, prepare the workforce, and improve health, companies are building the capabilities and capacities of new markets and engaging with valuable new stakeholders: consumers, employees, and members of communities where businesses seek to establish roots.
In developing my recent book, A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems… Where Governments Cannot (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), research revealed that companies are only successful in profiting by advancing education, healthcare, workforce development, and other vital issues under three conditions: they partner with NGOs/nonprofits and sometimes other companies; engage with stakeholders (the community, employees, investors, and others affected by the company’s strategic decisions); and ensure effective board governance.
The beauty of global pro bono is that it fulfills all three conditions for companies to profit by solving global problems. Through ICV, businesses collaborate with NGOs, nonprofits and sometimes other companies in regions where they seek to strengthen communities and engage with stakeholders.
As demonstrated by dozens of speakers from corporations at PYXERA Global’s Catalyzing Growth in Emerging Markets, global pro bono is uniquely effective for leadership development. “The IBM Corporate Service Corps provides an unparalleled triple benefit: exceptional leadership development, often touted as ‘life changing,’ outcome driven, pro bono problem solving for communities across the globe and terrific insights and relationship building in emerging markets for IBM’s business,” said Gina Tesla, Director, Corporate Citizenship Initiatives, IBM.
I contend that ICV alumni possess the on-the-ground experience that is needed to lead their companies to become true innovators, and eventually, to rebuild corporate boards to maximize profit opportunities in the new global marketplace.
Speakers from companies testify to the benefits of ICV
Deborah Holmes, Americas Director of Corporate Responsibility at EY, spoke at the Public Private Partnership Forum on Livelihoods and Leadership in the New Frontier on the question of human capital. “EY supports entrepreneurs in emerging markets by lending them our very best resources: our most talented professionals,” said Deborah Holmes, Americas Director of Corporate Responsibility at EY.
“We do this because, especially (though by no means only) in emerging markets, entrepreneurs create jobs, drive innovation and strengthen communities.” Holmes continued to explain that “some of our work has focused especially on women entrepreneurs because we see them as an especially significant engine of growth. In the next five years, the global incomes of women will grow from US$13 trillion to US $18 trillion. That incremental US $5 trillion is almost twice the growth in GDP expected from China and India combined.”
According to Bo Miller, global director of Corporate Citizenship of Dow and president and executive director of The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, Dow views the engagement as a way to establish meaningful relationships and better understand the economy in a region where the company will be investing billions of dollars in building manufacturing plants that will have a life of 50 to 60 to 100 years.
Dow’s pro bono volunteers help to advance social enterprises in East and West Africa to provide low-income organizations with water, sanitation, agriculture, and energy services. Volunteers bring a variety of problem-solving expertise and general capacity-building consulting experience, such as marketing, IT services, finance, product design, product development, business strategy, supply chain, impact measurement, and market expansion in new geographies. Not only does Dow’s pro bono initiative promote promising companies, it also provides the infrastructure to develop economies and improve lives in entire communities.
Paul Tregidgo, Vice Chair and Managing Director of Debt Capital Markets at Credit Suisse, who spoke on powering new businesses in new markets at the Forum drew an important parallel between employee participation and local enterprise. “From an enterprise perspective, global pro bono brings together two important and interlocking pieces of business sustainability: active engagement with employees and active engagement with an enterprise’s local, international and, indeed, virtual communities.”
Eva Halper, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, Credit Suisse, also commented on the value of community relationships and economic development. The company’s volunteers have worked on microfinance and education projects for five years in twelve different countries. “For a global firm, a stable social and economic environment is key to our long term success as a company,” stated Halper of Credit Suisse. “We see ourselves as an integral part of society. We want to work with our partners long term. We want our relationships to grow and have an impact.”
Through Merck’s Richard T. Clark Fellowship for World Health, Fellows spend three months embedded in a nonprofit organization working intensely on projects designed to improve the efficiency of operations, effectiveness and reach of their NPO partners. “The Fellows embody Merck’s commitment to bringing greater access to quality health care to people throughout the world. In addition, the experience they gain is integral to Merck’s future success and ability to deliver innovative health solutions to patients and customers around the world,” said Theresa McCoy, Associate Director, Corporate Responsibility, Merck & Co., Inc.
Like others, Credit Suisse underscores the value of pro bono for leadership development. “Our volunteers work in unfamiliar environments, without their home team for support. They have to build rapport with new people in a new culture in order to problem-solve. This involves practicing, enhancing, and developing skills to deal with change and uncertainty,” explained Halper.
PYXERA Global has a vision for the future
The final word belonged to PYXERA Global’s visionary CEO, Deirdre White. ”While we are seeing more and more multinational corporations getting involved in ICV, this is just a start.” Not only does White hope to see more companies establish ICV programs, but her vision is bigger.
“If ICV is so powerful in developing new styles of leadership at companies, and building capacity in emerging markets where companies seek to establish a serious presence, then ICV needs to scale up in a more significant way,” explained White. Her vision is of companies partnering with each other to help develop local supply chains that are useful to their industries.
“The ultimate win-win is when company experts—as international corporate volunteers—serve as advisors to help local businesses in emerging markets to become multinational suppliers to multinational corporations,” said White. “The experience for the advisors will also help them to understand the real challenges facing these local businesses and rethink how they work together, including finding innovative ways to contract with these businesses,” added White.
With this vision, ICV could help lift entire regions out of poverty, while providing opportunities for companies to profit and increase their long term value.