Are you working for the public good? Perhaps you are trying to reduce poverty, promote gender equality or eliminate a disease? Have you taken calls from your board or your donors telling you to "partner with the private sector", and find yourself scratching your head? If so, read on.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) as we know it is dead, according to some. CSR is more of a window dressing and box-ticking exercise, claim the former head of BP Lord John Browne and Economist columnist Clive Crook. CSR programs are often disconnected from the core business and hampered by poor coordination within the business, research from Harvard shows.
At the same time, corporations are spending serious money on it. In 2016, Fortune 500 businesses spent $15 billion to become responsible and engaged. Companies such as Unilever have championed the term and practice of 'shared value' - creating economic value that also creates value for society. They have attempted to integrate responsible practices in all their operations.
The more you dig into CSR, the more you realize that there are as many models as there are companies. It is certainly confusing, and it can be difficult to engage profit-maximising businesses in social development. But there may be ways.
A new movement to beat malaria
Asian heads of state have committed to ending malaria by 2030. It is the deadliest disease in history. If these countries succeed in eliminating it, it will be a historic achievement. However, if they fail, the results may be disastrous. Drug-resistant forms of the disease have emerged in countries surrounding the Mekong river. If the problem becomes worse and spreads to Africa, there may be a resurgence of malaria and a rising death toll. To triumph, Asian leaders need to engage all of society, including business.
This is where M2030 plays a role. Corporate partners can use the M2030 brand for campaigns or for branding select products and services. In return, they pledge funds to fight malaria in the countries where the money was raised, working with the Global Fund as a fiduciary partner.
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But the movement is about more than just funding. The largest businesses in Asia are trendsetters and influencers. M2030 partners interact with millions of customers every day. By leveraging corporate platforms, the movement can educate the public about both the promise of malaria elimination, and the dangers if we fail. The goal is to make the emerging urban middle-class in Asia as informed and committed to eliminating malaria as their political leaders.
It is also about business leadership. In Asia, some of the most influential and admired people are CEOs. By turning business leaders into champions for malaria elimination, the movement’s impact will go well beyond its mobilized money.
M2030 was launched in April 2018 at a malaria summit. Its business partners include Yoma, the Global Fund, the Tahir Foundation, DT Families Foundation, Dentsu Aegis Network and Shopee. More Asian blue-chip corporations will join in 2018.
Doing well and doing good
How did APLMA approach the first M2030 business partners? You may be surprised, but we never talked about CSR. We talked about goals, aligned incentives and business leadership.
The goal of eliminating malaria resonates with business leaders. It is a disease that has plagued generations of their fellow citizens. The end is in sight, and businesses can be part of making history.
M2030 is about doing well and doing good at the same time. To be sustainable and successful, the brand must help drive sales and customer retention. There is no conflict. Generating profit and awareness are good for business partners and good for the fight against malaria.
The movement is led and governed by businesses and private foundations. This is an initiative for Asia by Asia. Thai businesses and consumers will come together to fight malaria in Thailand. The same will happen in Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia. By addressing malaria in their own country, they can address a regional priority before it becomes a global problem.
Is M2030 a CSR initiative? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. Call it what you will. What matters is common purpose, incentives and leadership.