CAN THE GLOBAL HOUSING PROBLEM BE SOLVED?
BRAINSTORMING AFTER THE WORKSHOP
The talk was intended to stimulate a brain storming session with Corning scientists, executives, financial planners, investment strategists and marketing people. There was not time during the workshop to pursue this. However, informal discussions following the workshop did start a baby brain storming process. I am putting forward a few thoughts here which are intended to help provide a framework and stimulus for future brain storming. Please click on this link Your Comments/Ideas at any time during these thoughts to send your ideas and comments and generate discussion (you can find the link at the bottom of each page). This discussion was started for Corning, but it would be relevant to other companies as well.
Why would Corning be interested? How can Corning benefit? What opportunities does the global housing problem pose?
The first question is what benefits can Corning derive from looking closely at the world housing need? This question can be asked from a few different perspectives:
1) Profit: Are there economic opportunities posed by the housing need? Are there specific products or services that can be profitably developed and sold? Do these fit in the 10-15 year time frame Corning is now focusing on?
2) Strategic Philanthropy: Are there ways of combining Corning’s skills as a company with its desire to do things that benefit others? Can the combination of Corning’s scientific and entrepreneurial skills with Corning’s philanthropic efforts produce results that are more beneficial to the people helped and also provide new strengths and opportunities to Corning?
3) What are the areas in which Corning can contribute to solving the housing problem?
I’m going to start with philanthropy because it’s a bit easier.
HP did a rather interesting thing that demonstrates some of the potential in strategic philanthropy. As you know, HP has a foundation that does significant work on environmental and a number of other issues. HP asked the question, what can our for-profit business offer to our philanthropic efforts? What does our for-profit business know? What skills do we have that would aid? What could we do that would bring these 2 parts of the company together?
They came up with some very interesting programs. In one case they helped set up a small business, what they call a community information center, in a town in India. The information center has 4 computers, some printers, copiers, faxes and an internet connection. In a typical interaction, a retired school teacher came to the office to make some copies. While there, one of the owners asks him if he is aware of a government program for retired teachers. He is not. She connects him to a central government office over the internet and he is able to complete an application for the program on line. She tells him she will be coming through his village next week and she will bring him the results of his application.
This business has become a thriving concern serving rather poor people including those from villages surrounding the town. While it was not initiated by HP in order to make an immediate profit, it has some significant benefits. These people are actually HP customers now. HP has developed contacts with the government, local business people and the community. Their name is known. They are known and respected. They have also begun to create a new market. It reminds me a little of Apple computers donations to schools. In my view Apple would be completely dead today if it were not for that investment. It gave them a tremendous "in" and a market that stayed connected to apple for many years. HP creates a similar “in” for itself as this market develops.
This kind of work also contributes to global political and economic stability, which is fundamental to the smooth functioning and growth of a large company.
To summarize, HP was able to provide more effective help to a needy community by using its for-profit skills and at the same time gained some significant benefits for the company:
* Develop new markets
* Develop new connections. Government, businesses, people.
* Develop good will, enhance the company image, become better known.
* Help increase economic and political stability
The benefits to the company create a “benevolent circle”. The fact that helping others helps the company increases the amount of help the company can give.
To quote HP, “HP believes that good citizenship is good business. HP lives up to their responsibility to society by being an economic, intellectual and social asset to each country and community in which they do business.”
A number of large international corporations have decided that it is in their interests to adopt this attitude and have become part of an effort called the Global Giving Alliance. Participants include Visa, HP, IBM, USAID and others.