Last month, the United Nations marked 1000 days until the 2015 deadline of the "Millennium Development Goals," a program started in 2000 with the goal of eliminating the worst impacts of human poverty within 15 years. This countdown was, in part, a response to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that countries are giving less and less to international development. In the steepest reduction in 15 years, aid was down 4% last year and 2% percent in 2011. Unfortunately, many of the programs designed to help developing nations reach the Millennium goals are not backed by NGOs, but by shrinking government aid budgets.
With a persistent European economic crisis and philanthropies facing continued funding challenges since 2008, it's time for the private sector to step up and become a third pillar of social change. Business is slowly emerging as such an entity, and those leading the charge are driving successful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and embracing models of "contributory consumption" (putting a small portion of the proceeds of every sale towards a cause) and the "one-for-one model" pioneered by TOMS. But really impacting the world's most serious humanitarian problems requires scale and speed that only a collaborative Global Brand Initiative (GBI) can deliver.
Utilizing its vast resources, expertise, management, and distribution networks, a unified and well-organized Global Brand Initiative has the power to tackle the world's most serious humanitarian crises: poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, ignorance and illiteracy, and joblessness. In order into move the needle, there are two elements that business must embrace to become a coalition of purpose-driven brands that build their bottom line and a better world:
A partnership between brands and consumers: Companies must shift from the transactional mindset of viewing customers simply as dollars signs, to the relational mindset where customers are seen as partners with a goal of co-creating win-win situations. For their part, brands will earn goodwill, loyalty and profits from their customers, and in return, consumers will benefit from more responsible behavior by brands that improve their quality of life. This dynamic is already informing the strategy of many successful brands today as reflected in the cause efforts behind Nike's "Better World" or Starbuck's "Shared Planet" campaigns, as well as a legion of social entrepreneurs whose business models hinge on social impact.
This strategy is more than good intentions. Data from Edelman's GoodPurpose Report 2012 reveals consumers' preference for social purpose as a motivation to recommend, promote or switch to a brand has increased consistently since 2008. This is especially true among the next generation of leaders, millennials, who are now in their early 30′s and assuming leadership positions. As per a recent study by TBWA called 'The Future of Social Activism', they would be more likely to purchase from a company, think more highly of a company, and seek employment from a company that supports a good cause.
A shared responsibility between brands: Though many corporations already have CSR and cause marketing programs, as well as Foundations, these campaigns are often ad hoc, time limited, or ineffective in generating the ongoing resources needed to meet the demands and scale of the crises we face. What's more, there is an underlying presumption that contribution is only made after the fiduciary duty to shareholders has been discharged and profits have been taken. Instead, business needs to recognize that shareholders see themselves as stakeholders in the future, and that contribution needs to be built into the very act of consumption.
A Global Brand Initiative can leverage their enormous resources and reach around research, training, marketing, and distribution to massively scale the impact of the private sector. So while it's essential that companies engage in causes that are in authentic alignment with the core values of their brands, it is also important to realize that they alone do not own the cause. Just as brands can no longer treat their customers as just transactions, they must also move beyond the idea that they can't collaborate with competitors. The simple reason being, brands cannot survive in societies that fail.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, led by Patagonia, is proof that such alliances are already reinventing how companies work together to create a sustainable practice of capitalism. The coalition has engaged over 30% of the global apparel and footwear companies who are now held accountable to a single sustainability index, and its membership includes Nike, Puma, and Asics, and Walmart, Target, and Kohl's. When brands such as these unite, bring their full resources to bear on social change, and combine their efforts with those of government and philanthropies, these three pillars can meet the challenges we face with equal force.
By creating a third pillar of social change we can end that false separation between profit and purpose, between living and giving and between consumption and contribution, and leverage the might of the private sector to build a world we want to leave for our children.
If you interested in learning more from those actively working towards this goal, please join thought leaders from Nike, B Corp and We First for a free Google+ Hangout discussing From Profit to Purpose: How Business Can Build a Better World. Fixing our world is a shared responsibility and we'll be discussing exactly how your can build your business and make a difference in the world.
Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, an award-winning social branding firm consulting to Fortune 100 companies, author of the New York Times bestseller We First (voted Best Marketing Book of 2011 by strategy+business) and an international speaker.