Tag Archives: social responsibility

CSR or Real Innovation

Yesterday Dan Schulman, Group President of Enterprise Growth at American Express opened SOCAP’s third day in San Francisco by talking about the company’s work to address the issues of financial inclusion for the underserved.  

 Globally 2.5 billion are excluded from traditional financial systems. One third don’t have access to bank accounts resulting in precious time and money wasted to seek out facilities simply to access cash from their own hard earned paychecks. With 2-4% taken as a service fee in addition to interest and other fees, the figure that the underserved pay was $89 billion in the U.S. alone last year.

Since the market’s collapse in 2008, financial platforms incorporating both technology and addressing inherent lifestyle challenges have been a burgeoning industry for entrepreneurs.   Backed by the Omidyar Network, Mango now has a presence in 6 countries that empowers underbanked adults by offering a complete set of online and offline services that are convenient, low-cost support lifestyle decisions that affect financial decisions.

Given the market opportunit ,the question is whether American Express’s launch this summer of the documentary “Spent: Looking for Change” produced by Davis Guggenheim and the announcement of American Express’s Financial Innovation Lab, are just CSR window-dressing or indeed reflective of a deep brand pivot within the company. For American Express, a brand that has long stood for exclusivity, this type of shift to inclusivity would be significant. But there are reasons to believe, despite the absence of a non-binding legal framework that requires both social and financial value to shareholders, that this indeed is a deep company-wide pivot.

The primary reason is that the Great Recession showed us that the status quo of our financial eco-system was essentially destroying the customer base.   The second is that the hallmark of a great brand is demonstrating a leadership position in driving marketplace change. And the third is that American Express was founded some 160 years ago as a freight-forwarding business. Hardly a brand for the high-minded but certainly demonstrative of a company that knows how to read the market and succeed.

Great brands will pave the way for sustainable business-based solutions to our growing social challenges and there is every reason to believe that American Express has been gearing up to lead real marketplace change.

MDG Mania

It’s going to be a big week in New York City.  With five years left in its charter, the General Assembly of the UN will meet at The Summit on the Millennium Development Goals on September 20-22 to discuss and identify opportunities to accelerate progress of these ambitious, yet critical obligations for our global human welfare.  Across town the Clinton Global Initiative, established just five years ago, will also be holding a conference with its members on the progress they’ve made toward their annual commitments, many of which support the efforts of the MDG’s.  Climate Week kicks off as well – a regrouping of those involved with the disappointing talks in Copenhagen last December. And sprinkled throughout the city, NGO’s will be conducting their own meetings and work sessions to bring business leaders, non-profits and ordinary citizens together to address the critical challenges and requirements necessary at every level of society if we are to meet the goals set to be achieved by 2015.

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partnering for our urban good

nyc-transportation-alternativesPSFK reported last week on NYC’s Transportation Alternatives program Nine for ’09.   NYCTA been around since 1973 and they’ve done some tremendous advocacy work in the areas of bicycling , walking and taking public transportation to reclaim New York’s streets from the automobile. They have already announced their September NYC Century Bike Tour and clearly they’ve got some talented design folks on their side.

The question I have is why haven’t they enlisted corporate support? Nike Considered Products, Trek bicycles, Timbukt2 bags would be perfect “urban” supporters –  to name a very few. All of these could develop some pretty cool high-profile retail promotional programs around what are already some really well-thought out events.

With a population’s increasing attention on what’s happening locally, for the city by the city, companies would do well to give-back in a way that  parallels what our overstretched and under-funded gov’t is attempting to do.    Tapping existing, smartly run and well-marketed programs is just the way to do that.

beyond BetterWorld bingo

A term was coined in the early 90’s to describe the practice of using predictable trendy references to common business practices.  Called “buzzword bingo” the game was a reaction to the low value the individual words carry when generously used in speeches.  A similar thing is happening now.  A second cousin to “green washing”, businesses “in the business of doing good” are setting up shop left and right with names such as Global Giving, Give Something Back, Global Exchange, World of Good, BetterWorld Telecom, BetterWorld Books, One World Health, etc.  Are these businesses sacrificial lambs to the movement?  Socially responsible consumerism is in its very early stages of popularity.  Brands like Kiva and (RED) are still largely (despite some heavy weight marketing efforts) unknown and yet consumers seem to be open, even searching for opportunities to do more with their money.     To capitalize on this interest and to create “points of difference” within familiar categories, companies are using mindsets as icons to navigate the waters.  In a largely new frontier this works for the time being.  At least until that time we socially conscience people are working for – when the Nikes and Gaps of the world catch up to deliver a badge-worthy experience that’s as socially responsible as the next smaller company.    This is not to say that bgreen (apparel), greenerprinter, Earthlust or Eco Home Improvement are bad names, have bad products or are in any way less valuable to this movement of more responsible living.  But by choosing a common mindset for “differentiation”, they need to work harder to back it up with a unique brand experience.  One that feels compelling and which gives an opportunity to build a relationship on.    Patagonia and Timberland each carry a unique brand cache despite similar views on products created with earth-friendly practices in mind.   They have each created a different essence, an experience that delivers through the product.  This is how they built and kept a loyal audience within the apparel and shoe category.   Global Giving and World of Good are in their teen years relative to these mature brands, however it is in these years that they need to carefully develop and leverage their assets to create a brand that has a life beyond what is very certainly the better-business-buzzwords of today.