In his April 19, Huffington Post piece, Stephen Tanda, Managing Board Member of DSM argues that corporate philanthropy, as we traditionally know it, is ineffective. Recently, Nestle SA Chairman Peter Brabeck Letmathe stated during a UK TV interview that he is very much against corporate philanthropy because it is a mis-use of investor dollars. So we ask, is corporate philanthropy dying? And should we be worried?
I've advocated for years that engaging the private sector to tackle our world's greatest challenges must move outside of the traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) models of writing checks and donating goods to poor communities. This traditional model of corporate philanthropy is simply unsustainable. When times are tough, CSR gets cut because in the short term, CSR does not turn a profit and it is profit that corporations are required to deliver to investors. In addition, this traditional CSR approach has failed to build-up communities in the long term.
Tanda shares that DSM's contributions to tackling malnutrition involve strategic partnerships where DSM can share technical expertise, support capacity and infrastructure development, and invest in innovations to improve nutrition of vulnerable communities. Letmathe states that "Nestle's strategy in corporate and social responsibility focuses on areas that are key to its own business strategy and that boost shareholder value as well as helping society." Both leaders recognize that this approach is a win for the private sector in creating business opportunities and access to new markets, and a win for communities who will ultimately benefit from private-sector expertise and market development support.
If we are to come up with new solutions and efficient approaches to fighting hunger and malnutrition, it's no longer good enough to keep the private sector in the box of check writers and conference sponsors. We need to be better at forging public-private partnerships where more sustainable models of engagement are at the heart of corporate participation. We need to move toward well-crafted plans for community development where community and business interests can co-exist more productively.
Corporate philanthropy as we know it may die, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, we have to come up with refined approaches and new participation opportunities, across all sectors, if we are to efficiently and permanently ensure food and nutrition access by the billions of babies, children and adults who desperately need us to step it up.