So often my colleagues and I travel to meet with potential partners that will help Heifer International fulfill its mission of ending hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. This week, however, Heifer hosted our first corporate partnership conference, attended by representatives from companies such as Green Mountain, Danone, ELANCO, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Acxiom, Novus and many more.
Each company brought a unique perspective to the gathering, with the unified belief that truly sustainable development requires collaboration across sectors, among organizations and between individuals.
Women in Bangladesh participating in Passing on the Gift Ceremony. Photograph by Geoff Bugbee, courtesy of Heifer International.
I know we are all aware of the challenges the world faces – hunger, poverty, resource scarcity, climate change, social unrest… and the list goes on and on. But I know, and I am driven by, the fact that it is imperative to quickly increase our impact to help more families than ever before. While Heifer has a proven model, we cannot do this work alone.
With these businesses, we explored the opportunities and obstacles of public -private partnerships. We also discussed emerging trends and best practices in corporate philanthropy, cause-related marketing, employee engagement and impact measurement.
We were pleased to welcome John Elkington as our keynote speaker for this event. John is a founding partner and executive chairman of Volans. John shared with conference participants how current shifts and pressures are forcing transformation of thinking in corporations, governments, NGOs, etc. Social entrepreneurs are pushing the boundaries of traditional markets and thinking: they are lighting a path that benefits not just a few stakeholders or the company, but also the communities and environment in which it operates.
Three key themes surfaced throughout the discussions: shared value, social capital and scale. Shared value means companies engaging in practices and operations that not only support the competitiveness of the company, but at the same time benefit the social and economic conditions of the communities in which it operates. It means placing a market value on societal issues.
Women in Honduras processing cashews. Photo by Russell Powell, courtesy of Heifer International.
I have written about social capital in one of my previous blog posts. The World Bank defines social capital as the institutions, relationships, networks and norms that underpin and shape the social interactions and well-being of communities and societies. When we talk about levels of trust in business and government, community involvement and civic engagement, we are talking about social capital.
Cashews from Honduras. Photograph by Russell Powell, courtesy of Heifer International.
At Heifer, building and leveraging social capital is an indispensable component of our community-based, holistic development model and a pillar of our Theory of Change. As we think about the intersection between values-based and market-driven development, social capital is an essential concept to grasp. Our nearly 70 years of experience have proven that, without social capital, development efforts are simply not sustainable.
The final key theme that emerged during our conversations was scale. Transformational change is required, and that means all of us—business, government, NGOs—must accelerate and scale up our work. We have already begun to incorporate scale into our project work, which can be seen in Nepal’s “Goat’s Give Back” project.
I am pleased Heifer brought so many different players together to discuss how we can work in collaboration to change the lives of so many families in need. I know good things are to come!