RealTime IT News

Tech's Drive For Social Responsibility

High-tech industries are finding innovative ways to contribute to philanthropic causes around the world. They are also adopting different strategies to ensure that their giving is sustainable and more impactful than in the past.

It used to be that corporations would give a large sum of money to charity to burnish its image. But despite the best intentions, even millions can be a drop in the sea of humanity's woes. And even assuming the money is well-spent, charitable contributions are often the first thing to get cut when times get tough.

Multinationals, particularly in the high-tech sector, have taken a different approach lately, committing growing amounts of human capital, capital goods and cash in new and innovative ways.

The reason for giving has also evolved. Multinationals now see corporate ethics and philanthropy as a sound business strategy in the long term.

And organizations that can show immediate returns on their philanthropy dollars have a better chance of making a bigger difference to people living in developing economies, noted Brooke Partridge, CEO of Vital Wave Consulting, which specializes in developing-country markets.

Companies are driven by shareholders' interests, said Partridge. "Feel-good" projects are "inherently capped at a proportionally lower level" than they would otherwise be. "The opportunity to have a real impact in the world is through financially sustainable investments," she told internetnews.com.

"To be able to reach the kind of scale that will make an impact, there has to be business rigor," she said.

High-tech companies are leading the way, noted Josh Ruxin, director of Access Project, a health care project active in 11 different developing countries. "They see that their future labor markets and consumers are in other nations, and their philanthropy is more focused there," he said.

The 'triple bottom line'

British telecommunications giant BT has pledged over $43 million annually to charity, because it sees corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a strategic business decision.

Janet Blake, head of global corporate social responsibility at BT, said the company believes "making CSR core to our business gives us a competitive advantage."

She said that it not only helps the company attract and retain high-level employees, but is often a deciding factor when bidding for business: "$1.3 billion of new business last year had CSR as part of the pitch... It's absolutely a business driver," she said.

Earlier this year, BT launched a $3 million development partnership with UNICEF to help bring education, technology and communications skills to children from poor socio-economic backgrounds in South Africa, Brazil and China.

She said that BT chose those countries "because they're needy but also because they fit with our business strategy."

That strategy involves what she referred to as a "triple bottom line"; to normal financial and economic results are added "the community and social aspects of that business." She said BT is responding to pressure from investors and potential business partners to prove its socially-responsible credentials.

Microsoft  has a number of programs to train low-skilled workers and help entrepreneurs in developing nations acquire technology for small amounts of money or on a pay-as-you-go basis, in order to create a consumer market and labor market for its products and services down the line.

"We're using the full resources of Microsoft to help ensure that the important pipeline of skills, talent, job creation and business creation is happening in every country," said Pamela Passman, Microsoft vice president of global corporate affairs.

Next page: It's about the people and the money