Can some of today’s most successful companies help develop future leaders in underserved communities and change what it means to have a successful business model? At the “Transforming Lives — Just Business as Usual” panel at Stanford University’s Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society on October 10, panelists representing Gap Inc., Cisco Systems, and Off the Grid came together to discuss how their companies can create shared value for both business and community. And for international companies Gap Inc. and Cisco Systems, they are exploring ways to expand their reach and influence in communities in all parts of the world. After all, when it comes to the opportunity divide—the gap between those who have access to education, tools, and community support and those who do not—many businesses like theirs have a stake in bridging the divide.
For global apparel company Gap Inc., investing in the success of women is at the heart of their business as well as their P.A.C.E (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program. As panelist Dotti Hatcher, Executive Director of P.A.C.E. Global Initiatives explained, “Back in 2005, we were challenged by our leaders to look at how we were making social investments and to consider how to invest in a way that was more strategically aligned with business interests.” Launched in 2007, P.A.C.E focuses on providing life skills education and technical training to female garment workers who comprise about 80 percent of the garment workforce globally and often occupy the lowest rung in the leadership hierarchy. “An investment in women, especially those in the developing world or emerging market, is an investment in her family, her community, and her society as a whole,” said Hatcher.
The P.A.C.E. life skills and technical training modules are part of a 60-80 hour program taught in garment factories that the women work in. More than 23,000 women have participated across seven countries, and in one factory, participants of the program were promoted three times faster than those who did not participate. But the benefits have not only been to the garment workers. “This is a strategic approach to social investment,” said Hatcher at the panel. “When all of these things are happening for workers, when productivity and efficiency is increasing in the vendors’ facility, Gap Inc. benefits, too.” With fewer turnovers, higher quality output and more efficiency and leadership, Gap Inc. sees a direct shared value impact.
Fellow panelist Kathy Mulvany, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs at Cisco Systems, described a similar shared value ethos for Cisco’s successful Networking Academy program, which teaches students essential IT skills to compete in the global economy. Started in 1997, it began in six US states in 37 schools. Today, the program is in 165 countries and has more than one million students annually. Cisco finds interested educational partners all over the world and delivers a free comprehensive IT curriculum, so that local organizations collectively have an impact on a global scale. “That’s a shared value proposition as well,” said Mulvany. “The more people that know IT, [the better it is] for our business, as much as it is about capacity-building in communities across the world.”
At the Stanford panel, moderator Dr. Sarah Kambou, President of the International Center for Research on Women, asked, “Can we transform lives while doing business as usual?” As more companies set out to do just that, we may see a growing number of corporations exploring how to invest in their business by creating new opportunities for people around the world.