Last Thursday, at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates addressed a packed room, urging corporate executives to pair their capitalistic goals with charitable endeavors. While Gates is not frequently associated with such altruistic ideals, he has certainly taken steps to align himself with the goal of helping others. He and his wife set up the now $33 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and he recently announced a plan to aid impoverished farmers, and a joint venture between Microsoft, Dell and RED - Bono's anti-AIDS product-branding campaign - to offer a RED portable computer. On Friday, a panel met to discuss Gates' advice, with CEOs of PepsiCo and Cisco, among others, agreeing that companies should pursue community outreach alongside profits to help appeal to the emotions of employees as well as clients.
Many consulting firms have already headed down this path, having spearheaded a variety of social welfare programs and community outreach efforts. Most firms offer some sort of charitable giving program for their consultants, and some offer matching donations, in addition to organizing community services days and running clothing and toy drives. But some firms really stand out for their social action initiatives.
One of the most active firms in this arena is Wipro, one of the largest IT services companies in the world. Wipro Chairman and Managing Director Azim Premji is well known for his wealth and financial involvement in social causes, carried out through his own organization, the Azim Premji Foundation. The group is committed to providing over 1.8 million children in rural India with education, and it collaborates with government initiatives to improve access, content and delivery of education. Premji has been named to Fortune's list of the top-25 most influential people in the world, and Forbes ranked him one of the richest people in the world in 2006. Appropriately, he has even been labeled the "Indian Bill Gates." Infosys Consulting also has a strong sense of social responsibility and, as Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Infosys Technologies, once said, "No corporation can sustain its progress unless it makes a difference to its context." The Infosys Foundation was created in 1996 to support the underprivileged, and supports initiatives in health care, development, education and the arts. For example, the foundation has set up over 10,000 libraries in India's rural government schools. IBM Global Business Services has also invested in a worldwide school reform program.
Many firms also offer opportunities for consultants to work on pro bono projects, while some take that idea to the next level. Bain has been an innovative company in the area of nonprofit work, having created the Bridgespan Group in 2000, which operates as an independent, nonprofit organization. Bain offers consultants the opportunity to work in Bridgespan for six to nine months to get a taste of working in the nonprofit sector. Similarly, McKinsey allows consultants with at least one year at the firm to apply to its Community Fellows program, to work exclusively on nonprofit projects for six to nine months.
Monitor Group adds another twist to social conscience and has teamed up with Fast Company to offer the Social Capitalist Awards, honoring organizations that use creativity and business skills to do good. The firm also offers a number of educational initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in corporate circles, and has announced a partnership with Teach for America in 2006 to support college grads who choose to teach through TFA for two years.
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