Poverty Pitch

The intersection of American business and global poverty


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[INTERVIEW] Why B’s are the new A, and local is the new global

A Photo of Jennifer Walske with an wooden mask and clock that came from her late father's trips to South Africa

Professor Jennifer Walske, the current Director of Social Entrepreneurship at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship

B-corps that is. Yet another way for businesses to engage in social action. I just wrapped my head around companies doing Corporate Social Responsibility, and smaller businesses doing Social Entrepreneurship – are things about to change again?

Let’s back up a bit.

My eyes lingered on the 2 framed documents to my right as I was setting down my backpack in Professor Jennifer Walske’s office. The certificate for Earl F. Cheit Outstanding Teaching Award  told me a lot about the caliber of Professor Walske at University of California, Berkeley‘s Haas School of Business. But, I was more impressed by the photo right below this distinguished award. It was a framed photo of Phi Beta Lambda (one of Berkeley’s undergraduate business fraternities) with a thank you message to Professor Walske for her participation in the organization’s game night. This photo put me at ease, not just because I saw some people I knew in the photo, but  because it gave me the impression that this is a professor that makes time for her students and cherishes these relationships.

Why do her students matter? They are the future of Social Entrepreneurship. Professor Walske spoke about the excitement of her students for this developing field. According to her, “they don’t necessarily see the world the way the world has been so maybe they are able to think about innovative ways to affect change…that is one of the key tenets of entrepreneurship.” However, she says that even if this is an exciting time with many young people interested in entrepreneurship, it is important that they “do not reinvent the wheel.” One of her goals as an educator is to ensure that her students also learn from the past so that they can avoid repeating mistakes, while at the same remain open to fresh ideas.

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All is Fair (Trade) in Love and Soccer

"warning: children playing soccer" sign

Warning: soccer empowers youth
(photo credit: Vinicius Depizzol via creative commons)

Maybe not everyone can have the reach that big name corporations have with their social initiatives. Is it even worthwhile for smaller businesses to engage in similar programs if they dont have the resources of a major corporation?

Senda is a Berkeley-based social enterprise that creates fair trade soccer balls for youth athletic training programs around the world. They seem to have it all figured out. They managed to create a business that helps the environment, that provides quality jobs for poor laborers to help their communities, that empowers the underserved youth through sports, and that can be commercially competitive while still partnering with non-profit organizations. What is their secret? They found their niche and made it work.

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[VIDEO] One small step for TOMS, one giant leap for …?

Skeptical 3rd World Kid says "So you mean to tell me, you ended poverty by buying a pair of shoes?"

Skeptical 3rd World Kid talks about Toms
(Meme created through http://memegenerator.net)

In a Media Studies class, my Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) asked the class for ways in which advertising has been used to make consumers feel like they have a social impact. I raised my hand and gave the example of TOMS Shoes and their One-for-One Movement.  She flashed a smile and said that TOMS was precisely what she was going to talk about.

It is no surprise that both my GSI and I immediately thought of TOMS when we started on this topic. Kelsey Timmerman, the author of Where Am I Wearing?, points out that TOMS as the first thing that pops into student’s heads when they think about businesses doing good for the world. His critique of TOMS Shoes’ charitable efforts, emphasizes that the impact of TOMS Shoes is not that they give shoes to the poor, but that they bring in the issue of poverty into the thoughts of their everyday consumers.

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[VIDEO] Hiding in the Back Pocket: UNIQLO’s Social Initiatives

UNIQLO hoodie with a heart

There’s a heart in my UNIQLO hoodie!

There is a lot of buzz around the expansion of the Japanese-based clothing store, UNIQLO, to San Francisco on October 5, but the buzz seems to sidestep what I think really makes UNIQLO unique: its CSR programs. Among this company’s many programs, I was particularly drawn to its clothing recycling initiative and its partnership with Grameen Bank – both of which address the issue of global poverty (see the videos below to learn more!)

I don’t usually follow fashion trends, but this news caught my attention because I had a grand time shopping at the UNIQLO store when I was in New York over spring break. Throughout the year, I’ve been learning more about the brand’s Japanese origins or clothing technology through random news articles I stumble upon. But, I never would have known about its CSR programs if I did not linger on the home page of its company website long enough for the feature on “UNIQLO recycling” to pop out. It was a big surprise for me to find out that this company is not just fusing Japanese and American culture, but it is reaching out to countries such as Bangledsh as well (although not in the same way –  and I can talk about that another time).

Seeing this surprise at the very end of the photo reel had me wondering why they don’t flaunt their strong CSR program the way Toms’ one-for-one campaign does. Has CSR become too cliche’ for brands that aim to stand out? And does this cliche’ status mean that less companies will be interested in CSR, or that this trend has become so ubiquitous that it is now a norm rather than a novelty?

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