At a community center in Bangkok, small-business owners are logging on to the Internet for the first time, using Microsoft Word, Excel spreadsheets, and other business software. These local entrepreneurs—including fruit sellers, garment makers, and artisans—are learning their technology skills courtesy of the multinational computer firm, Hewlett Packard (HP).
EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs in Asia is spearheading this effort, which brings HP’s philanthropic arm together with a local university, and other agencies in a novel approach to corporate/community relations. The program, known as the Community Enterprise Support Project (CESP), identifies and trains local business people to integrate information technology into their business practices in ways that will expand their reach and profit.
“We’re bringing MBA 101 skills to ‘Ma and Pa’ shops in the slums of Bangkok,” explains EDC’s Regional Director, Angela Chen.
The project’s focus on small and medium enterprises sets it apart. “They tend to be overlooked by nongovernmental organizations, which focus more on those in extreme poverty,” explains Prawit Thainiyom, EDC’s project officer in Thailand. “But HP wants to pinpoint traditional businesses that are ready to integrate new technology practices and sustain them.” The program is expanding to 10 additional countries in Asia Pacific.
CESP is just one example of how EDC works with corporate partners on social responsibility efforts, according to Thainiyom. “We help donors articulate goals and then tailor programs that match those goals with local needs. Businesses want to invest money in order to develop their brand image; communities are looking for resources to improve health and education. We bridge these needs by first asking, what does the donor want? What does the community want? Then we develop sustainable programs to meet both needs.”
HP is also looking to a return on its investment, as the market for technology among small businesses in Asia is enormous. “Multinationals do philanthropy for PR value or to manage risk. We bring them best practice and knowledge of sustainable community development,” says Chen. “EDC is pioneering this work in Asia.”
In another example of corporate/community partnerships, EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs works with Deutsche Bank and local partners to help the guardians of AIDS orphans earn a steady income. “We urged Deutsche Bank to take a comprehensive, community-based approach,” says Chen. In five countries in South and Southeast Asia, the program is helping caregivers develop home-based, sustainable activities. “If there is a lot of bamboo available, we suggest basket-making,” says Chen. In other cases the program helps caregivers set up small shops or plant gardens so they can sell vegetables. “We give them seed money or in some cases literally seeds to get started. This is the essence of sustainability—helping the guardians of vulnerable children stand on their own feet. It goes beyond access to education and will increase their likelihood of success after the Deutsche Bank EDC project is over.”
EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs in Asia is also developing recommendations for adidas in China, which wants to improve labor practices and conditions at its Asian factories. While large multinational manufacturers like adidas can ensure fair labor practices in their own factories, they have less control at smaller regional factories. Adidas will use EDC’s research and recommendations to develop new compliance guidelines. Key areas for improvement are just and fair recruitment, treatment, termination of migrant workers, and management training.
As a follow-on, EDC is conferring with representatives from the Chinese state government, multinational corporations including adidas, Coca Cola (China) Beverages Ltd, Walt Disney Company Asia-Pacific, Gap International Sourcing, and Levi Strauss Foundation, as well as representatives from international agencies such as World Bank, Asia Foundation, and Oxfam Hong Kong. Anpossible outcome of these discussions may be an online training center for small regional factories that employ migrant workers to share recruitment strategies and fair labor practices.
“EDC is a bridge between the private sector, international development agencies, and local community interests,” says Thainiyom.
Originally published on July 31, 2007