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Collaboration emerged as a central theme among the 2006 winners of the WWD Exec Tech Community Service Awards. Each of the seven companies found new ways to partner with other organizations to serve communities. Giorgio Armani, Converse and Gap joined an unprecedented cross-branding campaign to fight AIDS, and Nike tied its philanthropy to global groups helping refugees around the world. Other companies to be honored at a dinner Monday hosted by Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Intel include Wal-Mart Stores, Life is good and New Balance.

When Nike first heard the proposal, the company called it “wacky” and “completely insane”: a World Cup-style soccer tournament for the homeless?

However, the plan to combat poverty “was crazy enough to deserve to be funded,” said Hannah Jones, vice president of corporate responsibility at Nike Inc. In September, a few years after Nike seeded the project, the Homeless World Cup drew 80,000 spectators and 500 competitors from 48 countries. Seventy-seven percent of the homeless athletes called the experience life-changing. Nike called the venture risky, “but we have to be about innovation, and sometimes, that’s about taking risks,” Jones said.

Nike aims to empower young people living in vulnerable circumstances around the world through sports. In 2006, corporate donations totaled $54 million in cash, grants and goods, an 18 percent increase over 2005. That includes $9.5 million from the Nike Foundation, which helps disadvantaged girls. Nike Inc., meanwhile, guided refugee aid group to a new, self-sustaining business model.

Cynics may scoff at the “spread good vibes” philosophy of Life is good, an $80 million apparel company founded by Bert and John Jacobs. With a stick figure named “Jake” as company mascot and the corporate titles chief executive optimist and chief creative optimist, respectively, how serious can these brothers be about forging positive change in their communities? In 2006, the company hosted 15 outdoor family festivals and donated all profits — $725,000 — to the Project Joy and Camp Sunshine charities for children in crisis. At a recent event, festival-goers broke the Guinness World Record for carving the most jack-o’-lanterns, bringing heightened awareness to children’s causes. Life is good will host at least 23 fund-raisers this year, demonstrating that a small company with a fresh idea can make an impact.

This story first appeared in the January 10, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It should come as no surprise that the world’s largest retailer donates more cash to charity than any other company in the U.S. — more than $200 million a year. What can be overlooked, however, is Wal-Mart’s ability to make an impact on a local level. Store managers have the discretion to disburse funds locally. When the public had grown weary from “Katrina fatigue,” Wal-Mart kept the relief coming in 2006. The company issued a grant to the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce in Mississippi to pay the salaries of employees needed to put the area’s long-term recovery plan into action.

In 2006, New Balance gave $7 million to more than 100 causes, ranging from the environment to the arts, but fighting childhood obesity was a particular focus. The company’s foundation gave $1 million to expand the Boston Medical Center’s Fantastic Kids program to teach 143 children and 350 parents about healthy eating and fitness. Company volunteers built six playgrounds in Maine and Massachusetts, and New Balance donated $500,000 to Tusk University to fund research to prevent childhood obesity. Tusk’s approach includes fitness, nutrition, family and the environment. “It addresses the whole child, and all the influences in a child’s life that can prevent or contribute to obesity,” said Kathy Shepard, who manages the New Balance Foundation.

Giorgio Armani, Converse and Gap have created special collections called (Product)Red for the Red campaign, which was created by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise money for the Global Fund, a Geneva organization that invests in programs to fight AIDS in Africa. Financial results from holiday sales won’t be available until next month, but the program has already raised enough money to put more than 40,000 women on antiviral treatments for a year, said Julie Cordua, vice president of marketing for Red. Drugs that would otherwise be unaffordable to African women can keep them alive so they can care for their families, she said. In May, the Gap (Product)Red team, Bono and Shriver visited a factory in Lesotho, where Gap produces some of its clothes. About 30 percent of apparel factory workers in the country are infected, said Bobbi Silten, chief foundation officer for Gap.

“It was humbling and inspiring to see people who are living with a disease that is impacting their community,” she said. “There wasn’t a sense of hopelessness.”

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