The Need to Be and to Be Seen As a Company That Cares

During my dozen years working for P&G in emerging markets, I often heard comments about how large multinational companies are there to make a fast buck from consumers in these markets. There appeared to be a strong negative bias in the local media about a “profits above all” mindset among multinational companies. Reality was often quite different. Most large companies were involved in extensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. These included work in education, healthcare, disaster relief, the environment, poverty alleviation, women’s empowerment, and so on.

However, too often these companies had not paid much attention to ensuring that these good CSR efforts were also broadly known by the general public, and importantly by the people to whom they were selling. Companies involved in energy extraction, for example, or other activities based outside of major cities, often built schools and clinics in areas where they were doing business – but hardly anyone outside these areas knew.

P&G, which had worked hard to get its business off the ground in the initial years of its presence in the country, was also very mindful of getting involved in CSR work that reflected its approach to good corporate citizenship. Globally the company was focusing its philanthropic efforts behind a theme called “live, learn and thrive.” It was a broadly focused effort aimed at assisting in some way households that were consumers of its products – mostly households with young children, and particularly underprivileged young children.

In 2007, during the early years of my second assignment in Pakistan, I was appointed to lead the CSR subcommittee of the overseas Chamber of Commerce in Karachi. This was the largest business chamber, to which almost all multinational companies operating in the country belonged. The chamber conducted a survey of its membership, collecting information about their CSR activities, and for the first time a comprehensive report was issued sharing the very extensive CSR effort by these multinational companies. Collectively they were spending billions of dollars in CSR activities, well beyond anything that directly touched their business.

The issuance of this report started to change the narrative in the media about the character of these “foreign” companies.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the northern areas of Pakistan in October 2005, P&G stepped up its efforts to help rebuild schools that had been damaged or destroyed. In addition to rebuilding large schools, the company also supported dozens of “informal” schools across the country. At the same time, we broadly shared in the media details of our CSR activities and how it was helping the most needy families.

In 2010 there were devastating floods across Pakistan that drove millions from their homes. P&G’s Ariel detergent set up free laundry stations within flood refugee camps, and within a few weeks 175,000 articles of clothing were washed and cleaned for the refugees.

These CSR efforts, and importantly media coverage about them, helped create a very positive image for P&G among the people of Pakistan. While P&G was well known as a prominent American company, and while the relationship between the two countries went through much upheaval in the years following September 11, 2001, P&G was never once the target of any consumer backlash in Pakistan. The company was seen as, and continues to be very well respected as, a good corporate citizen of Pakistan.

In 2012 P&G Pakistan was specifically recognized by the U.S. Department of State with its Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE). This is an award given to one large American company each year for “excellent business results and good corporate citizenship in an overseas market.”

P&G’s CSR effort required a fairly small investment of funds, but importantly it needed very strong, visible support from senior management of the subsidiary. Just as important was media outreach, to make sure the company’s efforts in these areas were broadly known and understood. Of all the investments P&G has made in the country, this may have had one of the highest payoffs.

S. Qaisar Shareef

August 14, 2017