This week I had the opportunity to attend a conference in South Africa along with other leaders from the government, social and private sector to think about the role of philanthropy in addressing social challenges. Reflecting on what we shared and discussed, I realise that for me, philanthropy is not simply a means of 'giving back', but more importantly a means of "giving forward."
Giving forward means going beyond traditional charity and addressing the root causes of social problems like malnutrition through social innovation and multi-sector collaboration, leveraging diverse expertise and resources to reach those in need. I am talking about a kind of philanthropy that is a catalyst for change -- for example, investments that foster local entrepreneurship and the growth of small and medium enterprises and that strengthen a country's health and economy. Philanthropy for me means prosperity that is inclusive for the many -- not just the few -- and that creates a self-sustaining cycle of growth.
One of the reasons I joined the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) as Chair of the Board was that I wanted to be part of a model that leverages markets and many different players to solve the enormous challenge while empowering local civil society, who are closer to the challenges than we are.
Let me give you a tangible example. Shainaz Begum is one of 74 000 community health volunteers at BRAC, a large Bangladeshi NGO supported by GAIN deployed in close to 70 000 villages across Bangladesh -- a country with a high level of malnutrition. From the village of Sharifbag, about an hour and a half drive from the capital Dhaka, she has been a community health volunteer, known as a ‘Shasthya Shebika’ in the local Bangla language, for more than twelve years. Shainaz goes door to door in her village selling medicines and health commodities such as oral saline, iodised salt and birthing kits. She visits an average of 300 households and earns an average of 2 500 taka per month (US$ 35) from the profit margins on the medicines she sells.
Recently, through GAIN's ability to connect the non-profit world with the business world, she is also now selling sachets of vitamin and mineral powders that can be mixed with an infant's meal for US 3 cents per sachet. Through support from GAIN, Renata, a large family owned pharmaceutical company in Bangladesh, is manufacturing the sachets, and has teamed up the BRAC to sell and market the product to vulnerable families in remote, rural areas through community workers like Shainaz. Renata is currently producing five million sachets of the product per month. Over a period of five years, the investment will benefit nearly seven million children on a commercially sustained basis.
It's a win-win partnership that harnesses the strengths of each sector and provides a sustainable way to give Bangladeshi children an equal start in life to those in developed countries.
At the same time, the multi-sector collaboration is empowering local civil society leaders like Shainaz through developing her leadership skills and providing her with an income. She is even running for local elections in her village upon the request of people in her village. These are the kinds of grassroots leaders we need to empower and to include in this 'giving forward' model.
Over the past year, GAIN has supported interventions in more than 25 countries providing close to 400 million individuals in Africa and Asia with access to better quality foods; and we are on target to reach one billion over the next few years. We are beginning to have a tremendous impact on the very challenging issue of malnutrition facing two billion people in the world.
The giving forward model has played an important role in establishing GAIN as an organisation and continues to provide catalytic, high-impact capital to create sustainable, cost-effective solutions for stronger, healthier communities and nations. So rather than giving back, give forward and make lasting change possible.
- Jay Naidoo is chairperson of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and a founder of the development arm of the investment and management company, J & J Group, which he co-founded.
For more information about his work, refer to www.thejustcause.org.
This article was first published in the Huffington Post on 23 November 2010.