By Oster & Associates president Bev Oster
Consumers have a strong sense of social conscience these days, and many businesses have followed suit to create programs that benefit some group of underserved people, animals or the environment. All are worthy causes, and they all fall under the category of "doing good". And not to question the grammar, we're not talking about consumers or businesses being in good health, or well; we're talking about the good things they're doing to benefit others.
Every industry has favorite ways of giving back, and universally, with a well designed program, customers respond strongly to the idea that their dollars will not only provide the original product that they intended to buy, but also some benefit for someone else. It's a way these shoppers, or businesses, find to donate to good causes without an extreme one-time expense.
While everyone has a good story, at Oster and Associates we have one that is very close to us, and it can provide insight into how others might add some small changes to their operations and make a big difference to someone else. Ours is the story of the GROW program, which we helped Organics Unlimited develop 10 years ago.
GROW provides help to communities in Mexico and Ecuador where Organics Unlimited's organic bananas are grown. The help is in the form of educational assistance, dental programs, vision programs, safe water and micro-business funding. While there is always a cost to starting a program such as GROW, which includes both a time and a resource commitment, an ideal program such as this becomes virtually self sustaining after a period of time.
The considerations in developing GROW were many. How would the funding for the program be collected? Who would administer the funds to make the program legal and transparent? Where would the funds go once they were collected? How could this money that could be raised actually get to recipients that needed help in a variety of geographic areas and for a variety of needs? And also of great importance, how would we let people know about the GROW fund and what it could do?
With the GROW Fund, we partnered with a community foundation to administer the funds, keeping that important piece out of the hands of the company and putting that administration in a place where there is legal transparency. The community foundation then became responsible for finding programs that could be recipients of the funds – programs that would provide real benefit to the workers and communities in the areas of Mexico and Ecuador where we knew a real need existed. And finding these programs became an important part of the success, because when you’re in the produce business, your time and expertise are not necessarily best spent learning the ins and outs of the nonprofit world.
While there are many organizations that benefit from the GROW funds today, the earliest and continually the largest recipient of the funds is a program in Mexico known as Project Amigo. What GROW represents to this small nonprofit in Cofradia de Suchitlan, Colima, Mexico is a major source of funding, and the ability to help children from very poor homes who lack opportunities to get an education, dental help, vision help and in some cases disaster assistance.
Project Amigo is a well developed, well run nonprofit with excellent accountability and a history of lifting children, and families, out of a cycle of poverty through education. In their 30 years they have touched thousands of families and can boast of more than 50 children who have actually been supported all the way through a university education and are now leaders that are giving back to their own communities.
Let's bring it around to the produce industry. GROW was founded to help workers and their communities. In that goal, it has done a great job over the past 10 years. The side benefit is the demand that has been created for GROW bananas because of the program and what it means to retailers and consumers.
"Doing good" should be an end unto itself. The byproduct is building a stronger organization of which you can be proud, that will make your employees proud, and that your customers want to support. Making the world a better place benefits everyone.