What is the connection between Intel’s products and Intel’s education initiatives? Are teachers asked to buy a Classmate PC after completing a training module on how to teach 21st century skills?Of course not. One notable aspect of the Intel Education Initiative – whereby Intel works with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve the quality of education – is the lack of a sales pitch. Intel believes that a rising tide lifts all boats, including the boats that carry its products. Most multinational corporations have either dipped their toes or plunged head-first into emerging markets in recent years, often with some level of NGOs collaboration. NGOs have assisted in ways ranging from implementing CSR programs to market research to actually selling product. C.K. Prahalad wrote about the recent “co-creation” trend in the February 2007 Harvard Business Review, citing the example of BP marketing the Oorja cookstove in India with the help of local NGOs. Because I launched a similar product in Chad from an NGO (without MNC support) during the same time period, naturally I was interested. The promise of co-creation partnerships is compelling: the business profitably reaches a new group of consumers with a smaller investment than going it alone, and the NGO furthers its mission with a powerful brand that it would struggle to create in house. Initial signs show that BP’s approach has worked well, with 100,000 Oorja stoves sold (see BP’s 2007 Sustainability Report, page 35). But such partnerships can present cultural challenges as businesses seek profitability and NGOs call for sustainability. It’s not always easy to define the latter, let along understand the overlap with the former. A business can even find itself in no-man’s land, with an approach that is seen as too commercial by some stakeholders (“why aren’t you giving it away?”) and not commercial enough by others (“you’re only selling it for HOW much?”). I can’t argue for one approach over another, as so much depends on the specifics of the company and the market. But I believe that alliances focused on selling product cannot replace those focused on broader economic development, and that programs such as the Intel Education Initiative are a great way to demonstrate a long-term commitment to solving global problems.
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