Stanford Panel: Transforming Lives – Just Business as Usual

10.22.13 4:00 AM ET

In this new age of corporate philanthropy, businesses can have a major impact on important social issues such as hunger, poverty, and gender inequality. This past week, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS), a fully interdisciplinary knowledge-sharing center consisting of scholars, leaders, and practitioners, hosted the “Transforming Lives–Just Business as Usual” panel, a discussion with three leading executives on how businesses can facilitate dramatic social change.

"Can you imagine a world where everyone is literate? Can you imagine a world where we've alleviated poverty?" began event host Kim Meredith, Executive Director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, as the event commenced. "This is the goal of our conversation today, how corporate innovation is actually impacting social innovation."

Among the panelists were Matt Cohen, founder of Off The Grid, a regional network of street food vendors, Kathy Mulvany, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility at Cisco Systems, and Gap Inc.'s Dotti Hatcher, a 28 year employee of Gap Inc. who heads Gap Inc.'s global investment initiative abroad. The panel was moderated by Sarah Kambou, President of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

For each of the panelists, the goal was to align creating social change with the company's business interests. Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program is emblematic of this strategy.

"Gap Inc. has traditionally invested in the communities in which we do business," said Hatcher, after being asked to explain the inspiration for Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program. "Our investments in the past have been mainly what you would think of as traditional philanthropy. Back in 2005, we were challenged by our leaders to look at how we are making our social investments and to make it more strategically aligned with our business interests."

In 2006, noting the lack of upward mobility for women in the developing nations in which Gap Inc. sources many products, Gap Inc. founded the P.A.C.E. program, a workplace education and technical training program aimed at reducing gender inequality in its factories by providing female garment workers with the skills they need to advance in their personal and work lives.

"When you go into a garment factory, some 80 percent of the workers are women, but the farther up the management chain you go the fewer women you see," said Hatcher. "What we recognized when looking at these women is that they hadn’t been given the skills needed and opportunity to advance into supervisory and management positions."

With Hatcher at the helm, Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. began offering a comprehensive nine month training curriculum, which give female garment workers an opportunity to develop communication skills, time and stress management techniques, problem solving and decision making tactics, and increased levels of financial and legal literacy.

Empowering Women in the Workplace

For Hatcher and P.A.C.E. the results have already been encouraging. According to an evaluation report from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), self esteem of program participants improved by 49% after completing the program and self efficacy (the ability to accomplish goals and tasks) increased by 150%. More than 23,000 women have participated in the program to date.

"As these women obtain these new skills their self-esteem increases, they actually become more productive in the workplace," said Hatcher, "they are more efficient in their jobs, they are more willing to take on new tasks and assignments, and as that happens we are creating a better work environment."

P.A.C.E. has a major impact on women outside of the workplace as well. Whether it's helping their children with homework, saving money for their education, or buying more nutritious foods at the local market, mothers who enroll in P.A.C.E. are obtaining skills that transcend the factory floor.

A Win-win Proposition

The programs featured at the Stanford PACS conference and embodied by P.A.C.E. represent a strategic new business model where everybody wins. By working in tandem with communities, companies like Gap Inc. are able to create a scenario in which workers get the training they need, families are enriched and corporations thrive.

"The Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program is an incredible example of how an organization has tapped into its own assets to create a better life for women and enhance the work that goes on in their communities," said event host Kim Meredith.

Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. represents an important trend in corporate global philanthropy, where social investments are strategically aligned to a corporation’s business interest. As Meredith said, companies like Gap Inc., by empowering women through ambitious social initiatives and expanding their bottom line are "transforming lives while conducting business as usual."