You probably know Western Union for their money-transferring platform. You may not know that the company has a diverse CSR portfolio, an engaged workforce, and a hand in community advancement. We had a chance to talk with Talya Bosch, Vice President of Social Ventures, about the company's mission, its relationship with the Western Union Foundation, and the secret sauce to its cause campaigns.
Q1: Western Union has created a portfolio of social impact programs with the goal of expanding economic opportunity, an issue well-aligned with your core business capabilities. How do you maintain that focus? What criteria do you use to screen potential initiatives or cause partnerships?
We are fortunate to have a focused and inspiring leadership team that believes that Western Union is a purpose-driven brand. We believe that access to financial services is a right for all, not a luxury for the few. In the Social Ventures team, we are charged with using our business assets for business and social impact. Our shared value efforts need to align with the company’s core business goals of delivering a financial return on investment, while at the same time offering a meaningful benefit to society – with a focus on under-served audiences. When it comes to cause marketing, we have made a strategic decision to support education via Education for Better, a three-year commitment to the education cause.
Q2: What advice would you give other companies trying to focus their cause programs to align with core business capabilities?
It can be very helpful to start with the end in mind. Try to get clarity and agreement on what you most want to accomplish. Some people use terms like cause-related promotions, corporate responsibility and shared value interchangeably. For them, as long as it’s “doing good,” the terms don’t matter. I think that does a disservice to the field. After all, the finance team would never say that it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about sales or profit since it all has to do with money. [emphasis mine] Similarly, it’s helpful to be clear about which business goals you want to advance, since different social tools are best suited to accomplishing very different aims. Then again, there also is a place for traditional philanthropy, which primarily focuses on social outcomes without any direct business return at all.
Q3: How does Western Union involve customers in social impact programs?
We involve consumers in a variety of ways. At the most basic level, we communicate clearly and transparently about what we are doing in the Social Ventures space. Together with the Western Union Foundation, Western Union also has engaged in consumer fundraising programs, which have been particularly popular in times of disaster. Our system has tremendous potential to get funds to individuals as well as nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) when and where they are needed most. The company also sometimes runs cause-related marketing promotions in which money transfers or similar consumer action trigger
s a donation to a charitable organization. For example, in 2012, we have helped fund scholarships, books and school meals, which have been shown to keep students off the streets and in school.
Q4: How does Western Union involve employees in social impact programs? What is the employee engagement culture like in terms of volunteerism, giving back and/or personal sustainability?
Employee engagement is a big part of Western Union’s culture. A benchmark 57% of Western Union employees give to the Western Union Foundation – unrestricted and out of their own pockets, since they believe in the work of the foundation and want to be a part of it. We also have a growing volunteerism program, including an executive-in-residence opportunity for rising stars within the company who give several weeks of their time to work on-site with social entrepreneurs through Ashoka. I think the spirit of community engagement runs very deep for us because people here have chosen to work for a company that is extremely customer-centric – and, those customers often are at the bottom to the middle of the economic pyramid, people whose financial needs just aren’t well met by other firms. So, just by coming to work every day, Western Union employees are part of something bigger.
Q5: What is an example of a hallmark social impact program or cause partnership? What have you learned from the program or partnership?
I love the African Diaspora Marketplace. It is a business plan competition that engages diaspora community members in using market-based approaches to solving challenges and creating jobs in their home countries. We have run the program twice, each time receiving far more applications than we anticipated and bringing the finalists to a 'business fair' in Washington DC to network and receive mentoring and technical assistance in support of their business idea. The winners are amazing. One launched a passenger ferry on Lake Victoria – the first one operating there in years – which dramatically cut travel times in the region. The Earthwise Ferry runs on locally-sourced bio-fuels and even takes paperless e-tickets. That’s just one example of the great innovation that comes from bringing unexpected partners together to advance community-driven change. The program is a partnership between Western Union, the Western Union Foundation, Western Union Agents, and USAID. Other examples are available here.