Africa in Virtual Worlds

…Journal of our Experiences with Social Media and Virtual Worlds to date…

Philips’ brand of Philantrophy

Yesterday, I attended an interesting event by PHILIPS DESIGN in SL – and we had a wonderful discussion about their ‘Philantrophy by Design’ approach. More and more companies are leading pioneering R&D programmes in developing countries and come up with sensible solutions. I was impressed by the inclusion of more than 200 designers in developing the human-friendly wooden stove for Indian households. I am even more relieved that the Philips team recognised the importance of true local innovation, intelligence and sustainability by using native networks and tapping into local enterprises when setting up a supply-chain of sorts. This approach comes from a vision at a corporate level and was confirmed in a recent press release: “I am convinced that to be successful, sustainability needs to be fully embedded in our ways of working, not be treated as a separate, add-on task. It needs to be embedded in the organization and company culture, in manufacturing, in products and R&D, in our relationships with partners and stakeholders, and above all in the company strategy”.

philipsstove.jpg

So where did this all come from? How does this help? Well, the entire philosophy behind products such as these, relates to the new strategy of a few pioneering and visionary companies teaming up with NGOs and civil society to create a better world – and yes, of course – lets not be naive, to increase their market share and foothold in emerging markets! There is always financial reasons for doing business in developing countries, where the environment is often hostile and challenging. The issue for me is whether there is exploitation on the one end, or integrity on the other, in going about your business in other parts of the world where less fortunate people try to survive from the one day to the other.

The problem for local residents of India was also a daily one – simply that indoor cooking fires create toxic fumes. And the ingenious solution: To design (with participation of indigenous people!) a superefficient clean-burning stove. CCN Money reports: “Three years ago Philips research chemist Paul van der Sluis, 44, set out to build a smokeless outdoor cooker. He wanted something for his backyard in the Netherlands that wouldn’t annoy his neighbors. He wound up creating a lifesaver. Smoke and toxic fumes from indoor cooking fires are a serious health problem in the developing world. Van der Sluis’s design reduces those emissions by using an electric fan, powered by the fire itself, to force air through the stove. “First, the wood evaporates into gas,” van der Sluis says, “and then the gas burns. The smoke completely burns off.” Philips plans to start selling the stoves this summer in India. Prices haven’t been set. –Eva Barkeman, CCN Money

I think the exciting idea for me is the trend that is emerging within the collective mindset of corporate business – to really make a difference worldwide in a way that shows ethical business practice. Sustainability is a term so often (and loosely) used by those with a vested interest in community development. It should not be taken at face, or word-value… In this Philips project, we would like to see how the ‘sustainable’ approach filters down to the local enterprise that has a break-out opportunity to make a better life for his/her family and community. Above all, we would like to imagine that products like these will inspire more companies to recognise that their own brand can gain tremendous strenght by simply doing the right thing for people who deserve better than a hand-out…

In the words of CK Prahalad: ” When the poor at the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid are treated as consumers, they can reap the benefits of respect, choice and self-esteem and have the opportunity to climb out of the poverty trap”. Philips have built the ladder and should be commended. Now it is up to the community to put it against the right wall towards true independence from aid agencies, NGOs and multi-national companies. Only then can we say the product succeeded in being ‘philanthropy by design’…in my opinion.

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