From women's empowerment to the US' image, the global public affairs environment is increasingly fluid. These issues were on the agenda as industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid at this FleishmanHillard-hosted roundtable in Washington, DC.
Kris Balderston, senior partner, GM of Washington office, FleishmanHillard
Stephanie Cathcart, global public affairs manager, GE
Paul Dyck, senior director, government relations, APCO Worldwide
Eric Eve, partner, head of government relations and public affairs, RLM Finsbury
Tita Freeman, SVP of comms and public affairs, Business Roundtable
Ray Kerins, SVP of comms and public affairs, Bayer
Craig Minassian, director of comms, Clinton Global Initiative
Kristel Muciño, comms director, Washington Office on Latin America
Tom Patton, VP of government relations, Philips
Aaron Sherinian, VP of comms and PR, UN Foundation
The female perspective
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): You can't have a meaningful conversation about the economy, peace, and security without discussing the part women play. Why is their role so crucial on a global scale?
Kris Balderston (FleishmanHillard): While at the State Department, different governments around the world would ask, “How can we improve our economy or increase prosperity?” My initial response: “Empower women.”
Research indicates women are more apt to keep money in the community and build infrastructure. Men don't necessarily do that. We talk about the political power of women around the world, but the economic power is very important. The World Bank and the World Economic Forum have studies that show women's major role in consumer patterns.
One example we used at the State Department working with GSMA, the global cell-phone standards organization, was mWomen. There was a gap between men and women of 300 million cell phones in Africa. The GSMA started realizing that if you gave cell phones to women, you could see this economic power. They used them in farming, in buying products, and in banking to send their savings to a safer place. The economic empowerment of women is a definite trend in the world.
Tita Freeman (Business Roundtable): Earlier today, there was a discussion about unlocking the vital voices and the 1 billion women who are sort of at the cusp of empowerment. How do you empower those women? How do you unlock those voices?
It's not just about governments, the private sector, and empowering those women. It's about recognizing the demands on all women as the primary household domestic managers and the career professionals. It's about ensuring that at certain times in a woman's life you afford that flexibility.
Melanne Verveer has a unique and valuable view of global affairs, gleaned from her time as director at the State Department's Office for Global Women's Issues. Currently director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, she spoke to PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid about women's role in government, the importance of nonprofit relationships, and the legacy of Hillary Clinton, for whom Verveer served as chief of staff.
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): On numerous platforms, you've lamented how few women hold top posts in national governments both here and abroad. Why is it so beneficial for women to hold such positions?
Melanne Verveer:Research shows that women in such posts better respond to the needs of the people. There is better accountability of the resources coming in. They address issues such as sanitation, education, and health – the things that people want to see changing in their lives.
Women also play a major role in simply putting issues on the agenda. Think about Title IX, breast cancer, or violence against women. None of those would have been considered important had women not been on both sides of the aisle pushing their colleagues and creating a critical mass. These are all issues that greatly affect at least half of our population, but in the end affect everybody.
Fidelzeid: You spoke at the National Association for Female Executives Conference in April. The link between women and the economy was a major talking point. Please describe the crucial role women play in this arena.
Verveer: The World Economic Forum, no women's organization to be sure, does its annual Gender Gap report, which looks at the gap between men and women in a given country on four metrics – health and survivability, access to education, economic participation, and political empowerment. The countries where that gap is nearer to being closed – and nowhere is it closed – are far more economically competitive and prosperous.
It's common sense. If we look at women's economic role just over the last couple of decades, that participation has added as much to economic growth as China has.
Women invest their resources differently. Their incomes, up to 90%, will go for health, education, and food – the kinds of things that trigger other investments in a community. In turn, this raises the standard of living, which is critically important, particularly in emerging countries.
Research has also shown that small- and medium-sized businesses run by women entrepreneurs are where jobs are created, where growth occurs. And what country doesn't want to grow its economy and create jobs?
Another big evidentiary point is women as consumers. In the next several years, women will be two-thirds of the consumers. They will have two-thirds of the consumer power, which is trillions and trillions of dollars. In terms of the private sector, women are going to be critical to driving profits because of their consumer power.
Fidelzeid: Based on your vast global travel, how would you categorize America's reputation abroad? How is that impacting global public affairs efforts on behalf of the US and US-based entities?
Verveer: It's mixed. For the most part in Europe, Asia, and much of Africa, the US is considered that great positive force and there's an interest in being partners with us.
Our real challenge is in the Middle East, particularly in places such Pakistan. It would take a lot of public affairs people to figure out how the US can move from the bottom in terms of our perception in Pakistan. It's also an example of why Secretary Clinton has put in so much effort in the world of public diplomacy.
She would travel and do town meetings. Yes, it was important for her to be face-to-face with leaders and foreign ministers, but if it ended in that room and there was nothing beyond that, what would the message of America be to the vast numbers of people in the country whose opinion of us does matter?
An enormous percentage of her efforts were spent in discussions with students, with women, with regular folks who were selected to come together with her.
Winning the hearts and minds of the people of the world can be extremely difficult. There are so many who interpret us to their own people in a way where we wouldn't be able to recognize ourselves. And there are no easy answers. In fact, one of the hardest jobs at the State Department is the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy.
Fidelzeid: What legacy has Hillary Clinton left as Secretary of State? Describe her contributions to the US' relationships with the rest of the world?
Verveer: To put it nicely, we were not perceived in a positive way in many parts of the world when she took over that position. She had to use her considerable persona to break that down, to reach out to people, to portray an understanding of this country that may not mesh with their understanding of us.
Just one example of her influence: the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. There wasn't going to be an American pavilion at this event because Congress didn't want to put a nickel down for these kinds of expositions anymore. All of the money had to be privately raised.
Secretary Clinton kept underscoring how bad it would look when much of the world was congregating in Beijing and America had no place there. It is a small matter, but these are the kinds of symbolic things from which perceptions are made.
The pivot to Asia was a major undertaking that you can see the results of today in the US' extraordinary relationship with Australia, with New Zealand, and a lot of work done in the Pacific and the opening in Burma – a place where there was a real effort to have a greater American presence.
Certainly, the work done on Iran, in terms of bringing the Russians and the Chinese together, was also a major effort. And, of course, she led the charge in really recognizing that women – half the population of the world – mattered and that no country could get ahead if it left half of its people behind. She made this a cornerstone of foreign policy.
Fidelzeid:You are a cofounder of Vital Voices, a nonprofit whose mission is to identify, invest in, and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world. Nonprofits can get frustrated with how little domestic and global coverage and attention they get. How can such organizations break through?
Verveer: One of the things I have discovered over the years is that the last person they hire on their staffs, unless it's a very big organization, is a communications director. This never made any sense to me. Nonprofits have critical issues that need to be translated and gotten out to the public. Such organizations need to make a case to spur investment. They also need to grow membership.
The perception of communications is still an issue with many such organizations. There is also the challenge of showing how the nonprofit is contemporary with the news people are reading about daily. Nonprofits have to show relevance and timeliness. They can't present something that will make someone ask, “Why am I being bothered with this now?” Considering all this, it's easy to see why the communications director is such a vital role at nonprofits.
Another thing I've noticed over the years – and this is true for many NGOs and nonprofits – is that any time I went to a major agency and asked for pro bono help, I always received a great response. Such relationships are good for all involved because everybody wants to have a win-win.
I used to do events with the Kennedy Center [for the Performing Arts]. It was getting so big that I couldn't handle it anymore without some help. At one point, the head of a firm who was working with me said, “I had so many people from my agency on this event, but I would do it again tomorrow because my company got so much out of it.”
Fidelzeid: : Of all the countries you've visited, what are some of the biggest takeaways you can share that could benefit public affairs pros?
Verveer: If I had some snapshots of what's happened, at least in my experience over the last four years and more, the one major story is women are on the front lines of change.
Whether it's the Arab Spring or general economic activity, women are increasingly taking their place – often at great personal risk – and really pushing forward. This was so striking in the Arab Spring. Women were on the front lines. They were in Tahrir Square, shoulder to shoulder with the men. They were across Libya. They were across Tunisia, in Yemen.
Tawakul Karman, the Yemeni activist who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, told me that hers was a very, very traditional society. If you go to Yemen, you probably can't relate to it because the women are extremely traditional in how they're covered. However, Karman told me that the women in Yemen simply woke up and – with emphasis – asserted that they're not going back to sleep.
This is a big story in the making. While with the State Department, I had several meetings with people from the region, both men and women. In every instance, it was the men who told me to note the difference that's happening with the women in this area. And they did so in a very positive way because they saw how the women were making their voices heard.
A subset to this is what's going to happen to the women in Afghanistan. These women, as one of them said to me, have gained more in the last ten years than they have in decades and they don't want to see that progress reversed. And this shouldn't be viewed as some favor to Afghan women, who will be critical to what happens economically and politically to everyone in the country.
Another major issue is violence against women and girls. It is abhorrent to read about the horrors perpetrated every day, but it is a global epidemic. I am often asked about what the US does about this. When I was in India, where this issue gets a lot of headlines, an official stood up in this meeting and spoke about how big this problem was and that his country was trying to address it. He then added that such atrocities even happen in America, such as the recent case with the three young women in Cleveland who were kidnapped for a decade, and it didn't generate the kind of outcry in the US as it did in India.
I was just boiling inside. When the official finished, I said, “Let me tell you a little bit about Ohio. It did generate an outcry. Within 24 hours, those guys were apprehended and a trial happened quickly. We have a violence-against-women law that kicked in. This is where the government responded in terms of our justice system.”
You ask about America's image. This is a big part of who we are. These are the signals we send to the world.
Fidelzeid: The tragedy in Bangladesh in April, where more than 1,000 people were killed when a textile factory collapsed, highlights problematic labor issues. So many of the victims in that building were women working there. What's the key message to take away when such an event occurs?
Verveer: I've probably made five trips to Bangladesh in the last two years. I've sat with many of the factory women. These might seem like jobs that nobody would want, but these are transformative jobs for many women who've been in the informal economy and have had no opportunity. I was there after the Tazreen factory fire in late 2012 and the women clearly told me they didn't want to lose these jobs.
There has not been the kind of cooperation from the government there needed to be. Increasingly, companies must send a message that they will not have their brands tainted because of what's going on here. They must tell the governments that if they don't begin to act accordingly, we will have no alternative but to leave. Government needs to understand that there are huge implications for the brands that do business in Bangladesh.
The textile industry has put Bangladesh in another place economically. There's a lot at stake and the government there has to understand that, it has to respond, and it has to get the factory workers to be part of the solution.
European or American brands have increasingly demonstrated a desire to be good citizens in addressing this problem. However, it will take everybody to keep the pressure on or nothing will change.
Paul Dyck (APCO Worldwide): If you look at some of the key issues in the world, women are front and center. German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Christine Lagarde at the International Monetary Fund are examples. During my time in the Bush administration, I worked with Condoleezza Rice. I recall John Kerry even asking whether a man could actually run the State Department because so many powerful women have done so.
So you have these women in leadership roles, but regionally, whether it's the Middle East or elsewhere, or below some of those leadership levels, that's where a big gap still exists.
Aaron Sherinian (UN Foundation): You can't talk about women without talking about girls. Forty-three percent of the world is under 25. There have never been that many girls living in the world who are an economic, political, and a social force. Rightfully, people in the PR world, the government sector, and in corporations are focusing on girls, their power in the economy, and this emerging “girl” voice.
As we talk about women, it's important to talk about interventions that work for women right now, but there are still realities that affect girls that will translate into women's realities very soon. One in six girls in some developing countries, for example, is still forced to marry before 15. We won't get to any of these women's issues that we talked about – which are people issues, not women's issues – unless we address the reality and the opportunities for girls right now.
Tom Patton (Philips): Philips' Fabric of Africa study really accentuates this. When thinking about the 1 billion women on the cusp of empowerment, I would highlight that these 1 billion women need to be healthy.
Complications of pregnancy and childbirth contribute to almost 400,000 maternal deaths annually, of which 99% occur in resource-poor countries. Two million cases of obstetric fistula occur worldwide, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In Africa, newborn mortality is high, accounting for 29% of neonatal deaths globally.
The promise of development in these parts of the world is great, but it can't be realized with some of the conditions that exist today.
Stephanie Cathcart (GE): It's important to be flexible and adaptive so you can create in-country solutions. There are also less overt ways of empowering women through indirect methods – our partnership with the Saudi government around breast cancer and screenings is an example.
Saudi women have some of the lowest numbers for screenings, but breast-cancer screenings make it one of the most preventable cancers you can treat. This is a way for us to both approach an obvious health issue, but it also speaks to the need for more female doctors in Saudi Arabia and other Mideast countries because a woman can only see a woman doctor.
This proved to be a way of approaching and empowering women from an education and health standpoint, but the government also saw an outcome from this. You can get very quick responses and more immediate feelings that go deeper if you're focusing on the very specific needs of that country.
Craig Minassian (Clinton Global Initiative): Our members want to have the issue of girl and women empowerment integrated through all of our programming and not treated as a stand-alone issue.
Kristel Muciño (Washington Office on Latin America): The experience of Latin America is interesting in that the rise of women links to the rise of human rights movements, especially over the last couple of decades.
A great example is Michelle Bachelet, who was an activist for democracy during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and became the first female president of Chile in 2006. As president, she became the commander in chief of the armed forces, which had tortured her and her mother during the dictatorship, and implemented mechanisms to make sure that type of abuse never happens again. Interestingly, after her presidency, she became the head of UN Women. There's a cycle of empowering women and human rights that is clearly seen in Latin America.
Ray Kerins (Bayer): Public/private partnerships at organizations such as those represented at this table are the only solution. No one company can do it alone – and companies have tried to pick an idea and move forward with it, but there's not enough money, time, or resources. Multinational corporations, governments, and NGOs must work together. It's happening more and more, but it must continue.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Public-private partnerships are viewed as a key force to advance solutions around the world, with education being a major issue. Describe how these vital relationships are playing out on the global stage.
Kerins (Bayer): The Bayer Foundation is solely focused on STEM – science, technology, education, and math. As an organization that is based on science with discoveries that come from some of the brightest people in the world, we need to make sure there's an appropriate pipeline, not just of medicines, but of people who can help us discover those.
As such, the focal point for us has been education, specifically in science and technology. Again, this comes down to the fact that there is only so much money at the end of the day. The ability for us to focus those funds in a particular area that will have impact for the greater good of society is why we do it the way we do.
Dyck (APCO): More than 50% of the population in the Middle East is younger than 15. While significant strides have been made in education of both boys and girls, there's still a huge gap as it relates to the number of scientific papers, patents, and the like that come out of the region. This is an area where, frankly, the Middle East will have to be more competitive in the next 10, 20, or 50 years, especially as natural resources become less a part of the Middle East.
Balderston (Fleishman): There are 400 million adults unemployed in the world. Sixty million Americans are first- and second-generation Americans and they give $90 billion in remittances a year back home. That's four times larger than foreign aid in this country. One of the things you must talk about is education.
We would always send our finest, our Ivy Leaguers, over to help out in the Middle East. In reality, though, what they really wanted was our community college system. Through the State Department's Global Diaspora Forum, we would send Arab Americans from community colleges in Michigan, for example, to go to North Africa and help them plot out their futures. This proved far more effective. It's an example of how American diversity and know-how can help make these changes. And it's a win-win for both sides. We're creating markets that are stable. The power of the US' diversity and innovation allows people the world over to be educated through these new forces.
Minassian (Clinton Global Initiative): Tech companies also feel a global responsibility to deliver education or understand that they are providing an informal education, whether it's organizations such as the Khan Academy or Wikipedia. They know places without a formal education system are turning to the Web. And the more we can get the content creators that are delivering this education to understand the power of what they're doing, the better the information will be and the better the education will be.
A lot of my organization's members partner with educational organizations, partner with tech companies to make sure they're delivering both the infrastructure in schools, but also a way to get people the information they otherwise wouldn't.
Cathcart (GE): Bringing education to places such as Africa will also stem the tide of having so many women leaving the country. At present, they are not staying, growing, and keeping that engagement.
This is also a great opportunity to verbalize and identify the need for the skills and the jobs that we'll be looking to fill in the future. Given the entrepreneurial spirit that exists now, what a great time to focus on education.
Patton (Philips): In thinking about public/private partnerships and these various issues around the world, it's become very clear that the focus must be on solutions. For 128 years, we sold stuff. Now we sell solutions.
Four years ago, we launched the Cape Town to Cairo Roadshow. We zigzag all across Africa, teaching clinicians how to deliver healthcare. So education isn't just K-12 or at the community college level. It's out there on the ground, helping people know how to deliver. And if you can have access to healthcare and you know how to deliver it, you can make some big strides.
Sherinian (UN Foundation): Education is a good example of a public/private partnership that is truly 360 degrees. You can have a great public/private partnership that talks about a school in a village, but that school is the same place where people are going to get health information.
As we look into the future of public/private partnerships, we can't pat ourselves on the back for doing something bilaterally. It has to be multilateral in the broadest sense. We must ask who else we can serve by making an investment in a school. What programs can we help facilitate? How does education relate to bed nets to fight malaria? How does it relate to safety for girls and women? Those questions need answering.
Kerins (Bayer): It has to be real. Corporations will understandably do things that are self-serving, but they are public entities, so there has to be – deep down – a real sense of trying to fix a problem that can actually make a difference.
Take bed nets. Minimal cost, great benefit. Companies can get an immediate benefit in that their workers will be healthier. That's a positive. How do we make sure it goes beyond that into the larger community? The challenge always comes back to money and resources, but public/private partnerships can be a solution to pulling a lot of things off and allowing us to collectively serve society.
Balderston (Fleishman): Another noteworthy public-private initiative is the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which the State Department set up with the UN Foundation and Philips, which produces one of the cleanest cookstoves in the world.
This is the fourth biggest killer in the world, with 4 million women and children dying a year. A woman is raped every minute in the Congo because she's out looking for fuel. It's a huge global issue and Philips has a solution. Of course, we have to bring down the cost – I think it's $90 – but we are working with the UN Foundation to create a standard, which will hopefully allow for more mass selling.
But there's another major part to this – and it's something everyone in this room does so well. We tell the stories. With all the initiatives we ever did at the State Department, the defining factor on effectiveness is whether or not we told the story well. A great idea without a well-told story won't succeed. Ideas and solutions need to be translated to people who are buying these items.
Patton (Philips): We realize the women who are out searching for fuel aren't going to the mall to buy this stove. There must be a new way to go to market with these solutions we're providing. And our governments don't understand the go-to-market strategy or how to set up policies to promote a go-to-market strategy. Only through partnerships can we get those solutions firmly intrenched.
Freeman (Business Roundtable): It's refreshing that many of us at this table represent the Fortune 500 and we're solving problems. It's not just NGOs or governments talking about how to educate people. It's business. And that's crucial. This isn't just a “nice to do.” It's part of the fabric. It's part of the strategy and mindset of these large businesses to be socially responsible, to be engaged in solving problems.
At the Business Roundtable, we even see this at a federal advocacy level. We're not just going to Capitol Hill and talking about tax policy or expanding trade. We're also talking about all of the sustainability efforts and the wellness programs at large companies that we represent. It's a much broader message. It's more about thought leadership, as opposed to parochial interests.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How is the world changing from a networking standpoint? Are other countries receptive to the concept of networking?
Minassian (Clinton Global Initiative): President Clinton says this all the time – it's an interdependent world. Everybody has to work together. Maybe it's more pronounced at my organization because we're designed to match NGOs, businesses, governments, and philanthropists and have them all come together and work on a solution. But broadly, networking to find the right partners to approach problems is critical to success.
We can also add value by helping communities understand that networking is a way to address challenges. Additionally, through the rise of social and nontraditional media, people the world over are able to see how issues are addressed in other places. They're learning about partnerships. They can see what works. We have a number of different members come to us all the time from various sectors who think they have a good idea, but realize their limitations. They want us to help them meet the people who can implement their ideas.
Eric Eve (RLM Finsbury): With the democratization of credit, globalization, and the need to stay competitive, all of these things are driven by self-interest. And that's good because the only way it's sustainable is for organizations to be willing to be proactive.
I always tell clients that the worst time to find a friend is when you need one. And that could mean a reporter, an NGO, a corporation, or an activist. In light of the global economic crisis, we all have to think more globally. We also have to learn from crises and not say, “I don't need to partner with this NGO or this corporation.” The risk I see globally among clients is returning to the old ways of retreating to our respective corners. That's the wrong way to go. The corporations, NGOs, and governments that will thrive in the years ahead will be those that double down on their need to proactively network and engage locally and globally.
Sherinian (UN Foundation): We, as communicators, have our work cut out for us because of a vocabulary problem we have about the not-for-profit sector. We're the for-purpose sector. We're all for profit. Everyone wants everyone to prosper. As communicators, we must redefine those terms so that instead of being “Corporation X, global do-gooder” partnering with the not-for-profit sector, you're actually partnering with people who want to see you do well because we know that's going to make the pie bigger for everyone.
I love the fact that CSR is being redefined every day. Let's redefine it quicker. Let's tell the stories in a more effective way so that it's part of what we do every day. It's part of the cake, not the frosting.
Kerins (Bayer): In the healthcare sector, people always want free medicines, but if we gave all of our medicines away, there would be no revenue to increase the creation of new medicines. Such giveaways are a very short-term proposition to solving problems.
There's clearly a desire to make sure people who can't afford their medicine get access to it, but it's just as crucial to figure out how to partner with larger organizations – even those not in healthcare – to find solutions. How do you work with banks on micro-financing loans? How do you dig a little deeper to find solutions that don't come out of your own laps? That's where the healthcare industry continues to reinvent itself. In the old days, things didn't exist if they didn't come from us. It's not that way anymore. You see a lot more partnerships going on with stranger bedfellows than ever – and that's a good thing.
Balderston (Fleishman): When I went to the State Department, I remember being patted on the head in starting the global partnership initiative in a sort of “kumbaya” way. In the end, we raised more than half a billion dollars on partnerships.
We must professionalize partnerships and partnership building. We must build a trusted network to make the process more efficient. There should be professional partnership builders, people who can find synergies and shared value and know the right people and networks to push this along.
At the State Department, we've translated between languages and cultures since Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State. In reality, though, when we started putting different cross-sector people in the room, they didn't understand each other. This is where communicators can be so valuable. We translate between different sectors that don't necessarily understand each other.
The ABCs of CSR
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): While CSR remains as important as ever, terms such as “impact investing,” “corporate citizenship,” and “sustainability” increasingly crop up. Where is CSR right now? How has it evolved?
Eve (RLM Finsbury): There seems to be a study a month that rebrands it, but it's interesting when I talk to some of these marketers who have never left Washington or New York, who have never seen a cookstove, who have never sat on a dirt floor, and they're trying to impose what they believe should be citizenship outside of the US.
I tell clients to stop right there. A bunch of PhDs with Excel sheets and 60-page PowerPoints want to take a solution and export it. Forget about it. Regardless of what you call it, the most successful social initiatives around the globe are bottom up, not top down. They take into consideration the needs of the communities they will impact. Initiatives must be crafted by those who meet with the people in those communities. They're not crafted in rooms such as this one in capitals around the world.
As for those who think, “I need to feel good about these programs, but they can't be aligned to how my business functions” – they completely miss the point. These initiatives must be aligned to the mission, vision, and overall purpose of a corporation's employees, shareholders, and customers. Without that alignment, it is not sustainable over time.
Sherinian (UN Foundation): As we redefine CSR, it can't be chapter nine in an annual report. It needs to be chapters one through nine. It must be part of the business model and proposition, not an extra or something to do when there are leftovers. I embrace the fact we're trying to figure out the definition. By breaking it down, we get to those points of making it part of the business model.
Patton (Philips): You must have a dialogue about what the culture of your company is. In some companies, the culture lends itself to going out there to seek solutions that are aligned with your business interest. At Philips, we consider the patient to be at the center of everything we do with the development of technology and innovation. And what really brings this discussion together is considering whether we're doing something different today than we've done before.
The difference in how public policy or public affairs is done today is that we've got a much keener line of sight to the issues that are fragile and we've got a spirit to come together to seek solutions.
Eve (RLM Finsbury): As public affairs pros, we need to quantify for our clients why these initiatives are critical in the long term for employees, customers, and shareholders. We need to understand how our clients are profitable and then appeal the sustainability of these initiatives, so when we look back in five years or so on the decisions we made in 2013, we can judge the investment.
Cathcart (GE): We're constantly struggling with balancing our responsibilities to make a social impact while satisfying our shareholders. And up until quite recently, companies have not been comfortable talking about these programs. However, about two years ago at the UN Global Health Summit, a huge connection was made to reveal that talking about this isn't bad. It's OK for GE to be more overt about our Vscan and acknowledge we want to make a profit with it. It's a handheld sonogram that serves an in-country need in various regions. The governments identified a need and we worked with nurses who are helping with premature babies or helping to identify problems early so that these mothers could go to a hospital and seek the medical treatment they needed with more basic tools.
And for companies, you can now have the win-win of highlighting both social good and profitability. That gives us the assurance to be able to go to market and approach these in a new way.
Muciño (Washington Office on Latin America): Some colleagues of mine have recently been looking at what major food companies are doing in Central America and are encouraged to see a lot of them talking about sustainability and small-scale farmers. However, they also noted the lack of detail about what these programs are actually doing. For NGOs such as mine, we need those details so we can complement efforts or build on them.
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How do you evaluate whether or not your companies or clients should engage with turmoil-ridden regions of the world?
Dyck (APCO): It's a question we face daily. On the one hand, you can't help clients from DC or New York by just advising or lecturing. You must engage in the places that have the real problems, and some of these places might have governments with whom we may not agree on all issues. Of course, it's also crucial that there be a threshold of ethics and transparency that you'll never go below for any client.
That emphasis on transparency cannot be overstated. Your goals as a counselor for any client must be completely transparent. So whether it's a country or a company, you cannot be ashamed of helping them with whatever their ultimate priorities might be.
You also must be willing to get out of or change your decisions. Look at Burma. Five years ago, any firm taking on Burma as a client or interests within that country would have been seen as taking an enormous risk. Maybe even one year ago. Now it's a totally different story. Burma is clearly on a path to reform, so it makes a lot more sense for somebody to engage them. That's not to say it won't change again in six months.
Balderston (Fleishman): While at the State Department, I had the opportunity to go to Burma last year. We brought 50 companies in, mostly Fortune 500s, to spend time with the government. One of my favorite stories took place the first day. The companies were being briefed and everything was fine, but one Fortune 5 company stated they would not do anything until NGOs, foundations, human rights activists, and democracy activists joined them in the room. They would not invest in Burma if it was not a stable society.
You would not have seen that five or 10 years ago. This goes back to the trusted network. Everybody is now working across lines in all these sectors to determine their economic future. It was very telling.
Patton (Philips): Our advice is usually to abide by the law and the sanctions that have been in place. But boy, we watch closely. Take Cuba as an example. If someone in Congress even talks about removing the sanctions on Cuba, our colleagues in Europe say, “Let's go, we're in.” Same with Burma. Certain serious issues have to be resolved.
You wouldn't believe the back and forth that takes place while talking about reducing the sanctions. Industry is absolutely chomping at the bit to pursue new markets.
Cathcart (GE): What really captures my attention is the fact that the World Economic Forum is meeting in Myanmar in June. That's an incredible sign that businesses show that interest. You start to feel that push and it puts good pressure on the government there. It puts good pressure on the companies that can get in earlier because of the needs of the market and the solutions they provide. And because those companies are in there earlier, it helps accelerate the entire cycle.
The boots-on-the-ground point is also worth re-emphasizing. You need that local insight to know where the market will go. That's so critical to making good decisions, to knowing when it's time to grow or get out, to invest or not.
Muciño (Washington Office on Latin America): As an NGO, we grapple with the question of when to engage with governments, especially when there's room for reforming one area, but where you disagree with certain policies in another.
We go to our colleagues on the ground, experts, human rights defenders – all with a ton of experience working in that country. They help us identify people in government who are ethical and can help us understand the complexities and dynamics of the country. Interestingly, many of the human rights defenders of previous decades are now in government posts in Latin America. So as an international human rights organization, you want to be able to support their work, especially as they're pushing for reform. That's not to say that one day you might be working with a certain sector of the government for reform and the next day you might be criticizing them for a policy that might be detrimental for human rights.
It's very important for the private sector to engage with civil society on the ground, especially if you're taking a certain government as your client. You need to empower that civil society, perhaps through CSR programs, because they are the ones who will be pushing for reform, for justice. And that helps the country, its reputation, and businesses that engage there.
Views on America
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What is the US' reputation abroad and what challenges are posed by it?
Minassian (Clinton Global Initiative): We see our reputation in the proof of our members' work, 75% of which impacts the world beyond the US. And the reaction our members get is quite good. A lot of our partnerships are multinational and cross-sector – and those programs would not have the same effectiveness if people didn't want to work with Americans.
Cathcart (GE): I know it's the easy answer, but it depends whom you ask. The answer you get in the Mideast is always very different than what you hear elsewhere.
As for how that affects GE, it goes back to having really good people on the ground who understand that market. GE is a US company, but it's about being a local storyteller. Philips and Siemens know this really well. Siemens is actually a German company that is able to effectively tell its story locally. It's critical from a communicator's standpoint that your team has a good feel for how the US is perceived in every market you're in.
Dyck (APCO): When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, the US' reputation was very challenged. Having been in the Bush administration and traveling to many different countries, I have seen that myself, particularly in the last half of his presidency. This is really a huge challenge in our roles because you do encounter feelings of frustration or disappointment.
Still, when you get below that, having the US as a partner, having the US' approval, or doing business in the US remains top of mind for a lot of people. In doing business around the world in a different capacity, I sense that the overall feeling toward the US doesn't affect people's prioritization of America as a market or as a partner.
Muciño (Washington Office on Latin America): The image of the US has improved in Latin America in the last couple of years, but when it comes to how the region feels about the US, three major factors come into play.
First is the historic role the US has played in the region. Second are the migration flows and people-to-people contact. Third are certain current US policies and there are three hot-button issues.
The first one is the policy towards Cuba. Nobody in Latin America understands the embargo towards Cuba. Furthermore, it's perceived as an embargo that hurts the people and that has done nothing to promote human rights on the island. The second is immigration policy and deportation practices. And third is the war on drugs. And, of course, the perception in Latin America is that the war on drugs and drug trafficking responds to the law of supply and demand. If the US continues to be one of the biggest consumers of drugs in the hemisphere, it will keep driving drug trafficking and the violence that comes with it.
Having said all that, the perception remains in Latin America that the US is a place of economic opportunity and where social mobility can happen.
Sherinian (UN Foundation): In DC, people fret about American dominance all day, but we should be worried more about American relevance. America remains a place where you can match tradition and evolution, where you can be true to your traditions, where you can evolve as an economy, where you can talk about issues and grow. There's never been a better time to be American.
I've had the chance to work with both Republicans and Democrats. Without exception, the US does better globally when we're out talking to people and when we're, quite simply, being a better microphone than a megaphone. We're always worried about pushing the US message, but we're more powerful as as a nation when we ask people what matters to them. And in the social media world, this is our moment to do just that. In fact, it will help make us even more relevant.
Patton (Philips): We remain a shining light to so many regions. Still, there's a part of the world that doesn't like us very much that overshadows the broader view.
However, it's key to note that we're not that different. The US is not the only country to say what's right in the world. The world is changing so much and so fast, I sense a much stronger feeling of all countries being in this together as opposed to the US being something everyone just wants to emulate. Where the US can help immensely is in working with other countries as they face challenges we've already tackled.
Eve (RLM Finsbury): The perception of America abroad is, first and foremost, defined by our policy and diplomatic efforts. It's a steep hill to climb if you're viewing this from the private sector. A lot of folks spend much time collecting data on either our policy or on how our brands do globally, but our single biggest asset as public affairs pros is the ability to actively listen and craft solutions tailored to governments, to corporations, to NGOs around the globe. We are valued most for our intellectual capital and leadership, so the ability to deploy that after actively listening will be critical to sustaining our success.
Freeman (Business Roundtable): In my role working with 200 member companies, I see how the efforts of some huge corporations help solve problems around the world. These companies are also global ambassadors for the US and will only continue to do wonderful things for our reputation abroad through such solutions.
For those of us who lobby on the Hill and communicate with the Washington establishment, we need to continue highlighting the great work these large organizations do, whether it's an NGO or a business, to improve society.
Kerins (Bayer): Having worked in almost every continent around the world, I've been pleasantly surprised at how positively the US is viewed because of its role as an economic engine for growth globally. The opportunities in the US are greater for immigrants than they ever have been – and that sentiment remains prevalent.
Clearly, challenges remain because not every problem can be solved. However, when there's a crisis of any kind, the world turns to a few very specific countries, the US being one of them. Everyone wants to know what we are going to do about these issues. That gives the US the opportunity to lead.
Someone once told me the world is run by people who show up. When you show up, you have a chance to lead. Too many people stand around. We must engage, listen, educate, and, most importantly, partner because it can't be done by one country, one company, or one NGO.
Balderston (Fleishman): In all my travels during my time at the State Department, I was always struck by how much everybody wants to engage with Americans. In Dublin, for example, I had some of my best arguments with high school students asking why the US didn't do this or that. I recall a doorman in Singapore saying to me, “Tell Obama to take care of the economy. My pension depends on it.” There was a young kid in Tunisia who told me his school literally replicated Harvard Business School's classrooms in Tunis because a guy from town went there, got a degree, came back and made money, and wanted these new citizens to have the same type of education. He was asking for my advice on the 4.0 American grading system. I recall talking to a fellow in Jordan about the Alabama Crimson Tide. Everybody wants to engage with Americans. To tell the truth, I became much more patriotic after these trips.
I also urge everyone to look at the 60 million first- and second-generation Americans. More than 50% of companies in the Silicon Valley are launched by foreign-born people. This is our face. And these are the people who go back and tell the story of this country. It's an example of how we all must innovate. The State Department tends to do the same things all the time. But with the Global Diaspora Forum, we set out to make Diasporans a pillar of foreign policy. And it changed the way we looked at things.
It's something we need to work on every day. We've got to get out there – companies, NGOs, foundations, governments, and tourists – because other countries' perception of America is strongly influenced by that.