It matters when we care about helping others

When I arrived in Singapore last night to start blogging for Salesforce.com’s Cloudforce initiative, I was surprised to find that one of the items the company had put in its welcome pack for journalists was a book.

It was entitled The Business of Changing the World: Twenty Great Leaders on Strategic Corporate Philanthropy, and was put together by Salesforce.com chairman and chief executive Marc Benioff with the assistance of Carlye Adler.

Last night and this morning I took a little time out to check out this tome, and learn a little about the corporate philanthropic activities of Salesforce.com (they go right back to the foundation of the company, even when it was a tiny startup), as well as other massive tech giants such as Intel and Dell and even non-technology companies like Starbucks.

What I found surprised me. It seems that even when executives like Benioff and Dell were pursuing radical shake-ups of the world’s technology markets, they had an eye for doing good. Salesforce.com uses a model which it calls ‘1/1/1’ – as a company it devotes 1 pecent of its time, equity and product to increasing the effectiveness of non-profits in pursuing their social missions.

And this morning at a press conference we had a chance to see some of this change in action, with the company announcing a partnership with Singaporean philanthropic house the Lien Foundation that will provide technology solutions to Singapore’s non-profit pre-school sector (further details about this initiative will be online tomorrow).

Now it would be easy to write off Salesforce.com’s efforts in this vein as just your normal corporate charity work – many companies contribute back to the community, and it’s almost expected of large corporates these days.

But what struck me about the announcement was not what was announced, but how.

As Salesforce.com’s executive vice president for Asia-Pacific and Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, revealed the details of the plan and took questions from the press, it was clear she had personally invested some effort into this one and felt quite passionately about aiding Singapore’s pre-schools to get better access to technology.

(As several speakers pointed out, many of the pre-schools have almost no technology support at all – or it is very rudimentary).

Lien Foundation’s chief executive Lee Poh Wah also clearly felt very strongly about the ability of technology to improve things, and this shone through in the energetic way he approached the subject, waving his hands around, his eyes flashing and enthusiastically taking questions.

When you see people passionate about a subject like this, the enthusiasm spreads and it can’t help but catch fire in your mind.

All of this led me to thinking about how I should approach philanthropy in my own company. If Marc Benioff insisted on integrating philanthropy into his business right from its beginning, why aren’t we all?

I don’t have the answers just yet, but it’s something I will keep thinking about.

In the picture, from left to right: Nadhira Koyakutty, head of Early Childhood Education at Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS), Salesforce.com executive vice president of Asia-Pacific & Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, Lien Foundation CEO Lee Poh Wah, Presbyterian Community Services executive director Laurence Wee.

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