NEW YORK (Reuters) - More companies are making philanthropic investments part of their core strategies and realizing it is good for business, former President Bill Clinton and other business leaders said on Wednesday.
Clinton said companies were involved in 54 percent of the several hundred philanthropic pledges made so far at his sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative. That compares with 35 percent in 2005, when the program started.
“Corporations are more interested in this,” Clinton told a discussion on the economy at his three-day meeting, which a study by public relations firm Weber Shandwick found to be the most popular venue for chief executives in 2009.
More than 1,300 people including heads of state like U.S. President Barack Obama, business leaders such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, humanitarians and celebrities are due to attend Clinton Global Initiative, which finishes on Thursday.
Dow Chemical Co Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said that corporate social responsibility was now considered to be a part of the “sustainable growth” strategies of about 20 percent of the world’s top companies and that number was growing.
“A modern day corporation has to have a modern day lens,” he told the panel discussion. “We have had a tectonic shift in the way business is conducted and should be conducted.”
But while U.S. corporate giving rose 5.5 percent last year to an $14.1 billion, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, individuals gave more than $227 billion.
Standard Chartered Chief Executive Peter Sands said actual donations of money were important but that companies could achieve greater good by shaping their business and investments to have a positive impact.
“That’s the trick, getting (philanthropy) into the core business rather than something on the side,” he said.
Sands said a bank could donate tens of millions of dollars in money, but that through its business it could make an impact worth billions.
Standard Chartered pledged at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative to underwrite up to $5 billion in debt for renewable energy projects, focusing on Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. “So far they have been good for us, it’s early days,” he said.
To attend Clinton’s meeting, commitments must be made to tackle economic empowerment, education, environment and energy, and health. More than 300 pledges valued at more than $6 billion have been made so far this year.
When Clinton’s initiative began, corporations tended to show up and write checks to fund humanitarian programs. Now many see philanthropy in terms of investment opportunities.
Barclays Plc President Robert Diamond told the Clinton Global Initiative earlier on Wednesday that the global financial crisis had not only led to tighter regulation of the banking industry’s excesses, but a greater emphasis on social responsibility.
Diamond said “strong banks want strong regulation” because they suffered in the crisis from being put in the same basket as failed banks.
“The change is good on the financial side. The change that’s more important is on the cultural side,” Diamond, who will become Barclays chief executive next year, said during a discussion on stronger market-based solutions.
While Barclays is committed to giving away a percentage of its profits annually — in 2009 it was $90 million from its total profits of $18.2 billion — Diamond said it was important to change the business culture and encourage employees and company leaders to become involved in charity.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham