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The Real Meaning Behind "Purpose"

Posted by: Tom Zara on June 06, 2014

As the Global Practice Leader of Corporate Citizenship at Interbrand, the focus of my efforts center around shaping strategies that connect the “heart” and “brain” of organizations to create positive change in our world. These efforts to reconcile human values and economic performance are in the service of many of the world’s greatest brands—brands managed by the titans of commerce and brands that touch millions of consumers across the globe.

At Interbrand, we invest in the creation of programs that meet five criteria for success and employ highly motivated creative teams to develop content that engages employees and customers in support of cause-related programs—all within the confines of glass and steel structures of corporate edifices. We have an intellectual grasp of the cause, sufficient points of reference to shape the tactics of a program, and assurances that what is planned is, in fact, executed. The brain is fully engaged in this strategic process. 

But where is the heart? 

This past November, I was invited to join a team from Procter & Gamble, working on the Pampers brand, as well as members of the UNICEF corporate partnership team to fly half way around the world to the Island of Flores in Indonesia. Our purpose was to document the Pampers/UNICEF Maternal Neonatal Tetanus program, nine years in force, and support its worthy objective: eradicating a preventable disease that kills a newborn baby every nine minutes. The program meets every standard of excellence we prescribe to our clients, so my expectations were high. My understanding of the program was well-informed and the metrics of its impact were meticulously documented. All that was left to appreciate was the hands-on participation in the actual implementation of the vaccine program. What transpired during my time in Indonesia was a life-changing experience. 

Tom Zara

Tom Zara (left), Global Practice Leader of Corporate Citizenship at Interbrand and Matthew Price (right) of Pampers, are greeted by roosters during their trip to Indonesia.

Roeteng is the largest city in the central region of Flores, roughly 950 miles due east from Jakarta. Arriving by plane from Denpasar, we then traveled three hours to our destination: a picturesque mountain village in rural Indonesia, removed from everything most Westerners consider “normal.” This is a place where one-room homes with mud floors, limited access to potable water, and subsistence farming are the norm. And, everywhere we looked, there were children, curious and welcoming.  

In the central gathering hut of the village, we witnessed the complexity and impact of the MNT vaccine program in all of its glory. Mothers lined up with their newborn children—patiently waiting to be examined by the visiting nurses, ready to receive their vaccines and grateful for the medical attention being administered. Observing the procession of young families in search of basic medical services brought my own privilege into sharp relief—access to medical care, both basic and advanced, is something many of us take for granted. But here, receiving preventative care was something to celebrate and a cause for joy. The gratitude was heartfelt. These women now had confidence that their health, and the health of their babies, was secured. The whole village, in fact, participated in the bounty of medical attention and human compassion. 

Just a short walk to the fringe of the village sat a two-room school. As we approached, we were greeted by a group of beautiful children—all neat in their school uniforms, flashing brilliant smiles and squealing with laughter as we tried to communicate using hands and comical gestures. We proceeded to give these children second doses of the MNT vaccine, which were received with enthusiasm, fearlessness, and calm—a response we were not expecting, but one that gave us insight into the dignity and strength of these children. In their eyes, shone the light of hope and the promise of health.

As moving experiences like this illustrate, the impact of the Pampers/UNICEF program is not simply measured by statistics. It is also measured by its contribution to the well-being of an individual, a family, and a whole community. While the vaccine is designed to eradicate the incidence of tetanus, the real gift of the MNT program is prolonged life—and optimism. For me, the gift of the program is the tangible sensation of seeing and feeling its impact. Thanks to my journey, I can now be a more credible advocate for the generous initiatives powerful brands make possible—and, for that, I will be eternally grateful. 

Tom Zara is the Global Practice Leader of Corporate Citizenship at Interbrand. You can follow him on Twitter: ‪@zaracsr4change  

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