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Increasing Corporate Support in the Fight against an “Invisible” Cause

Professor Saouré Kouamé

Originally from Ivory Coast, a country that still faces poverty and many other social problems, Telfer School of Management Professor Saouré Kouamé wants to make people and businesses aware of how pressing it is to tackle the issue of poverty.

During his PhD, while studying how organizations like Oxfam and United Ways make decisions, he learned a lot from people who developed poverty reduction campaigns. “I realized that attracting corporate support was a big challenge for these organizations,” he explains.

These organizations often have to make an extra effort to convince businesses that they too should play a part in reducing poverty. Thus, it is not a coincidence that Professor Kouamé’s purpose in his current research supported by the Telfer School is to raise awareness in the corporate world: “I wanted to give more visibility to poverty reduction causes.”

The Challenges of Poverty Reduction Campaigns

Even a relatively wealthy city like Ottawa is not immune to poverty. According to the Ottawa Community Foundation’s Ottawa Insight, the income gap between the top earning 10% and the remaining 90% has significantly widened, increasing by almost 185 % for the past 35 years. To provide another even more telling statistic: 12% of Ottawa citizens live in low income and struggle to make ends meet. **

While there has been an increasing need for assisting socially disadvantaged communities in Canada, fundraising campaigns targeting poverty are unfortunately not popular, receiving little corporate support and becoming what Telfer School of Management Professor Saouré Kouamé refers to as “orphan causes.”

Research has shown that corporations prefer to engage in philanthropic initiatives that are more likely to be emotionally appealing to the media and customers, such as for example, campaigns that provide assistance to schools, hospitals, and to those affected by a natural disaster. Involving in these more “visible” causes is believed to boost a company’s reputation, which, in turn translates into more business profits.

But why aren’t corporations equally interested in tackling poverty? “Poverty is everywhere and, because we see it all the time, we are desensitized. As a result, poverty becomes invisible,” explains Professor Kouamé.

Sadly, over time we tend not to respond to poverty with the same intense emotions we usually feel after hearing the news about an earthquake that has tragically taken hundreds of lives. A campaign to build a new shelter or help low-income families may thus not have the expected results.

Supporting Philanthropic Organizations

Although Professor Kouamé’s study is still at the early stages of development, it will be impactful in many ways. For one, it will offer an insight into the fundraising reality faced by philanthropic organizations and workers who try to secure corporate support for the least attractive of the social causes.

Professor Kouamé advises philanthropic organizations to be strategic. To increase corporate participation in campaigns that aim at reducing poverty, they need to realize that “corporate social responsibility has become a tool for competition, and if the cause is not likely to increase corporate visibility, business leaders will probably not support your campaign.”

Spurring Positive Change at the Corporate Level

Professor Kouamé’s research is also about raising awareness at the corporate level, showing that companies have the potential to play a much more meaningful role in this fight:

“When everyone cares and works on strategies that could reduce poverty, then we are not simply making our city a better place for our citizens—it also becomes more attractive to businesses. Everyone benefits,” says Professor Kouamé.

Professor Saoure Kaoume

**12% of Ottawa residents earn bellow the Low-Income Measure After Tax (LMA-AT), the median after-tax income of households attributed to the individual level.