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  • Tania Ellis
  • February 27, 2014
Sustainability in the heart of sales



For most of women, pregnancy is a time of thrilling anticipation to become a mother, but for some pregnancy can be a possible death sentence, it all depends on where you live. The same goes for the probability of surviving your childhood, or the quality of treatment when facing a serious illnesses such as malaria or HIV.

Private companies have traditionally not given problems such as these much attention, but times are changing.

General Electric is not only the 4th largest company in the world active in a wide array of segments and countries. It is also a company with clearly defined social and environmental ambitions.

Its citizenship strategy is, in fact, integral to its business strategy, which means that among other things GE invests $6 billion each year in research and development, of which $4 billion is allocated to solving the problems of clean energy and affordable healthcare.


Like an increasing number of other companies, GE has realized that it can create more value from its philanthropic contributions, if they are related to their core business.

One example is GEs programme Developing Health Globally. The programme has donated more than $200 million through contributions from the GE Foundation, GE businesses and GE volunteer hours. And GE has had huge success in applying its special knowledge on water, energy and sanitation and other internal resources to building hospitals in Ghana in partnership with local stakeholders.

It all began when GE decided to dedicate some of its extensive experience with water, energy and sanitation, instead of just providing a large donation cheque.

First, GE applied the Six Sigma problem-solving approach to develop an effective plan and conducted over 100 interviews with experts from the EU, UNICEF, Africare, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Department of State to select a suitable area.

A team of senior executives from GE’s water, energy and health businesses then travelled to Ghana in December 2003. The district they chose had a population of 100 000, but no reliable power, clean water or access to healthcare other than a single midwife.

In collaboration with Ghana’s ministry of health, local members of parliament, the mayor, tribal leaders and residing non-profit organizations, GE started working on the construction of a hospital. By October 2004 – nine months later – the hospital was complete, fully staffed and functioning – a pace that few nonprofits could have matched, and an experience that has profoundly changed GEs thinking about corporate philanthropy.

The project has since gone global, and is now active in 14 countries on 3 continents >

So what can we learn from the GE case? For one, that sustainable solutions require a collaborative cross-sector effort – that addressing social issues and development challenges efficiently and effectively is no longer a question of who does the work, but rather of who can deliver the best solutions.

And so in this case, what GE has discovered is the value of partnerships – that by combining heads and hearts in (business) alliances for good it is possible to change the world to the better. So that becoming a mother may be something joyful rather than something fraught with danger, being able to celebrate your 5th birthday is a given, and you receive the same treatment as your neighbour.


The New Pioneers are this century’s generation of new leaders, social entrepreneurs, and social innovators that are turning global challenges into new business opportunities and sustainable ways of creating value.

Our New Pioneers Cases are examples of companies who are creating new hybrids of doing business and solving society’s problems. They are showing old world companies and organizations how to tackle new world challenges for the benefit of both humanity and the bottom-line. Want to learn more about The New Pioneers?

Read excerpts or buy Tania Ellis’ internationally recognized book >

The New Pioneers Book
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