THE EARTH TIMES
NOVEMBER 5, 1993
Citibank raises corporate consciousness
Environment grants spur local projects in US and abroad
BY ASHALI VARMA
New York—Environment protection, corporate consciousness, and sustainable development are the new buzzwords of the 1990s but few people know the extent to which large multinational corporations are committed to action.
Take the case of Citibank. Its policy that “good works are good business” is reflected in the $20 million that the bank spent in 1992 in a wide range of local, regional and international projects in the field of education, community development, health, and the environment. With a presence in 93 countries, 66 of which are in the developing world, the bank has a well-defined public-responsibility program which gives grants to NGOs and community development projects. These grants range from $5,000 to $75,000, according to Paul M. Ostergard, Director of Corporate Contributions and Civic Responsibility at Citibank.
Ostergard feels the bank has a vital role as a corporate citizen. “Community development is what we are about as a bank in many respects,” he said during a recent interview. “When you look at the businesses that we are in, it is, critical for us that the communities we do business in are healthy communities, so we make intensive investments in housing, job creation and education.”
One example is Citibank’s support for inner-city youth in New York through Unity High School at The Door, a social service agency for the needs of children growing up in difficult surroundings. This model school tests ways to build academic skills, career awareness and self confidence in pupils who are at the risk of dropping out.
In a similar program in South East London, Citibank funds a partnership between education and business that uses goals to motivate youngsters in an attempt to raise aspirations and achievements. Here the added incentive is that those who complete the program successfully are guaranteed job interviews with participating employers.
In the poor countries of the developing world, the grants have an even larger impact. As Cynthia Stone, senior advisor for Citibank’s environmental and micro-enterprise grants, said, “We often look for projects which are new and innovative and can be models and are easily replicable. The initial impact of the grant may not be that large in terms of the number of people affected but if it is replicable it sets a precedent and can have a wide outreach.”
With this vision of sustainable development in mind, Citibank created a separate global environmental portfolio in 1990. With its presence in 66 developing countries it had the unique advantage of possessing first-hand knowledge of the particular problems faced by different communities. Kenneth Campbell, Public Affairs Director of Citibank’s Global Finance Division said: “We feel its part of our responsibility as guests of a country to be helpful in any way we can. We want to be a part of the community and to see it grow and prosper.”
Grants are made to NGOs who are already established and are effective in the work they are doing. This enables the funds to be utilized in an efficient and optimum manner, cutting through bureaucracy and waste. In 1992, for example, the bank gave $25,000 per year, for a three-year period, to Conservation International’s “Seed Ventures.”
Seed—which is an acronym for Sound Environmental Enterprise Development helps create an alternative to deforestation by developing businesses that market biodiversity products such as tagua nuts, Brazil nuts, tree oils, and fibers that are sustainably harvested from in and around priority ecosystems. About 150 people from Peru’s region are employed in the factory and the harvesting process.
A grant to Africare is helping to create a poultry business in Zambia. The financial aid supports construction of a poultry house, a revolving credit fund for feed and veterinary supplies, and training courses in business management.
Says Cynthia Stone: “The Bank has become increasingly aware of the interplay between environment and economics, particularly at the grassroots level. When you talk of economic development in developing countries, you’re really talking about what happens at the grassroots level. Last year we spent over $155,000 in international environment grants.”
To enable a poor country to develop expertise in sustainable, development, grants are given to scholars from these countries for their work in the sustainable use of natural resources.
The scope and scale of Citibank’s Corporate Contributions and Civic Responsibility program suggests that to be really successful in today’s interdependent global economy, it is not enough for a large multinational to look at profitability alone.
It is necessary to have the vision to participate and be an integral part of the social fabric of the community.