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Corporate Giving Is Part of the Solutions Equation

By Jimmy Carter

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 1998.

Philanthropy: When business works with individuals, government and nonprofits to do good, success is boundless.

Since leaving the White House, Rosalynn and I have devoted our time to the nonprofit Carter Center, which works for peace, democracy and improved health throughout the world. I've learned from experience that Americans want to help their neighbors, at home and in other nations. I've also learned that corporate America is willing, able and often eager to invest in challenging causes at home and abroad.

Let me share three examples of Carter Center projects that would have been impossible to undertake without the strong commitment and encouragement of our corporate partners.

In 1991, the center launched the Atlanta Project, a citywide effort to help about 500,000 people in poor neighborhoods improve their overall quality of life. Corporate partners were critical to our efforts. We targeted 20 neighborhoods and were able to recruit a corporate partner and a university partner for each. Major support came from corporate partners, most based in Atlanta but some headquartered elsewhere. These companies didn't just give money but also time and experience by assigning high-level executives to work in these communities every day.

Residents of these communities benefited, but so did the corporations. As one top executive told me, "We needed to understand what life is like for many of our employees outside the workplace. The Atlanta Project put us face to face with reality, and we are now better equipped to deal with employee needs."

Another example is the worldwide coalition the Carter Center leads to eradicate Guinea worm, a horrible disease that occurs mostly in Africa. People contract the disease by drinking water contaminated with tiny larvae that grow into 3-foot-long worms that emerge painfully through the most vulnerable parts of the body. It's a slow and debilitating process. The real tragedy is that this disease can be easily prevented.

When DuPont officials learned that Guinea worm could be prevented by straining drinking water, they teamed up with Precision Fabrics of North Carolina to create a special filter just for this purpose. Then they agreed to donate large quantities to the Carter Center. Similarly, American Home Products donated Abate, a chemical that kills the larvae but leaves water safe for drinking.

Because of these and other corporate partners, the number of Guinea worm cases in the world has been reduced more than 95%, from 3.5 million known cases in 1987 to about 150,000, mostly in war-torn Sudan. Our goal is to wipe Guinea worm from the face of the Earth, and when that happens, it will be only the second disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated.

The Carter Center also is part of a global coalition to control and perhaps eradicate another disease prevalent in many Latin American and African countries. River blindness is contracted through the bite of a tiny black fly that spreads a parasitic worm and causes incessant itching, pain and, eventually, total blindness. Some years ago, the pharmaceutical corporation Merck & Co. discovered Mectizan and demonstrated that it could kill the worms and prevent blindness in humans when taken just once a year. Merck decided to donate this medicine, free and in perpetuity, to those who need it. The Carter Center, in partnership with other nonprofits and governments, distributes it. More than 70 million doses have been distributed.

I've met with employees of these and many other companies who have joined with the Carter Center to help thousands worldwide. Many were moved to tears when I showed them pictures of women and children with Guinea worm or river blindness, or talked about the struggles of so many here in our own country. Their pride in their companies' willingness to help was evident and overwhelming.

Many corporations have learned that investing in philanthropy attracts concerned investors, builds brand loyalty among customers, helps companies recruit and retain employees, enhances corporate reputations and helps create a healthier and more prosperous economy for all of us.

Although there is much good accomplished through corporate philanthropy, it comprises less than 6 percent of all charitable giving in the U.S. It is my hope that these examples will further the spirit of corporate citizenship that has made this country great. Only when all of us strive together--individuals, business, government and nonprofits--can true and lasting progress be made in providing opportunities and addressing needs for our neighbors worldwide.

Former President Jimmy Carter chairs the Atlanta-based Carter Center

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