Filling the Gap: How the private sector is stepping up where government cuts back

The new concern that the cost of college loan interest will spike to new highs is just the latest scenario where government -from Washington, DC to Town Meeting – is determining cuts to balance the budget. From affording higher education to training skilled workers, from accessing better nutrition to curing disease, from going green to incubating new business, the private sector is increasingly stepping forward to fill the gap.

The motivation may be purely altruistic, or it might be motivated by need. But regardless of why, increasingly businesses, foundations and the wealthy are creating programs that go beyond writing one-time checks to charity and instead are architecting long-term, sustainable programs that have hard and fast outcomes that make social change. Businesses and philanthropists are taking a page from Robert F. Kennedy: dreaming what could be, asking why not – and acting.

Take The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which was bold enough to tackle polio. Plenty of outsiders thought they were overreaching, yet at the end of 2011 the foundation announced the eradication of the disease in India.

In Maine, the Harold Alfond Foundation has long held a vision for making “transformative” grants in the area of health care and education. Indeed, the Harold Alfond College Challenge, seeding a 529 College Saving plan for every child born in Maine is a radical way to remove a barrier to higher education and encourage more young people to apply to college.

Business is doing it too. AT&T just added another $250 million over five years to its Aspire program, focused on graduating more high school students around the country. It’s working- the number of high school graduates in Kentucky, where the program has been in place several years, is up 7.8 percent. AT&T is not alone in recognizing the danger that lies ahead in school budgets being squeezed. An educated workforce is not only critical to the future success of the US, but to the success of their company as well.

In the shadow of the health care debate, Tom’s of Maine supports an initiative that jives with its brand and personal healthcare product line: Dental Health for All. Every day, thousands of families go without basic dental care — not even able to afford an annual cleaning. This difficult reality is especially urgent in certain areas of the country. This year, Tom’s of Maine is directing its Dental Health for All program to help families in states with the highest percentage of the population living below the poverty level. Non-profit dental clinics in Alabama, Kentucky, New Mexico, Mississippi and Washington D.C. had the
opportunity to apply for a portion of $100,000 in funding.

Working toward social change in the community, filling the gap left from government is one very public piece of social responsibility. Others include sustainability, workplace standards and corporate governance. The Change Up blog will address those and more in future columns.


About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.