THE BLOG
08/09/2016 01:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 09, 2016

The Future Of Cause Marketing: How A Bracelet Connects Shoppers To A Cause

I’m sitting under an acacia tree in Kenya, looking out over the Maasai Mara’s sprawling grasslands.

I’m trying to craft a beaded bracelet called a rafiki (Swahili for “friend”), but my handiwork is slow and awkward compared to the hands of the women who teach me. For the Maasai tribe, beading is a cultural tradition passed down through generations.

The bracelets made from tiny glass beads are solving big economic problems.

First, as an income opportunity for the artisans—the Kenyan mamas who handcraft each piece. And, for every rafiki sold, partial proceeds are donated to education, health and clean water development in the mamas’ communities.

As Director of Retail Marketing for Walgreens, I wasn’t just drawn to the donation-for-purchase model. And it’s not why Walgreens carries the Me to WE Rafiki across our chain of stores.

With an influx of cause marketing and promises of products that do good, savvy shoppers today want to know: Where is my money really going? How can I know that this product makes a difference?

I was drawn to Me to WE’s Track Your Impact technology, a unique code attached to the rafiki packaging that’s bringing more transparency to ethical shopping.

Customers can plug in the code, either online or on their smartphones right in-store, to view maps of the region and photos of the communities benefiting from donations to our partner, WE Charity. They’ll see healthy children who miss fewer days of class due to illness, and whose parents can afford to buy school supplies.

This could be the future of socially conscious retail—a direct link from customer to cause.

Walgreens champions everyone’s right to be happy and healthy. Even in the far reaches of the Maasai Mara. We didn’t want to just make a difference half-way around the world, we wanted to bring our customers on a journey.

I thought of one customer in particular, 16-year-old Maya Penn. The Atlanta teen is a social entrepreneur, activist and speaker, who donates proceeds from her handmade clothing company, Maya’s Ideas. Maya comes into her local Walgreens store a few times a week with her mom, Deidre, to purchase supplies for her business, and also took time to learn about and purchase a rafiki. We surprised this inspiring young lady on one of those visits with the news that we would send her and her mom on a Me to WE trip to Kenya.

Now it was Maya and Deidre sitting with the mamas, watching the impact of their purchase unfold in a community in need.

The Maasai are among the poorest tribes in all of Africa, in a region plagued by periodic drought, historic tribal clashes and underemployment. Girls as young as five or six walk miles every day to gather dirty water, hauling jerry cans to the Maasai River. Water that might make them sick.

“I can’t imagine Maya doing that,” her mother says.

But donations from rafiki sales have helped to support local clean water projects. There are boreholes, wells and pumps as sources of potable drinking water. Girls relieved of the task of fetching water—a long trek that can take all day in remote areas—now have time to attend school.

We were proud to bring Maya to see the impact of her purchase firsthand, and we want Track Your Impact to replicate that experience for all of our customers in a small, virtual way.

Honesty and transparency in cause marking isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for business. Around the world, shoppers feel personally responsible for making an impact. And they hold businesses accountable as partners. A whopping 91 per cent of consumers expect companies to address social and environmental issues, according to the 2015 Cone Communications CSR Study. In the survey of nearly 10,000 global consumers, 86 per cent also said that companies are responsible for communicating the results of those commitments.

Customers not only expect companies to care; they expect companies to prove it.

If Maya can start a business to work on the world’s problems before she graduates high school, big companies can make meaningful change through product sales and consider the customer’s right to know how it’s done. Think of it as ethical commerce 2.0.

It’s going to be crucial that companies accommodate Maya’s generation especially, and their urgent, impatient need for change.

I saw thousands of these passionate young people at WE Day, filming for an upcoming broadcast special (airing August 28 on ABC) that celebrates youth volunteers, leaders and activists. Maya’s trip to Kenya will be featured, along with stories from incredible youth across the country working to make the world a better place.

This is a unique generation. They are more educated and informed, with unprecedented access to information. And they take instant connectivity for granted. A virtual connection that proves they are making change with their purchases is a no-brainer.

Technologies like Track Your Impact will be non-negotiable for these future shoppers, current change-makers, and our next generation of leaders.

Walgreens has partnered with WE Day, an upcoming broadcast special that celebrates youth like Maya who are changing the world. WE Day is a commercial-free national broadcast celebrating the transformative power of individuals acting together, WE Day will inspire action through the stories of every day Americans making extraordinary impact in their homes, schools and country. WE Day features a star-studded lineup of inspiring young Americans, chart-topping performers and iconic celebrities including Charlize Theron, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Seth Rogen, Orlando Bloom, Natalie Portman, Ciara, Big Sean, David Foster, Paula Abdul, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Rowan Blanchard, Nick Jonas, Joe Jonas, Hannah Simone, Tyrese Gibson, Kermit the Frog and more. WE Day is made possible by title sponsor Allstate and presenting sponsors Unilever, Walgreens and Microsoft. Learn more at www.we.org.

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