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CGI 2010: An Interview with the Vice President of Hewlett-Packard (HP) for Global Social Innovation

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At the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative held last week in New York City, I interviewed Gabriele Zedlmayer, Vice President for Global Social Innovation at Hewlett-Packard, on HP's social impact portfolio, philosophy, and vision for the years to come.

What brings you to the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative?

It is a fantastic forum to meet with a lot of our partners. I think in our space, social innovation, one of the keys to success is the partners that you have. There's no way a technology company or any other company can make a difference on their own and can really make a sustainable and scalable difference on their own. So, to understand issues, to understand people's needs, to understand how you scale something globally, you need partners that have different capabilities.

We've had a lot of meetings today and we will have a lot of meetings tomorrow and throughout the next few days to discuss, first of all what's already ongoing, as we just had a meeting with National Lab Day. We had a big launch last week with them as their back to school line launched to specifically address the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] issues in the United States. We had 60 to 70 kids there in the afternoon. We had a lot of our researchers and engineers there, folks that are really good about bringing STEM to life, because at HP they use this technology, even nanotechnology, and bring it to some real use. It's important to show these kids, talk to these kids, stimulate these kids, and do some experiments with these kids. We were talking with them today about doing road shows that we can take throughout the country because this is a very local thing. You need to make sure that the schools are there, that the parents are there, that the government representatives are there. So this is just one example.

We're also meeting with the Clinton Health Access Initiative. We're going to launch a big project with them in the October timeframe on early infant diagnosis. So we're meeting with a lot of partners here and this is a great platform for us.

How does the social mission fit into the business model or strategy of HP, and how do these missions intersect?

Global citizenship at large has been one of our key objectives for over 50 years. And I think that's very, very important to say because some companies have just discovered that in the last 10 years as they were dealing with risk mitigation and all of a sudden, global citizenship, oh, we've got to be in this space. For HP it's been something that was in the DNA of the founders, Bill and Dave. They had social engagements the first year that they started the company. That's very important.

By making sure it's one of our seven business objectives, we also make sure it's not like here is HP, and global citizenship sits on the side. It has to be intrinsic to everything that we do. It's also why we don't have a separate global citizenship team. We have a council that consists of people from everywhere in the company that comes together and says, "This is how we're going to do the business." It's not about what we want to achieve; this is about how we're going to achieve it. And so the Chief Ethics Officer, the Privacy Officer, Environmental Officer, Social Innovation, supply chain, HR, we all come together, and discuss how we do the business. We identify issues, risks, challenges, opportunities and work on them together. And so it is very close to the heart of the company.

How does HP define "global citizenship" and what does this notion encompass?

We think about not just what we want to achieve, but how. So you think about the methodologies of how you do it and we take a look at, for, example, what are the key differentiators? Twetnty years ago, if you already said that environment is going to be a key issue, and it's going to be something that everybody will talk about, then it will be central to every discussion because resources are going to become scarce. So, 20 years ago, we already started to recycle, to design for environment, to introduce a lot of environmental practices that no other company had at the time. So thinking about how you do things and trying to be ahead of the curve. In social innovation also we're saying, we want to return to these communities, but we don't want to just give them a check and have them deploy because then we don't really know, have we really made an impact? Have we really made a difference?

We have over 300,000 employees at HP. We have a portfolio and technology that is unmatched by any other company in the industry. So if you think of the capabilities that we have, that we can bring to the table, we can do a whole lot more than just giving out a check. When I started to lead this team a year ago, I said, "let's think about how we can bring our technology to social conscious." Something that we commercially sell, successfully sell, and bringing it into those social causes, so the first thing we did was get with well respected partners, identify the needs, and then work with them on making a difference. And that's really what encompasses global citizenship. To do things right and for people to know, also every employee that joins the company needs to understand how we do things and what we value and what we don't value, and so that people understand that if you don't value the same things, then basically this is not the company for you.

Do you divide the work into sectors such as health, education, and the environment? Or how do you choose the kinds of projects to work on?

So if I take a look at my own areas, I'm responsible for social innovation. We took a look at where can we play and make the biggest difference. We get requests every day from many, many different people and institutions and it can range from the arts, to music, to museums, to hospitals, to many others. We took a look at the technology that we have, the biggest societal needs, and the millennium development goals, and we said, we could make the biggest impact for mankind in education and health...

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