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Rick Goings

Rick Goings

Posted: February 1, 2010 09:07 PM

Narrowing Down Davos: Targeting Chronic Disease and Empowering Women in Developing Nations

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This was my fifth year at the World Economic Forum. Over that time, I've come to think of it as a buffet of issues. Whatever the theme, the biggest challenge isn't finding something you like, but learning how to select from the huge number of offerings effectively. Like all buffets, the things that are most filling are usually served first. Everyone knows that if you go into a buffet without a strategy, you'll end up stuffed instead of sated. With experience, one learns to get the most out of what's offered and not fill up too soon.

Davos is a unique gathering in the sense that business leaders from around the world attend, yet they spend almost none of their time making deals. We know we can't give money to solve the complex, important issues if we don't make money. But we also know that companies that do good, do well.

I've learned that even as we're talking about global issues, you can't solve problems unless you start locally and take personal responsibility. In adherence to that notion, I've chosen to focus on two topics that are tied to Tupperware's corporate mission and can really change the world. My main course, if you will.

The first is the health implications of chronic disease. Of course, diseases like malaria and AIDS are horrific, and I applaud the heroic efforts being made to fight them. But most people who die unnecessarily are suffering from chronic diseases -- heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer. In many cases, these diseases could be avoided, or at least mitigated, with a focus on diet, exercise and smoking cessation.

Things like diet and exercise may sound like personal issues, and in some ways, they are. But they also have a huge impact on the global economy. And while businesses can't force people to trade in their overstuffed sandwiches for salads, they can put employees in a position where it's easier for them to make smart choices.

At Tupperware, we've done this by building a new fitness center, offering personal training sessions, and banning smoking on company property. We have Weight Watchers sessions on the corporate campus, host a TupperFit Weight Loss Challenge, and offer "Hold the Stuffing," a program that makes people aware of portion sizes during the holiday season.

The investments we've made in these programs have paid off multiple times over by reducing absenteeism and health care costs. I believe they've added years to some people's lives, not to mention the camaraderie and team spirit that has been generated.

My other area of focus relates to women and girls. Gender parity is the broad topic, but I've chosen to really drill down on the way women and girls are treated in developing countries. Many of these countries' traditional belief systems hold that boys are assets and girls are burdens. With the scarce resources available, girls and women continue to lose their fight for relevance.

Yet it's exactly these women and girls who can lead these countries out of poverty. Women are much more likely to think "we" instead of "me." That explains why studies show that when women in developing countries earn money, they are far more likely to spend it on their families, while men are more likely to spend it on themselves. It's these investments women are making in the next generation that ultimately will pay the greatest dividends.

Even broken down into smaller bites, chronic disease and the fate of women in developing nations are epic issues. But separate them from the far larger issues of global health and gender parity and they at least seem manageable and surmountable.

Businesses can play a big role by supporting women and developing corporate health initiatives. But individuals must play a role too. I encourage everyone to visit Kiva (www.kiva.org), a good example of an organization that allows people to make micro loans, and see how you can help a female entrepreneur in a troubled country support her family.

Back home, see if you can encourage even one friend to exercise more or stop smoking. A small amount of money, effort or caring can make a real difference.