09/30/2010 08:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Importance of Community Engagement in Emerging Markets

With recent reports from the New York Times and Forbes about China surpassing Japan as the world's second largest economy, proactively addressing the "rules of engagement" in emerging markets again becomes top of mind.

As a multinational company, we often talk about licenses to operate -- a concept that applies to all the communities in which we do business, but particularly relevant to entering new markets and building them for long-term sustainability. In the example of China, we see that despite the country's overall fiscal success, there are wide disparities in wealth. To date, many communities continue to demonstrate a great need for support in basic services, like education.

This was particularly made clear to me several weeks ago when the Motorola Foundation hosted its first-ever Asia-Pac Network Grantee Conference in Shanghai, which convened 30 non-government organization (NGO) grant recipients of $821,000 in funding with more than a dozen Motorola employees, spanning Malaysia, India, Singapore, China and the Philippines.

Leveraging the Innovation of a Network

Held in Shanghai over two days, the conference featured U.S. Consul General to Shanghai Beatrice Camp and world-renowned lecturer and researcher Henri-Claude de Bettignies, who underscored the importance of partnerships between companies and NGOs that could leverage their shared resources and expertise to advance key issues. Sharing opportunities and insights around CSR in Asia, they discussed with attendees how specifically to engage volunteers; increase access to education in- and out-of-school; and use technology as an educational tool.

Although this was the first Motorola conference in the Asia region, Motorola has held similar intra-grantee conferences in the U.S. for our Innovation Generation network for years. From these experiences, we've learned the value in connecting organizations with shared goals to build partnerships, impart best practices and discuss effectively leveraging assets.

Creating a License to Operate

Some of the biggest challenges when we talk about new markets are questions about their sustained longevity: How stable is the local economy and government? Is there the proper physical and intellectual infrastructure in place to support business operations? How can we foster a pipeline of talent?

Motorola has sought to leverage both our business and philanthropic investments in the region by forming long-term partnerships with NGOs and governments to help tackle these issues from both a social and economic perspective.

An example of this is our partnership with the China Youth Development Foundation, one of our longest standing relationships. Since 1994, the Motorola Foundation has worked together with the China Youth Development Foundation to bring schools to China's rural areas, finance education for children whose families cannot afford it and offer training, support and teaching equipment to teachers.

In many parts of the world -- including areas of Asia -- where there is no fixed-line infrastructure, access to telecom technology for business, residents and schools is limited, if not non-existent. Especially in rural areas, people have had to travel large distances to make a phone call or access the Internet. We're excited to offer our communications products through programs like the China Youth Development Fund. By giving more access to these communities and creating an integrated society, we are also building our future workforce and consumer base.

This all plays into the responsibility the private sector must take on -- investing in regions where we seek to do business to ensure we address the broader wellbeing. These are issues we look to even before we enter the market to best understand the intricacies of the local community, engage key stakeholders and enhance our role as a community member, not just a faceless company seeking to lay new roots. Particularly in countries like China, where government plays a large role in a company's license to operate, doing well for local communities and constituencies allows everyone to win.