Strategic Philanthropy.

Author:BUSTOS, SERGIO R.
 
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More and more companies doing business in Latin America are reaching into their pockets to do good deeds. But don't call it charity

WHEN BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB HELD A NEWS CONFERENCE last December in Mexico City to announce its more-than $5 million contribution to fund a project to treat children with HIV or the AIDS virus, the person given the honor of making the official announcement was not a corporate executive. The company used Mexico's Health Secretary Juan Ram6n de la Fuente, who boasted about the project and how the company would pay the full cost of training dozens of Mexican pediatricians and other health-care workers at Baylor University's College of Medicine in Houston.

Clearly, Bristol-Myers Squibb was playing the role of the good corporate

citizen. But the good deed was not merely a random act of charity. It also ties into the company's overall business strategy to grow its pharmaceutical and consumer medicine businesses in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. The multinational expects sales in the region to increase 25% to at least $1 billion over the next three years.

For Bristol-Myers Squibb, the multimillion dollar project accomplishes at least two business goals: Sharing the spotlight with Mexico's health secretary helps the company build a good relationship with the Mexican government, and paying for the training of pediatricians gives the company a lasting image with the very people who write prescriptions. "This is really corporate philanthropy at its best:' says Luciano Camara, general manager of Bristol-Myers Squibb Mexico. "It works very well for everybody."

What Bristol-Myers Squibb is doing in Mexico is not an isolated case. It's being repeated all over the region by a growing number of multinationals that describe the concept as "strategic philanthropy." It has especially caught on in Latin America, where the 1990s have ushered in a parade of multinationals who need to build a good brand name in an emerging market.

The Foundation Center, a U.S.-based organization that tracks U.S. corporate philanthropy, found that grants to charities working abroad rose 1% to $679 million between 1990 and 1994, the last year for which figures are available. The number of grants awarded for international projects jumped 30% to 6,649.

Experts say competivive pressures abroad are forcing companies to get involved in communities outside their base headquarters. In the past, many companies simply gave money away, paying little attention to the connection...

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