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How emerging-market growth is turning business leaders into to social problem-solvers By Tony Siesfeld and Rhonda Evans / April 2014 / Leave a comment

Growth will involve engaging with the social needs and complexities of emerging and frontier markets. These issues are no longer just the government’s responsibility, or purely philanthropic efforts. This is the contention of our recently-released section in Deloitte Consulting’s Business Trends 2014: Navigating the Next Wave of Globalization.

Throughout the developing world, water, sanitation, and hygiene are matters of life and death. Every 20 seconds, a child under five dies from a waterborne illness. Eighty percent of diseases are related to contaminated water, and more than 780 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. 

Unilever has ambitious goals to address these problems: By 2020, it wants to bring safe drinking water to half a billion people around the world and help improve the hygiene habits of twice as many. It established hand-washing education programs in 16 countries, reaching 11 million in Africa alone, and now works with the Millennium Villages Project to develop more scalable water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions.

Unilever’s actions are not philanthropy; they are key elements of the company’s global business strategy. Fifty-five percent of Unilever’s global revenue now comes from emerging markets. Its CEO Paul Polman declares, “We cannot thrive as a business in a world where… nearly 1 billion go to bed hungry every night, 2.8 billion are short of water and increasing numbers of people are excluded from the opportunity to work.” Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap has experienced double-digit growth, in part as a result of the company’s education campaign, and it is one of Unilever’s fastest-growing brands.

This is the new face of corporate social performance in the next wave of globalization. Companies operating in emerging markets must address the challenges of serving low-income consumers and rural communities, and must adapt to the limitations that impede commerce. The prospects are exciting—look out for a period of experimentation and innovation as organizations advance their core business objectives by addressing existing social and environmental issues.

Read more of our perspective at Deloitte University Press

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