Making a Difference 2014 - Social Impact

Related Expertise: Social Impact

Making a Difference 2014: Shaping the Future. Together.

By Wendy WoodsTom LewisUlrich VillisBrenda ThickettGünter Rottenfußer, and Beth Gillett

BCG supports society through our work with the private and public sectors and our social sector partner organizations. Our ability to create change with our ideas, and orchestrate that change despite enormous complexity, is truly powerful. BCG’s commitment to social impact is as important now as ever, and so is our aspiration to change the world.

—Rich Lesser, President and CEO

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • More than 800 million people in the world are hungry. The volatility of global food prices means that vulnerable populations are at ever-greater risk.
  • Nearly 18,000 children under the age of 5 died every day in 2012. The highest rates of child mortality exist in sub-Saharan Africa, where 1 in 10 children die before the age of 5—a rate more than 15 times the average in developed countries.
  • More people are living in slums—an estimated 860 million people in 2012, up from 650 million in 1990 and 760 million in 2000.
  • Nearly 775 million adults—two-thirds of whom are women—cannot read or write. And gaps in education are not limited to developing countries. In the U.S., only two-thirds of students are reading at their grade level by the fourth grade. Children who aren’t reading at grade level by this point are four times as likely to drop out of high school.
  • Currently, 1.6 billion people live in countries and regions with absolute water scarcity, and the number is expected to rise to 2.8 billion people by 2025.
  • Forest cover has been reduced to approximately 30 percent of the earth’s land area today, and it is estimated that 11 percent of all gas emissions are the result of deforestation.

And these are just some of the challenges facing global society. Still, encouraging signs of improvement and hope abound:

  • The number of new HIV infections per year continues to decline, and advances in antiretroviral therapy are reducing the number of AIDS-related deaths.
  • Malaria deaths have fallen by more than 40 percent globally since 2000. This has averted more than 3 million deaths from malaria between 2000 and 2012.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to more sanitary drinking water. The global target of halving the number of people without access to cleaner water has been met—five years ahead of schedule.
  • In developing regions, enrollment in primary education reached 90 percent in 2010.

At BCG, we believe it is our responsibility to help address the challenges of our clients and of society at large. Our social impact work is about making a positive, tangible, and lasting difference in our world.

BCG’s Approach to Achieving Social Impact

We help social sector organizations around the world enhance their effectiveness—and increase their impact—by sharing our expertise and insights. When we bring the best of BCG to these organizations, we achieve more together than any of us could have accomplished alone. By working closely with our social sector partners to help develop their organizational capabilities and more effective solutions, we make real progress toward solving the world’s most pressing social problems.

Working at the local, regional, and global levels, BCG focuses on eight areas: environment, development, health, education, community, culture, investing for impact, and business and the social sector. (See the exhibit “BCG’s Social Impact Work Covers a Spectrum of Human Needs.”) Our work addresses the full hierarchy of needs, from providing the basics of food and clean water in the poorest nations to supporting the arts and culture in developed societies. During 2012 and 2013, BCG completed more than 500 projects, working with over 200 organizations around the world, including multilateral organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, governments, and businesses.

In the areas of education, development, health, and the environment, BCG fosters long-term relationships with the following global organizations:

  • Teach For All, focusing on improving education around the world
  • World Food Programme and Save the Children International, working to address the issues around hunger and children in the developing world
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on health, development, and education issues
  • The WWF, working to improve environmental sustainability

Locally, we strive to have a direct, measurable impact on the communities in which we live and work. Each BCG office chooses which issues to focus on and which organizations to partner with. Some of these efforts are described in the third section of this report. Besides helping to deliver tangible results around the world, BCG’s social impact work supports the intellectual and professional development of our own staff. More than 1,450 employees worked on social impact projects over the past two years; annually, about 14 percent of our worldwide consulting staff are involved in social impact projects. Many of our employees also participated in a wide range of volunteer efforts. (For more about these efforts, see the section “Other Social Impact Activities.”) Our people emphasize how personally rewarding they find the work, and we are never short of colleagues who are eager to get involved.

BCG’s social impact work strengthens us as a firm, helps us attract and retain the world’s best talent, and allows us to collaborate with clients and global and community leaders to better meet the needs of society.

Delivering Impact

Achieving real impact is the ultimate goal of BCG’s social impact work. We define “impact” in three ways: meeting the objectives of our project work; enhancing the organizational effectiveness of our social sector partners; and making measurable improvements towards specific global challenges. Let’s look at each of these more closely.

Project Work. Projects with specific goals are the basis of our work in the social sector. A recent example is our work with the WWF’s Baltic Ecoregion Programme to identify the key challenges facing the Baltic Sea, which were found to be eutrophication (excess nutrients in the water—the result of fertilizer and sewage runoff—which kill marine life through oxygen deprivation), hazardous substances, and overfishing. BCG developed an action plan to address these challenges, as well as quantifying the economic impact of a healthy Baltic Sea to the region. Together with the WWF, we produced a report on the current state of the Baltic Sea along with recommendations for its sustainable health in the face of two future scenarios. The report has generated significant public interest and has been a catalyst for the public and private sectors in the region to collaborate to restore the Baltic Sea.

Organizational Effectiveness. By collaborating on multiple projects, BCG supports our social sector partners in increasing their organizational effectiveness and delivering better outcomes over time. For instance, WWF became a global partner in 2012, the year BCG began a long-term effort to support WWF’s transformation to a more integrated organization and improve its global capabilities. Over 18 months, BCG built a strong, fact-based case for change in order to develop alignment among the country offices. After gaining approval from WWF’s leadership team for an ambitious change program, we began implementation, and early results are promising. Commenting on our work, Jim Leape, who served as Director General of WWF International from 2005 to 2014, said, “BCG has worked seamlessly with us both globally and locally. They have played a fundamental role in identifying issues, structuring topics, and driving concrete output. More than that, though, they have been an invaluable sounding board as we work through the dynamics and sensitivities that always accompany change like this.”

Global Challenges. BCG is helping to address a number of key challenges in global development and health through our work with several social sector partners. For instance, we worked closely with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) to design, pilot, and implement an innovative approach to reduce stunted growth in children under the age of two. Stunted growth results from chronic undernutrition and affects mental and physical development. Stunting cannot be treated; it must be prevented. This culmination of several projects, if successful, will serve as a model for further programs in stunting reduction implemented on a global scale. A major outcome for this effort will be providing quantified evidence that targeted interventions can work.

Similarly, in the fight against malaria, we’ve been working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help design a long-term malaria-eradication strategy that focuses on using the current tools of diagnostics, drugs, and mosquito-bite prevention more effectively and on identifying new treatment and prevention tools worthy of investment. Eradicating malaria will ultimately save millions of lives and billions of dollars.

In The Words of Our Clients

BCG actively seeks client feedback after all of our engagements so that we can better understand what we did well and what we could improve. We are enormously gratified when our clients mention the impact and fellowship that our work has generated. Here we have included examples of the feedback that we’ve received.

“Save the Children’s long-standing relationship with BCG, which dates back to the 1990s, gave us confidence globally to move forward with the organizational transformation. It is one thing to have wonderful ideas, but you need to have the capabilities to see them through.”

—Jasmine Whitbread, CEO, Save the Children International

“We’ve been incredibly privileged to have BCG as a partner…it’s incredibly useful to have a team of people who can tap into all the knowledge and best practices that exist out there, and who can be real thought partners to us in getting up the learning curve about how to stretch our global network.”

—Wendy Kopp, CEO, Teach For All

“The joint WFP-BCG work has created a foundation upon which the lives of millions of people will change. Ensuring that the Indian government’s Targeted Public Distribution System delivers on its goals efficiently and that intended citizens receive the subsidized food they are entitled to is a tremendous task. The partnership with BCG has allowed us to take on this challenge.”

—Michael Jensen, Deputy Country Director, WFP India

“By highlighting the economic implications of a healthy Baltic Sea, BCG has helped WWF frame a new debate about the future of the sea with the private and public sector alike—and thus has helped WWF to raise these issues high on the agenda, exactly where we need them to be.”

—Pauli Merriman, Programme Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme (Sweden)

“We had a vision but we didn’t know how to achieve it. Working with BCG helped us align our efforts, focus on the same objective, and define a clear strategy. BCG’s way of working made the process very effective and helped us reach our objective.”

—Ignacio Pinto, COO, TECHO (Chile)

“Our organizations are completely unrecognizable today from what they were 14 years ago. BCG helped us translate our ideas and our aspirations into a program for reform. That is why BCG’s involvement from a strategic point of view is so critical for us.”

—Noel Pearson, Chairman, Cape York Group (Australia)

“BCG’s continued partnership with Commit! was instrumental not only in establishing focus and strategy for our early literacy collaborations with 14 elementary schools but also in dissecting numerous data points to identify what’s working on the campuses, so that we could help spread great practices. Thanks to BCG’s leadership, several high-need schools saw some of the highest growth in reading scores in the Dallas [Independent School District], and the South Oak Cliff schools were number one in growth when we account for leadership in place the next school year. In just one year, BCG has laid the foundation for an innovative and scalable approach to improve early literacy education throughout the region.”

—Todd Williams, Executive Director and Founder, Commit! (U.S.)

Other Social Impact Activities

Emergency Response. When disasters strike, BCG does what it can to support the response efforts of those partner organizations that have emergency relief capabilities. Where possible and feasible, we make BCG employees or teams available to our global social impact partners. BCG matches employee donations, outside of our regular donation matching, to organizations responding to the disaster.

Although emergency response is vital, BCG also commits to longer-term rebuilding in areas that have been hit hard by major disasters. As an example, we have continued to work with local organizations in Japan as the country strives to recover from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In 2013, a BCG team worked with Ninohe City to create an economic strategy to improve the local economy and increase employment opportunities.

Local Volunteer Activities. BCG’s offices around the world organize a variety of volunteer initiatives for employees. Staffers from our Mexico offices participate in “social impact weekends,” visiting the elderly in their homes and improving food pantry facilities. Many offices host a Community Service Day, during which employees volunteer with local organizations. For example, the Seoul and Moscow offices supported local orphanages, the Philadelphia office renovated and painted a homeless shelter, and the entire staff of the Paris office participated in a fundraising event for the European Leukodystrophies Association.

BCG also encourages interested employees to serve on the governing and advisory boards of nonprofit organizations. For instance, BCG’s Chicago and Toronto offices run a Board Fellows program that matches BCG consultants with the boards of nonprofit organizations.

In Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States, BCG volunteers coach high school students on business topics and teach them entrepreneurial skills through BCG’s business@school program.

People Programs

BCG employees have several ways to get involved with social impact work. In addition to project and volunteer work, BCG offers three tailored programs for employees interested in dedicated and longer-term commitments:

The Social Impact Immersion Program. This program deploys a small group of high-performing employees to social impact projects at the global and local levels for 9 to 12 months. Program members are staffed on projects in our global portfolio of social impact work and on local projects through their home offices. They also become involved with the Social Impact Practice Network’s knowledge-building efforts.

Social Impact Secondment. This program enables select employees to work with one of our global partners in the social sector for up to a year while remaining employed at BCG. Although positions vary depending on the needs of our partner organizations, recent secondments have included working with WWF in São Paulo and Cape Town on global strategy and water stewardship; with WFP to address child hunger; and with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on digital applications for agriculture.

Social Impact Leave of Absence. Employees may also take a leave of absence to work at a social sector organization of their choice for up to 12 months. Our global team facilitates these arrangements with a wide network of NGOs and foundations. Recent participants have worked on global development strategy in Africa with TechnoServe, which empowers people to build businesses that create jobs; in Africa with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Partners in Health in Lesotho, and the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency.

The Goals and Purpose of this Report

The purpose of the Making a Difference report is to provide an overview of our social impact work in 2012 and 2013, share some of the insights we’ve gained from this work, and encourage an ongoing discussion about how to create meaningful impact in the social sector.

Part I of the report describes examples of the approaches and tools that drive change in addressing some of the world’s most challenging needs.

Part II features insights from two BCG social impact partners, Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

Part III highlights some of BCG’s social impact projects from 2012 and 2013.

We hope you’ll find this report both interesting and inspirational. BCG is committed to making a difference, and we continually seek ways to increase our impact. We welcome your ideas, comments, questions, and suggestions. Please share them with us at