I recently wrote a post on 25 Ways to Spend $25, but the idea of “philanthroconsumerism” is worth writing on again.  (I’m surprised that word hasn’t been coined or used more often — it has zero results on Google.)

There are a lot of ways to use market mechanisms for social impact: microfinance, social venture capital, impact investing, corporate social responsibility, and social businesses.  But many of these programs depend on large multinational corporations (or small-to-medium size enterprises) to lead the charge for market-based solutions to social problems.  There are smaller players, however, who are often overlooked.  Consumers.

Any product purchase is like an economic vote for what consumers demand.  Consumers can  “vote” to move all VHSs to DVD format, they can “vote” to increase the production of furbys, and they can “vote” to force social responsibility to play a larger role in the economy.  There are a lot of promising candidates on the ballot of your local supermarket.  Here are a few of my favorite items that not only rock, but encourage social responsibility and deserve your vote:

1) TOMS Shoes (now featured in the AT&T commercial) — buy a pair of now-trendy shoes and they send a pair to kids in Africa.

2) Tide’s Loads of Hope — buy a pair of specially marked laundry detergent and donate to help provide clean clothes and comfort to families affected by disaster.

3) Starbuck’s Product(RED) Gift Cards — donate 5 cents to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS for every transaction made with the gift card.

4) Pink Ribbon Products — they are all over the place.  Many manufacturers have partnered with breast cancer research organizations and make donations for each product they sell that features the pink ribbon.

5) Pamper’s One Pack = One Vaccine — UNICEF and Pamper’s have teamed up to prove that even when buying poop-disposal-apparel, you can contribute to a cause.  Each purchase of a diaper pack also covers the cost of a vaccine to be distributed in the developing world.

For further reading, there is also a great (and critical) article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the Hidden Costs of Cause Marketing.  There’s definitely a risk for the perversion of cause marketing, e.g. Fiji Water.  The philanthropic power of the consumer, however, must continue to play a role in the future of social innovation.


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