When the schools become purple, then the branding comes first

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What would your opinion be of a company investing considerable resources for a charity purpose? By positively regarding its commitment towards society you might end up as one of its customers with a dimension of “brand” affiliation emerging and slowly get consolidated.


At the beginning you decide to buy products simply out of your appreciation for the company’s steadfast support for a cause close to you and at the end you might become one of its strongest brand ambassador. But would the opinion of the same company you now admire and value differ if you discover that its philanthropic actions are simply driven by mere search of more profit?

What if the company hides behind the slogans of its CSR program just as a marketing strategy to win over more clients?

By gaining visibility and by selling more, a company definitely meets its primary targets in terms of profitability and increased market share.

In this way the primary mission of a private for profit entity, at least from the perspective of the shareholders, would be accomplished.

We all know, ends often count more than means with CSR turned as last frontier of wild marketing.

Imagine the case of NCELL, the private mobile operator in Nepal, part of the TeleSonera empire, holding a dominant position in the national telecommunication market.

NCELL, as part of its broader CSR, is implementing the Adopt a School program, financially supporting the construction and maintenance of a large number of public schools in the most needy areas of the country. Through the program, learning and playing material is also provided to some of the schools involved.

In partnering with SAVE THE CHILDREN, by far the biggest INGO in the country, NCELL has been promoting one of the most ambitious CSR projects Nepal has ever seen.

In terms of tangible and measurable outputs, what NCELL is doing is nothing short of remarkable and praiseworthy.

By taking away a big chunk of its profits to enable thousands of school age children to be educated in modern, secure classrooms, NCELL is showing leadership and proving how partnerships with the private sector can play an important role in improving the national education system. Adopt a School program is not the only community engagement initiative of NCELL that among others also run a scholarship program for trafficked girls.

If you have any idea of the average status of the infrastructure of Nepal’s schools, you will definitely agree that, while quality learning is paramount, there is also a great scope in raising the standards of schools’ buildings. Infrastructure in terms of hygienic toilets, proper ventilation, roofing and the most basic infrastructure inside a classroom are very important.

NCELL’s focus on education succeeds in meeting real needs of local communities, investing in the long term development of young Nepali citizens.

But there is a small caveat. Whenever a school gets supported by NCELL, suddenly the School Management Committee (SMC), the executive body in charge of the school, starts loving the purple color.

It happens by chance that NCELL’s brand color is purple and there is a remote possibility that the “purple-mania” spreading all around all the supported schools is simply driven out of corporate interest.

There is nothing wrong in this. After all NCELL is putting lots of money into this social initiative and it is fair enough from its part to expect to gain some sort of visibility. Also we should acknowledge that NCELL is not splashing marketing ads to promote its CSR work.

It is pretty normal when you donate something, you like to see some sort of recognition of your contribution, i.e. your name mentioned somewhere on the wall or a signboard with a sentence regarding your product.

Not that the walls of these schools supported by NCELL become entirely purple but still the first time I saw the picture of one  brand new building, I could not help thinking about the insurmountable power of human ego. In this case, I would say corporate ego.

Again as we said in the beginning each company strives to have a distinguished and well differentiated identity as part of its branding process aimed at creating multiple levels of affiliations. Throughout this process it is inevitable brand always comes first.

Yet I am wondering if there are companies ready to engage local communities and societies without too much concern for logo identification, visibility and overall marketing concerns.

Are there private making profit entities ready to put aside their shares of the market and genuinely be dedicated to a good cause?

Let me be clear. I do not judge negatively NCELL for highlighting what it does in CSR.

I do not doubt the noble intentions of NCELL but nothing stops me from thinking that sometimes companies should refrain from over emphasizing what they do for a cause, striking a good balance between visibility and selfless dedication for a philanthropic action.

Probably a nice purple signboard would have been enough but sometimes compromises are needed and you accept the trade off of allowing a sort of “hidden” advertisement in exchange for a new school. If I were a principal or chair of the SMC, I would have accepted the bargain, no doubt about it.

I am sure local kids studying in these new schools do not bother at all about the purple-mania in their schools. After all a new school is always a new school and purple is trendy.

In a few years time the same children will own a mobile and hopefully they will understand if purple not only symbolizes their learning process ( not that bad in terms of brand identification) but also if  this stands for quality, dependable and cheap mobile communication.

Sure enough it would be ridiculous to think NCELL will look at them just in terms of potential clients but a deeper debate on links between marketing and CSR is the need of the hour, purple-mania allowing.







Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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