By Nicholas Olds and Ilana Greene
General Electric has been a stalwart in the manufacturing sector for over 100 years by paying close attention to global trends impacting the environment, raw materials, operations and markets. As a company that participates in many diverse industries, it has always been GE's priority to identify these growing trends because their products and methods of production depend on available resources. However, since the 1970s under maverick CEO Jack Welch, GE has strived to become a corporation that excels in every industry in which they participate.
Jack Welch's philosophy was that a company should be either #1 or #2 in any industry, or leave it completely. GE has adopted his philosophy to the concerns of the 21st century by implementing industry-leading efforts to track and improve its environmental impact, from its supply chain to owned operations and products in use.
In addition to its limited resource management functions to reduce its own environmental impacts, GE has also become an industry leader in providing products and services that meet society’s resource challenges. Through engineering and technology innovations, GE has not only remained relevant, but become the industry standard in corporate philanthropy.
Among these innovations is the Developing Health program launched by the GE Foundation to address the cost, quality and access of health care for underserved populations. GE's Affinity Networks, the Asian Pacific American Forum, Women’s Network, Hispanic Forum and African American Forum, will run the Developing Health program with the goal of offering volunteer support and business best practice sharing to help clinics reach impoverished populations and enable access to primary care. However, this is one example among many in the GE Foundation's history of setting industry standard for best practices.
Beginning in the 1950s, GE gained a reputation as the leader in corporate philanthropy with its non-profit organizations for charitable, scientific, literacy and education. In 1953, the GE Foundation made the company one of the pre-eminent philanthropic organizations worldwide when it supported grantees for the United Negro College Fund, the American Red Cross, Johns Hopkins University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other higher education institutions. These grants were designed to modernize the teaching of accounting, electrical engineering and physics, as well as enable access to these institutions in minority communities. A year later, the GE Foundation built on this success by launching the Corporate Alumni Program. This was not only the first corporate gift-matching program for colleges and universities, but it revolutionized corporate giving by enabling corporations to pool donations.
Throughout the following decades, the GE Foundation would go on to become a corporate leader in supporting grants for minority education, research on urban problems, and gift-matching programs for community organizations outside the United States in countries such as Brazil, China and Mexico. These programs culminated with Developing Futures™ in Education, the GE Foundation's effort to accelerate giving outside the United States with a primary aim to assist students pursuing higher education. However, following the launch of Developing Futures™, the GE Foundation expanded the program to a $150M investment to encompass restoration efforts with contributions to New Orleans and Indonesia. The Foundation explained this increased investment and expansive philanthropic efforts as its mission to practice "a proactive philanthropy that develops innovative, pace-setting programs that have an unlimited multiplier effect."
The GE Foundation has continued to set the pace in corporate philanthropy. However, perhaps more importantly, the Foundation is a reminder that profits can only be made from resources, which are only cultivated by giving back. This is why GE has continued to be an industry-leader in everything they do, and living proof to the philosophy of innovation and community welfare that Jack Welch referred to as "growing fast in a slow-growth economy."
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