Volunteering Becomes More Than Cause Marketing

Occasionally we get an opportunity in our lives to do something that we feel really makes a difference.  Last week was one of those occasions for me, so I wanted to share the experience.

Through a program called Project Amigo, which is a part of a cause marketing initiative for our client Organics Unlimited, Oster and Associates has become very involved with the underprivileged children in the state of Colima, MX.  For our client, $.60 of every box of bananas they sell with a GROW label on it goes back into a program to help communities.  As their marketing firm, this GROW program allows us to market their bananas with a strong differentiator.  If a shopper buys a GROW banana, they know they are contributing to an organization that is accomplishing great things.  And it may only cost that shopper a penny or two!

Our program was a literacy week, designed to provide help to elementary schools primarily in the rural areas of the state of Colima.  Each day, we delivered libraries of books to one or two elementary schools so that these children have reading material.  Additionally, each school received a set of maps – one of the world and one of the country of Mexico.  And a very precious part of our “delivery” was that every student also received one book of their very own that they could take home, read, and share with their families. 

As we went through the week, we found that every school had its own personality.  Some had prepared programs with folk dancing for us, knowing that we were coming to visit.  Some seemed to not even have realized we were coming, and were totally unprepared for a presentation.  But the students in all of the schools were excited, enamored with what we were sharing with them, and eager to learn. 

Scattered within the mountains of Colima are sugar cane fields, and the workers in these fields are migrants who come from further south.  The migrant camps have very minimal living conditions – central washing facilities, poorly functioning sanitation, and tin roofs over concrete lean-tos as housing for the inhabitants.  One such camp outside the town of Queseria has a small school built by Project Amigo that has classes for pre-school through first grade.  Because of poverty, many of the children run barefoot year round, but because of this they are also banned from participating in some festivals.  So one of the days during our Project Amigo volunteer week, we took 45 young children into the city to buy them each a pair of new shoes.  Most of them have never had a bit of new clothing.

Oster is a marketing agency, and it may be hard to see the connection between a week like this and marketing products in the US.  It certainly isn’t typically an involvement that is part of the work of an ad agency.  But participating in a Project Amigo work week gives me a depth of understanding I could never have by simply reading materials about the good works they do.  These are now our kids too, and we can honestly say that when you buy a GROW banana, you are changing a life.