Heineken NV, the world’s third biggest brewery, is hatching plans to build hospitals and schools in crisis-torn Haiti.
The move demonstrates the growing role of the private sector, particularly the consumer goods industry, in taking on public sector roles in poorer countries.
Food and drink makers as well as soft commodity traders have been at the forefront of efforts to train farmers and improve social infrastructure, gaining what brewer SABMiller PLC calls “licence to operate,” as well as fostering relations with governments and improving the lot of future consumers.
Heineken has already established HIV/Aids clinics in parts of Africa, but wants to go further by utilizing corporate skills such as project management and financial budgeting to carry out the work typically left to multilateral institutions and non-governmental organizations.
The Netherlands-based brewer is to meet Haiti’s President Michael Martelly as well as the Clinton Global Initiative to formulate plans for building schools and hospitals.
“The biggest problem for the World Bank and CGI is how their projects are managed in the country,” said John Nicolson, Heineken’s president for the Americas.
“Corporates have audit structures and management that can run and cost projects well. That’s what corporations could add to charities.”
Companies have already been involved in building schools, typically in collaboration with NGOs and governments. Olam, International the commodities trading group, has built schools and health clinics in partnership with other stakeholders.
Nestlé SA, the world’s biggest food group by sales, is building and renovating 40 schools in the Ivory Coast together with the World Cocoa Foundation, an NGO. The Switzerland-based company is spending $1.5-million on the program, which will be matched by the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide accompanying projects, such as adult literacy.
These projects are intended to build goodwill in the community, help foster better relations with governments and also help ensure younger generations will have the wherewithal to earn a decent living – and thus be able to afford products such as chocolate and beer.
The days of investing simply for financial reward are coming to an end, Mr. Nicolson said. “Fifty years from now, if that’s your modus operandi, I think you will be out of business.”
He said the investment involved was small, and would not entail emblazoning the company name on hospitals or schools.
Heineken late last year increased its stake in Brana, the leading brewer in Haiti, from 22 per cent to 95 per cent.
“Haiti [has]10 million people and they have been abandoned by the world,” Mr. Nicolson said. “You go there and it looks like the earthquake [in January, 2010]happened yesterday, and yet a lot of money went in.”
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