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When large, money-making corporations invest in third world countries, I’m always skeptical.  Sure, they may be providing some benefit — funding or education — but I always wonder if the reason is either to look good for the fat cats in the West so they buy more of the corporations’ products or for the actual beneficiaries of this philanthropy to eventually spend their limited funds on the brands.  Either way I’m always left wondering how truly empathetic these companies are.

So when I read an article about Shiseido offering hygiene education and products to poor women in Bangladesh, I raised more than one eyebrow.  “Come on,” I thought.  This is just another ploy.

But then I read on.  And I changed my mind.

Shiseido isn’t pulling the wool over our eyes.  They ARE promoting their products to Bangladeshi women.  But these products are both specially designed for their skin and at a much lower price point than other skin care in the country.  Also, and more significantly, Shisiedo is investing in programs for Bangladeshi women to teach others proper hygiene and nutrition.  Yes, this includes skin care but it also covers important and life-enhancing benefits such as hand washing and better eating habits.

From afar we may ask ourselves, is this such a big deal?  Is Shiseido really doing anything that profound to help Bangladeshi women.  Beyond giving employment and teaching others skin care, the brand is giving these women a dose of confidence.  In a region where women are often uneducated and untrained, the ability to work or even just feel more beautiful and better about themselves so that they have the guts to find a way to climb up the economic ladder is a pretty BIG deal.

Does this make me look at Shiseido in a better light?  Hell yes!

In a nutshell, what is Shiseido doing right and what can we learn from their actions? Shiseido:

  1. Focused on their core strengths: beauty.  They didn’t venture into worlds that feel foreign and therefore contrived.
  2. Proved that is is empathetic and understanding of the culture by offering products specially designed for them — skin care and price-wise.  The brand changed for the market’s needs.
  3. Offered the most priceless of gifts: education.  Yes, the education isn’t computer classes or accounting lessons but hygiene, nutrition and beauty.  But they are still important.
  4. Like many beauty brands, it employs local women to educate the community thereby raising the profile and economic power of women.

I commend all brands who want to help those in need.  But I believe a corporation will get that much farther with all it’s consumers by being authentic and true to itself, and, most importantly, by truly loving of the consumer.

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