Advocacy for the poor and the profit motive of business don't appear allies, but a local social issues organization is trying to change that.
"We're making a concerted effort to build a better bridge" between common adversaries: consumer advocate and private enterprise, said Bill Walsh, executive director of Utah Issues.About four years ago, when funding for poverty programs was dwindling, Utah Issues created a fund-raising arm that included representatives from the business community. That committee, Friends of Utah Issues, has helped Walsh and other former skeptics of big business become better acquainted with how the commercial sector thinks.
The committee was first a tool to more effectively solicit donations from local businesses, but now Walsh wants to take it one step further by advocating public-private partnerships to solve problems of poverty in Utah.
"We want to get beyond the simple donation to charity and get companies more involved in programs" that help poor people become employed and productive in the community and business, he said.
"It's in their (business') interest," Walsh said, "if they want a good work force of people who can produce and improve quality of life."
As an example, he cited US WEST Communications' "Women in Management" program, where the telephone utility hires mothers on welfare as interns for three months, giving them the experience of working alongside professionals.
"This is important because these are women who have had a crisis in their family and have had to resort to public assistance. But this internship helps them sharpen their skills and build their confidence," Walsh said.
It's programs like the one at US WEST that Walsh hopes to highlight at Utah Issues' "Corporate and Business Leader" breakfast meeting Oct. 27, kicking off the organization's daylong conference on "Investing for the Common Good."
Walsh has enlisted the help of Jack Moskowitz, vice president of federal government relations for the United Way - which has strong support of local business - to talk to executives about how business can become involved in addressing local proverty problems.
Also at the breakfast, Walsh will introduce a new program called "Beyond Band-Aids," which will help local businesses find out where and how they can get involved in helping the poor.
Teaming up with the University of Utah Graduate School of Business, Utah Issues will survey the different poverty projects and programs local companies are already involved in. Walsh said this information will be used to establish a communications network that a company can tap into to find out who is doing what and decide if it wants to participate.
Walsh said his organization, which is a private non-profit corporation, has been criticized for compromising its role as consumer advocate by getting too friendly with private business.
But Walsh said that while business must be watched to protect consumers' rights, it also has the resources to contribute for "the common good."
"It's a mistake to be such a purist you can't acknowledge a good thing," he said.