Known long ago for Morse code, today’s Western Union is synonymous with another M word: migration. Migration is what drives Western Union—to the tune of nearly $1 billion a year in earnings helping poor migrants around the globe send money home.
Western Union’s assistance to migrants who are moving their money does not come without criticism, however. A Nov. 21, 2007 New York Times article stated that “…critics have long complained about Western Union’s fees, which average about 6% but can be three or four times as high. And the company’s lobbying for immigrant-friendly laws has raised the ire of people who say it profits from, or even promotes, illegal immigration.”
Setting out to combat these negatives, Western Union embarked on an ambitious plan to recast its image. It included a sweeping PR play, Our World, Our Family, a five-year, $50 million community relations initiative designed to help migrants learn new skills while providing resources to the communities they leave behind that would help break the cycle of poverty.
Tapping Boston-based PR agency Cone to help lead the campaign, Western Union set the following objectives for the initiative:
• Forge a deeper community connection by enlisting employees, agents and influencers.
• Build new community partnerships to address the needs of core stakeholders: migrants and their families.
YEAR OF RESEARCH
Starting in August 2006, Cone and Western Union used the program development process to engage communities, investing a year in outreach to local leaders, academia, NGOs and migrant communities themselves. “We reached out, for example, to folks who in their spare time were running a club for their community, to understand what their groups’ needs were,” says Talya Bosch, a director at Cone, who has worked on Our World, Our Family since the beginning.
Cone and Western Union also engaged with 30 key global independent Western Union locations, interviewed global experts and influencers and conducted research into 408 NGOs for potential partnerships.
In a parallel effort, awareness was being built internally. “We engaged employees in development process, holding over 100 working sessions with employees from around the world,” says Bosch. No department or region went untouched, she says. This was accomplished in a variety of ways: through road shows, the company Intranet and a letter from the CEO, for example.
|Western Union, with help from PR agency Cone, engaged a number of migrant communities around the world, including the areas from which they came, via its Our World, Our Family campaign. Photo courtesy of Western Union Foundation|
Western Union engaged Mercy Corps as its first global NGO partner—tapping the humanitarian and development assistance organization’s presence and credibility in key markets.
Why was Mercy picked? “We valued an organization’s ability to enter communities in sophisticated ways,” says Bosch. “Not every NGO could do that, and some groups were looking for support for existing programs. Mercy Corps was willing to support Western Union’s program.” Mercy Corps also had robust analysis capabilities, essential for a large-scale program.
“We were interested in Western Union because its customer base is the same people we do humanitarian work with,” says Sasha Muench, director for social innovations at Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps. “It was an interesting overlap.”
Muench says that what’s been unique about the partnership is the level of communication between the Western Union Foundation, which oversees the program, and Mercy Corps. “Many of our partners come up with a plan and fade into the background, but we talk every week with Western Union. They are much more involved in the details.”
Together, the partners engaged their target audience in four intensive on-the-ground community needs assessments and piloted the program in major migration corridors: the Philippines/United Arab Emirates and Guatemala/United States. These efforts resulted in the following global strategic goals:
• Develop innovative ways to engage migrant communities around the world.
• Enlist global and local NGOs to foster education and economic opportunity for migrants and their families.
• Create grassroots opportunities for Western Union employees and agents to interact with communities worldwide.
• Foster new community champions to elevate the issue.
Four areas of focus were established: 1) Our World Gives engages migrant communities in innovative joint philanthropy; 2) Our World Learns builds strong community relationships by providing a “welcome” orientation to newer migrants and fostering education and job training; 3) Our World Strives connects Western Union employees as mentors to migrant entrepreneurs; and 4) Our World Speaks champions community needs via advocacy.
“We knew that one approach wouldn’t work everywhere in the world,” says Bosch. “We were looking at new ways for people to engage in particular elements of advocacy.”
The following four approaches of Our World, Our Family emphasizes the engagement of migrant communities worldwide and enlists a broad range of stakeholders to give their time, talents and financial resources to advance community needs:
â–¶ Engaged local migrant communities in philanthropy through Our World Gives:
1. Engaged migrants living in the U.S. to raise funds and direct giving in communities migrants leave behind; funds are matched one-for-one by Western Union and the national, state and local government in their home country.
2. Forged new connections between employees and the community through Global Giving Circles; Western Union incentivizes participation with a matching contribution to the Western Union Foundation, $2 for every $1, up to $100,000 per year.
â–¶ Reached stakeholders with vital tools and education through Our World Learns:
1. Worked with Mercy Corps to engage local communities through financial literacy and job readiness courses.
2. Developed learning packs filled with community-orientation information in migrants’ native language, which are distributed through NGO partners, government agencies and via Western Union agent locations.
3. Created the first-ever model of Family Scholarships, offering educational grants to more than one member of the same family, anywhere in the world, recognizing that migrant families succeed or fail together.
â–¶ Helped more-established migrants get ahead through Our World Strives:
1. Engaged WU employees with local communities through shared hands-on experiences, providing paid time off to volunteer.
2. Developed an online business resource to connect migrant entrepreneurs to tools they need to succeed.
3. Launched a Volunteer Mentor Corps linking employees as mentors to migrant entrepreneurs who benefit from personalized support.
â–¶ Served as a community champion through Our World Speaks:
1. Elevated the issue of migration and enlisted new partners through participation in high-level venues, including numerous UN meetings, and executive board placement—with all 13 members of the company’s senior executive committee either on or in the process of joining NGO boards.
2. Partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to raise visibility of the issue among community and world.
3. Invested in landmark research with The Economist Intelligence Unit: The Western Union Global Migration Barometer is a first-of-its-kind comparative ranking of the attractiveness, accessibility and need for migrants in 61 countries.
NUMBERS TELL THE STORY
Western Union’s Our World, Our Family program has successfully engaged community members, delivering social benefits to consumers, enhancing the company’s visibility around issues that are key to its business and delivering against the program’s objectives. It also generated impressive results, including:
• Western Union engaged every department and geographic region in the program: HR, marketing, IT/operations, public affairs, finance, legal and the Foundation.
• In the first year, 745 employees dedicated 2,297 volunteer hours and raised $1 million through joint philanthropy initiatives.
• Our World, Our Family was recognized on stage at the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative meeting, and received numerous other honors.
• Western Union elevated the issue and forged influential new relationships; the company convened 65 international thought leaders at a 2008 Global Migration Forum in Washington, D.C.
• Enlisted 375,000 agent locations as a community resource, distributing learning packs to 110,000 community members, promoting family scholarships and raising $2 million via Giving Circles.
• Connected with 1,800 nonprofit organizations in 100 countries, giving almost $53 million to communities.
• Fostered the development of 300 new migrant businesses through the online business resource.
And what about Western Union’s reputation as the program has progressed? Hard data wasn’t available, but that same New York Times article quoted earlier said that thanks to company policy changes and planned outreach to its customer base, Western Union’s credibility level was rising.
Now ending year three of a five-year program, Bosch says that current efforts involve working behind the scenes with the Clinton Foundation to enlist new companies and partners.
From Mercy Corps’ perspective, the focus is on achieving financial literacy for both Western Union customers and their families at home, which tend to be poor. “We’re doing a lot of work around financials, budgeting and savings tips,” says Muench.
Internal outreach for the program is a real key moving forward, says Tony Tapia, senior program director, Western Union Foundation. “This past year 46% of our 6,000 employees worldwide contributed to the foundation,” he adds. “We’re looking to build on that.” PRN
Talya Bosch, firstname.lastname@example.org; Sasha Muench, email@example.com; Tony Tapia, firstname.lastname@example.org.