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Students Will Slate and Kiley Dibble demonstrate the water purification process.

Ten pennies. That’s all it takes to give a child in a developing country enough clean drinking water to survive another week. Seven dollars and 50 cents—the cost of a Starbucks run—will provide that same child with drinking water for an entire year.

That simple message is at the heart of presentations delivered last semester by a group of students from a course in corporate social responsibility offered by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business.

Haslam studentsThe students—senior marketing major Kiley Dibble, junior marketing major Michael Rodriguez, senior marketing major Will Slate, and senior finance major Zach Yunger—showed the ease with which a water purification kit developed by one of the college’s corporate partners, Procter & Gamble, can turn a two-liter bucket of dirty, unsafe water into a carafe of drinking water in about 10 minutes at a cost of about 10 cents.

The Clean Water Initiative

The packet was invented by P&G laundry scientists who were originally trying to separate dirt from used laundry water. They invented a breakthrough technology that enables people anywhere in the world to purify polluted water in a simple, affordable, convenient way. The technology is made available through P&G’s nonprofit Children’s Safe Drinking Water program, or CSDW, which distributes the packets in 90 countries around the globe.

“CSDW is leading the fight against the global water crisis by providing water purification packets to the more than one billion people who don’t have access to clean drinking water,” said class instructor Traci Van Dorselaer.

The packets are literally lifesavers. As Rodriquez noted in his presentation, more people worldwide die from diseases caused by a lack of clean water than from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

“I didn’t know Procter & Gamble had this initiative, which speaks volumes to why they are doing it,” said Dibble, a native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “Any company can put their name on something and start working toward a great cause for the publicity, but they [Procter & Gamble] do it quietly and they do it very well.”

Dibble added that the humanitarian venture ensures that clean water kits reach the women and children who usually are charged with retrieving water. Often such resources are intercepted by tribal elders or government agencies because their water-purifying capabilities make them more valuable than gold.

“There are 150 nongovernment organizations with boots on the ground in each of the 90 countries served. And P&G works directly with those representatives and it has trade relationships with these countries, which allows product to move in and not be interrupted,” she said.

A Course in Socially Conscious Leadership

Both the presentation and the course spring from a student-led partnership with P&G.

As a first-year student in 2015, Van Dorselaer’s son, Michael, brought the idea of a corporate social responsibility partnership with P&G to Stephen L. Mangum, dean of the college. Mangum approved the project as the basis of a new course in corporate social responsibility.

The project also involves six-kilometer walkathons—representing the average round trip to obtain water in the 90 countries—to raise awareness of and money for the clean-water initiative. Established in 2016, the course now includes a robust research project. The group of corporate sponsors has also expanded beyond P&G.

While the students’ presentation last semester was devoted to the water purification process, the class also worked to help improve college students’ awareness of CSDW and similar projects. The students sent out 668 campus surveys to gather data about UT students’ awareness of P&G’s social responsibility initiatives. They sifted through the responses to find actionable content and developed recommendations for P&G.

Among their suggestions were that P&G should advertise in media that 18- to 24-year-olds most view to ensure they are seeing relevant content and that every brand pursuing a social responsibility initiative should offer a consistent, easily shareable social media presence that reinforces that initiative.

Spreading the Word

These and other recommendations from the class will help P&G expand the reach of its social responsibility initiatives.

“If we can grow this class—we almost doubled the number of survey results the last class had—if we can keep growing it that way, we’ll increase the exposure it will have to other people,” said Slate, who graduated from high school in Knoxville. “As it grows, the more exposure the campus will have, and then the more exposure the program will get. It will become more impactful, and eventually it will be something everyone knows about.”

For Rodriguez, who came to UT from Union City, New Jersey, the class brought his own awareness of the importance of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, to the forefront.

“It’s important to me personally,” he said. “That’s one of my first questions in job interviews. What are your CSR initiatives, how do you give back to the community and how do you invest into your workforce? Because that is also CSR. For a brand to be powerful and effective, they need to go beyond profit-centered to being people-centered.”

The importance is being felt in more immediate ways as well. Last year’s Corporate Social Responsibility class made a $250 donation to CSDW. Michael Van Dorselaer added $1,000 he had raised separately, enabling the class to present $1,250 to the initiative.

In a global water crisis, $1,250 might seem like a drop in the bucket. However, as Rodriguez pointed out, “That’s enough clean water for a village for a year.”


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist,