It’s harder, smarter and ultimately more valuable for companies to share their talent and expertise.
That’s what Toyota is doing with a program, announced today at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, aimed at helping schools, hospitals and other nonprofits stretch their dollars further.
Toyota is famous for its lean, worker-friendly approach to manufacturing. Its Toyota Production System isn’t so much about efficiency–although that’s the end result–as it is about respecting workers, letting ideas bubble up from the shop floor and driving continuous improvement, or Kaizen. The Toyota system is “at its core a problem-solving method,” says Jim Wiseman, a group vice president and company spokesman who’s been with Toyota for 22 years.
Toyota will now share its expertise more widely. In a news release, the company says:
The company will be working with up to 20 community organizations across the United States in the first year to help improve performance, beginning with the St. Bernard Project, a New Orleans recovery organization that employs returning war veterans, AmeriCorps members and volunteers to rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Techniques pioneered on Toyota assembly lines have already helped local non-profits, mostly on an ad hoc basis.
At the Community Kitchen & Food Pantry in Harlem, a Toyota team helped reduce wait times for clients and food waste.
At Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, nurses figured out with Toyota’s help how to save time when sorting and delivering pharmacy supplies so they could devote more time to patients. Here’s a short video about that.
The new initiative is being led by the Kentucky-based Toyota Production System Support Center. It was formed in 1992, initially to help Toyota’s U.S. suppliers learn how to increase productivity, safety and quality. Since then, the center has worked with more than 160 companies and a handful of nonprofits.
This approach to corporate giving makes sense to me because the company is leveraging its unique talents. Traditional corporate philanthropy strikes me as much less useful. After all, when companies make donations to nonprofits, they are giving away their shareholders’ money. Inevitably, they are expressing preferences for charities, causes and groups. (In the worst cases, they are supporting pet projects of a CEO or a senior exec or an exec’s spouse.) Unless there’s clear payback in terms of brand, reputation or an enhanced community that will benefit the workforce, companies would do better to (1) simply match employee benefits, i.e., turn charitable giving into a workplace perk or (2) let the shareholders guide them on how to give the money away. But that’s a blogpost for another day.