The Problem With Showing Up Empty- Handed

Guest blog by Tesla Martinez

As our planet experiences a paradigm shift toward the power of informed consumers, customers are more attuned to the values and behaviors of companies as well as the brands behind the products they purchase. They are not afraid to be critical and vocal against those they perceive to be insufficiently contributing to society.


In this new frontier of global consumerism, sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) will become increasingly important in the global consumer environment. Somewhere chiseled in etiquette books is a social rule stating that a guest arriving to an intimate dinner gathering at someone’s home should graciously arrive with a simple token of appreciation. After all, the guest is being welcomed into another man’s castle. Being invited to set up a business venture in another country is really no different.

Yet these days it seems many multinationals have completely forgotten their manners in doing business abroad. Unfortunately, many show up empty-handed in hosting nations and then loosen their belt buckles with the intent to fatten up on foreign profits. A temporary lapse in social refinement and contextual understanding is a perfect way to lose credibility, marketshare and/or partners. Citizens around the world are waking up to corporate gluttons who just show up for profit.

For multinational companies to achieve and sustain success around the world, it is important to begin by behaving in a more effective way. Remember your manners, bring corporate social responsibility to the table and take an authentic interest in your hosting nation and local communities. This will lead to immediately and effectively connecting with people and creating goodwill, as well as developing a lasting impression with the broader global consumer.

Hosting nations and global citizens simply want to get to know the values of the companies. What do the companies stand for? What do the companies intend to bring that will contribute to solving problems in their nation? How will companies do business in their nation? Everyone is paying close attention, including employees, colleagues, foreign partnerships, national governments and consumers. When properly done, you quickly earn their trust and generate loyalty. Context really matters.

As the old adage goes, “think global but act local.” Show up to the dinner party demonstrating your company’s good and appropriate social graces. Develop an environment of trust and reveal authentic interests in the hosting nation and local communities by discussing and developing a shared vision of expectations and behaviors that will successfully lead to a sustainable license to operate without serious disruptions and better outcomes.

To succeed internationally, multinationals will need to identify CSR programs, platforms, causes and opportunities that support their business models as well as the expectations of their stakeholders. This effort must resonate in the hearts of local consumers. Inclusive partnerships – i.e., all franchisees – must remain aligned and true to the same message. After all, there is a lot of historical data conclusively demonstrating that there is power in numbers.

Take for example the foodservice chain Crepes and Waffles (C&W) in Colombia, which has many single mothers among its employees. C&W has various programs to help employees purchase their own homes and contribute to their children’s education. This shows the company's commitment to the well-being of its employees and the community. Since customers throughout the country know and highly value C&W's commitment to social responsibility, the business successfully sustains its consumer support and loyal patronage in Colombia.

Successful and sustainable CSR programs and initiatives do not arise automatically and are not one-size-fits-all. Instead, they require close attention to the immediate and emerging conditions of the hosting nation and local communities, have a local presence, are involved in workforce development and education, and manifest accountability and transparency.

Digitally empowered activist groups and savvy consumers will recognize and inform consumers that unsystematic donations, non-comprehensive sponsorships and unintegrated programs are superficial window dressing. Successful multinational companies see and do business in the world a new way. They do not walk into a dinner party empty-handed. Rather, they walk in a well-mannered fashion with the intent of becoming integral and collaborative partners in the hosting nation and local communities.

Tesla Martinez is the president of Terra Nova Insights LLC. Terra Nova Insights supports international growth strategy for a wide array of consumer foodservice multinationals. For more information, email tmartinez@terranovainsights.comFor a complete list of CSR international planning steps and available support, visit: Food & Drink magazine is pleased to present the points of view of many different industry stakeholders. If you would like to contribute your own guest blog to our site, please contact the editor at



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