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Looking beyond the bottom line

TNT has allocated $12.8 million to World Food Programme projects this year.
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(CNN) -- Most large companies claim that making the world a better place is one of their key goals.

Yet while all managers would recognize the PR potential of the occasional charitable donation, it's feeding the bottom line that counts.

But when Peter Bakker, the CEO of European logistics company TNT, decided he wanted to do something to tackle world hunger, he quickly discovered that having a social conscience had business benefits of its own.

Bakker was on a long-haul flight between Amsterdam and Sydney when a magazine article challenged him to make the world a better place.

"I banged out a few ideas when I landed in Singapore, I sent emails to about 10 people sharing my ideas and when I got to Sydney eight hours later they had all reacted and all very favorably," recalled Bakker.

"The idea was very simple: Can this company -- the best logistics company in the world -- do something to distribute health and wealth?"

In December 2002, TNT's parent company TPG set about testing that idea when it launched a partnership with the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), the world's largest humanitarian aid agency.

But before the final decision was made, Bakker presented employees with a choice. TNT would either sponsor hunger relief or enter the glamorous world of Formula One motor racing sponsorship. At a series of meetings around the world, staff and shareholders backed the former.

"Companies cannot solve worlds problems all on their own, that's not what we are trying to do with our partnership with WFP," said Bakker.

"We are trying to use our skills our people sometimes our planes or our systems to try and help WFP fight hunger in a better way. That's what this partnership is all about."

In 2003, TPG provided five million euros ($6.4 million) of cash, services and assets, working alongside WFP staff to enhance their logistics capacity, fundraising and accountability. This year TPG has committed a further 10 million euros ($12.8 million) to the partnership.

TNT also enabled volunteers from within its staff to take part in relief work, reporting back to their colleagues on their experiences.

In supporting the partnership, staff also showed support with their feet, by taking part in the company's "Walk the World" event. More than 40,000 people participated in 200 locations across 70 countries, raising more than one million euros ($1.3 million) for the WFP in addition to TPG's contribution.

Peter Bakke believes TNT's costs in setting up the partnership are more than repaid by the benefits delivered by staff through pride in their company.

"If you look at what makes a service company successful it is two things; how it satisfies its customers and how you motivate people to do that. So if we find ways to make our people a little more proud to work for TNT then they will do a little better job, and they will make customers a little more happy and that will make our business big. That is the simple philosophy behind it all.

"It's no longer good enough to focus on the best profits or the highest markets or whatever old fashioned matrix there are. They are important, but next to that you've got to be a social leader.

"In the beginning people looked at us rather skeptically, but, now people are beginning to see our success, I am convinced that more boardrooms will ask themselves, 'what is it that we can do?' I'm convinced those companies will find their own examples of where they can help."

-- CNN's Neil Curry contributed to this report.

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