PepsiCo's CSR Tie With Veterans: It's Dreamy

Dream Machine "After living a life of purpose, responsibility, and meaning, I suddenly was a nobody." When Brian Iglesias completed 13 years of active duty, he was a combat decorated, service disabled, U.S. Marine officer. In a private interview with Iglesias, he described to me how devastating it was to return to civilian life with bleak prospects of finding a new life of purpose.

Just a few years later, Iglesias is President and CEO of his own enterprise—Veterans Inc., a film and media production company. Iglesias's company just produced the award-winning documentary film Chosin that chronicles the seventeen-day Korean war battle. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is among those who have commended the film.

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities

How did Iglesias get from despair to success? Through a program that is entirely free for post-9/11, disabled U.S. veterans. The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), based at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, is a competitive program for vets who have shown the passion and ability to be entrepreneurs—you know the ones who set up lemonade stands when they were kids.

"I always had a dream of building a business," said Iglasias. "EBV gives you the hard tools, and maybe more importantly, it gives you the confidence. EBV showed me the path. I wouldn't be where I am today." EBV is fully funded through private contributions. The program is offered at six colleges and universities throughout the country. Since its founding in 2007, EBV has graduated 200 vets. According to EBV, "almost 70% of the first class are proud business owners, and four of those students own ventures that generated revenues in excess of $1M in 2009."

EBV was the vision of Professor Michael Haynie, its Founder and National Executive Director. Haynie told me that 30% of post 9/11 vets will sustain enduring physical and psychological disabilities. Further, that "traditional life may be a challenge for them because of issues related to their disabilities. So they turn to entrepreneurship at a rate two times as high as non-veterans."

"We owe so much to veterans because of the scars of their service," said Haynie, a veteran himself, who served as an Air Force officer until 2006. I asked him how he conceived of the EBV. "It's quite simple," he said. "I believe that each of us should do something we are good at to help improve the lives of vets. What I do well is teach entrepreneurship. That's how I could help."

"Help our vets with what you do well. If you're a piano teacher, teach a vet's kid to play piano." That's the message he asked me to share with you.

PepsiCo Supports EBV: Dreamy or Good Business?

"We help make dreams come true," said Jeremy Cage, Senior Vice President of Innovations and Insights at PepsiCo Beverages Americas. And Haynie commended PepsiCo for being EVB's first corporate partner. Not only was PepsiCo first, but they will continue to provide vital funding on an ongoing basis. Just last weekend, Cage proudly presented Haynie with the inaugural check of $500,000.

Oh, but make no mistake. Cage, who developed the partnership with EBV, has a job that has nothing to do with charity or even CSR; his job is strictly business. Cage's charge was to find a way to increase recycling in the U.S. from 34% to 50% for a business reason. "We need a greater supply of PET for the manufacture of our bottles."

So under PepsiCo's "Performance with Purpose" approach to business, Cage conceived of the Dream Machine—setting up recycling kiosks and bins throughout the country for accessibility and convenience. Here's how Cage explained the business model: You drop in your used bottles and cans and receive coupons redeemable for entertainment or material goodies; PepsiCo gets the materials it needs at a savings; PepsiCo contributes money saved to EBV to fund the veterans program; and the environment is cleaner. Incentives and benefits all around.

As we've seen with the best CSR programs, partnerships are vital for success. In this case, PepsiCo not only partners with EBV, but also with Waste Management (WM), the largest waste management company in the U.S.—to remove and recyle, and Greenopolis - that has the technology to set up the rewards system. An additional partner is Keep America Beautiful (KAB), a nonprofit that has 600 certified affiliates around the U.S. Through these KAB relationships, PepsiCo can advance its interests to remove and recycle locally in addition to the national hauling and recycling done by WM. American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit, is also a PepsiCo partner; this is a corporate mentoring organization through which PepsiCo employees and retirees mentor for EBV.

On Veterans Day, we should all thank and recognize those who have served, especially those who have returned with lifelong wounds. EBV inspires us to help veterans and current service families with what each of us does best.

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