Michael Kors: ‘It’s important to use my platform to help others’

Oct. 16 is World Food Day — a day when the United Nations and thousands of hunger and poverty alleviation organizations call attention to the fact that more than 20,000 people die from poverty every day and some 800 million worldwide remain chronically undernourished. Despite these grim statistics, things are improving and the efforts of governments, international bodies, non-profits and corporations are inspiring.

Michael Kors has used his influence and success as an international designer of luxury accessories and ready-to-wear fashion to tackle the issue of hunger. To mark World Food Day Michael Kors and the UN World Food Program are asking fans to help buy meals for children in need. The company launched an online campaign to let consumers create a customized digital T-shirt to generate 50 meals for children in need. In addition, every purchase of a Bradshaw 100 watch will generate 100 meals. The goal is to generate one million meals.

In an interview, Michael Kors discussed his motivation to tackle this issue and how the entrepreneurial spirit can drive profit and purpose.

Q What inspired you to create Watch Hunger Stop and what are you most proud of as you look back at its impact to date?

A I’ve been involved with the cause of fighting hunger for 25 years through my involvement with God’s Love We Deliver, a philanthropic organization in New York. As my business grew, I started travelling the world and saw that hunger affected people everywhere. I wanted a global partner to continue this work, so I joined forces with the United Nations World Food Program three years ago. I’m very proud that we reached a major milestone this July by delivering 10 million meals to hungry children in countries that are most affected by malnutrition and hunger.

Q What keeps you up at night as it relates to the issue of hunger and why do you think in a world so plentiful, we have yet to put an end to hunger?

A Hunger is a solvable problem and it’s frustrating to know there’s enough food for everyone on the planet and it’s not always getting to the people who need it most. There are complex reasons why hunger exists. But, since I’m a very results-oriented person, I’m always pushing myself and others to make a difference.

Q Given your passion for the issue, what impact are you looking to have in the next five years, beyond the number of meals provided?

A I think it’s about raising the bar. It’s amazing that we’ve delivered 10 million meals, but we want to do more. We want to literally “watch hunger stop.” Our ultimate goal is a world with zero hunger.

Q In the immediate term what’s your message of hope (to consumers, citizens and companies, governments) on World Food Day?

A In the past 25 years, the number of people without food has dropped significantly. I think that goes to show that the efforts of both individuals and companies really matter. What I love about getting behind this cause is that you can see an immediate, positive reaction when you hand someone a plate of food.

Q What role do you think powerful brands (and their leaders) ought to play in advocating for social causes and issues?

A I can only speak for myself — I’ve been fortunate enough to be successful doing something I love on a very visible platform. And I personally think it’s important to use that platform to help others.

Q Does Watch Hunger Stop help to differentiate you from your competitors and engage your consumers?

A It’s clear our customers want to give back. We were able to reach that milestone in July through sales of our Watch Hunger Stop watches, customer donations and social media campaigns. Our fans, especially the Millennial generation, are engaged digitally 24/7 and we know they want to make a difference in their world. It’s about listening to all our customers and giving them different ways to get involved.

Q Who else do you think is doing a great job at integrating business and social change?

A The celebrities who have joined us in the cause in the past three years are doing a great job. The influence celebrities have on their fans and communities make them really powerful spokespeople. Kate Hudson is now on board and she just radiates positive energy. She has such a big heart, too, and I think people really feel like they can connect with her, which is so important when you are trying to raise awareness for something like this.

Q Business as a tool for social change is a vision and belief we both share. Why do you think business leaders have yet to adopt it at scale?

You know, in any business, things are changing — we’re in a more global, interconnected world. When you witness the issues affecting the world and you have a platform to help others, why wouldn’t you? It’s a win-win to be able to give back.

Phillip Haid is co-founder and CEO of Public, a social purpose marketing agency and innovation lab that designs social impact campaigns and businesses.

Originally published at business.financialpost.com.

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