What would you do if you knew that purchasing a bottle of water could ensure adequate healthcare and education for the people of Uganda?
It’s now been ten years since retail giant Cotton On launched their philanthropic branch The Cotton On Foundation, leading the crusade in tackling poverty across Southern Uganda. But now a decade down the line, the foundation plans to broaden its horizons.
“Every project shares something in common – and that is that they’re all focused around education, and that applies in many different ways” said Amanda Connor, PR Brand Manager for the Cotton On Group.
“We believe that we can empower youth through providing quality education, and if we provide quality education then we can help eliminate poverty.”
The foundation’s origins began in 2007, when Cotton On CEO Nigel Austin was approached to make some donations to a fledging healthcare centre in the tiny village of Mannya in Southern Uganda – a region notorious for its substandard healthcare and an HIV/AIDS epidemic of colossal proportions. Burdened by limited education, basic infrastructure and unfunded healthcare facilities, the wider community was left in desperate need of a helping hand.
In November of that year, Mr Austin made the pilgrimage to Mannya, spurred by an interest to see how his contributions would be appropriated. Upon his arrival, Mr Austin was moved by the extreme poverty around him.
“Nigel was really taken aback by the levels of poverty he was witnessing first hand, and saw that much more was needed to be done. That’s where the ball started rolling,” Ms Connor said.
These days, Mannya is almost unrecognisable; boasting a fully funded healthcare centre, schools, dormitories, dining halls and educational facilities, with money being further diverted into local industry and infrastructure.
The organisation centres itself around four major pillars of focus: health, education, sustainability and infrastructure. These particular focuses are strengthened by a collective goal to enable the Cotton On Foundation as a cause that’s independent of Cotton On as a retailer, seeking to utilise wider contributions to become something more than a mere charity drive.
Having now raised upwards of $35 million for communities in southern Uganda, Kenya, South-East Asia and for indigenous communities right here in Australia, the group is continually expanding and focusing itself on new projects, further emboldened by the support of various celebrities, including well known radio personalities Hamish & Andy.
“In June of this year, we’ll be beginning to launch our latest campaign to help redevelop schools near Durban in South Africa, which will be providing spaces for up to 1500 students. We’ll be replicating similar models to how we’ve worked throughout Uganda” Ms Connor said, highlighting some of the company’s new initiatives.
But what makes the Cotton On Foundation stand out amongst its contemporary charity causes?
“I think what allows us to stand out is that this is our very own charity. A lot of other key retailers will quite often work with a third party, whereas we have around 25 staff permanently based in Uganda full-time. This way we’re able to really highlight to the public where all the proceeds are going,” Ms Connor said.
“Additionally, because we also have the backing of the Cotton On Group, it means that we can really keep administrative costs down. That means that when a customer purchases an item in-store or online, literally 100% of those proceeds goes directly to funding our initiatives.”
With more ventures in the works, the foundation only shows signs of expanding its charitable contributions. What is next in store for the foundation?
“The overarching mission for at least the next couple of years will certainly be our goal to build 20,000 educational places globally by 2020. We have a few new strategies that we’ll be working out over the next couple of years too.”
“We just intend to keep growing awareness for what we’re doing. This our biggest opportunity to create a conversation and get people on board and influenced by what we’re doing.”
You can read more about the Cotton On Foundation and donate to the cause here.