Would you buy iTunes4Dev?

By Simon Wreford-Howard 16 March 2012

Photo by: daharding / CC BY-SA

What if Apple applied an iTunes microcontribution called “iTunes4Dev” to redistribute wealth and to help alleviate poverty?

Is this a crazy idea or is it really something worth looking into? Everyone I talk to — Apple users, sustainable development experts, the aid community, nonprofit types and U.N. officials — suggests the latter. It would create real value — for Apple shareholders and poor people surviving on less than one dollar a day. It could be social justice on an immense global scale.

What is iTunes4Dev?

iTunes is the largest global digital sales platform; virtually any affluent citizen in the world can access it. iTunes4Dev is a new idea in innovative financing for development based on Apple iTunes sales.

The idea is for Apple to apply a compulsory microcontribution to all iTunes sales and to use it for development financing. Apple could do it now, and quickly. There would be no significant legal and political barriers as with the controversial financial transaction tax. And Apple could easily write the iTunes4Dev code.

This iTunes4Dev microcontribution would be tiny. It would come out of Apple’s profit margins depending on whether users live in rich or less affluent G20+ countries. It would be invisible with no additional cost to iTunes users.

The simple fact that users purchase on iTunes would generate contributions and make fresh money flow to development.

How much development money would iTunes4Dev generate?

Billions of dollars, easily — perhaps even more. But one should not be too optimistic. Suffice it to say that iTunes4Dev would probably not only generate additional development funding, but also support significant global wealth distribution and social justice.

The mechanism could be associated with a voluntary giving scheme. This scheme could be encouraged by artists such as Bono, co-founder of the ONE Campaign and (Product) Red. To make it even more powerful, iTunes4Dev proceeds could be “matched” by Apple and according to the principles of the recent, successful GAVI Matching Fund.

But for iTunes4Dev to really work, and as we are talking big business and shareholder interests: iTunes4Dev should be corporate-tax deductible for Apple. I think this is possible, as Apple could give to tax-deductible causes, 501c3’s or trust funds.

Why would Apple do this? Because it’s good for Apple’s business. Because it could cement Apple’s nascent corporate social responsibility policy. Because it would make Apple’s business model and vision sustainable over day and time. Because Apple has no major giving culture now.

Why Apple?

Philanthropy and giving create shareholder value and societal acceptance for extremely large corporate players. Apple has risen from near bankruptcy to becoming the richest publicly traded company in the world, with a stock-market capitalization of more than $600 billion; it has yet to embrace a philanthropic business culture. But more importantly, Apple is sitting on nearly $100 billion in cash reserves.

What will the company do with it? Remunerate its already quite wealthy shareholders, or give a fraction back to people of our global community who are most at need?

A green Apple

Although one could argue that Apple’s business outlook currently looks very good, its core business — developing and selling cutting-edge products and software — is a very, very tough business. Making Apple products and services not only cool but also “green” and socially responsible could become a huge selling point for Apple. Just imagine a green California apple instead of the company’s current white logo.

The impact of a green Apple logo would be tremendous, especially this year, as world leaders prepare for Rio+20, the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, in June.

The good news is that Apple leadership and shareholders are very much aware of the need to improve Apple’s approach to corporate social responsibility.

The iTunes4Dev idea may come at an opportune moment, and it could perhaps serve as a pilot project for the global digital community to do international development business.

How to make iTunes4Dev work

One way to get iTunes4Dev going is to harness the advocacy power of the HIV and AIDS community — and to use future iTunes4Dev proceeds to help close the current, significant HIV and AIDS funding gaps. The HIV and AIDS community could engage with Apple leadership in the buildup to the 19th International AIDS Conference this July in Washington. Apple could announce iTunes4Dev when it launches the iPhone 5.

What if that phone could be turned into a philanthropic tool supporting global development?

I would argue that the brand impact for Apple would be mind-bogglingly high and that it would not only give the company a significant marketing edge above its (mainly Asian) competitors, but that it would also, once and for all, position Apple in global philanthropy.

Read more about innovative financing of development in Busannovate: Making the money go further.

About the author

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Simon Wreford-Howard

Simon Wreford-Howard is an independent international strategy consultant / senior external relations, fundraising and strategy professional for international development. He worked as the innovative finance focal point at the World Health Organization. Simon was also a senior program officer at GAVI and an IFFIM manager.


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