How Cotton On Group is empowering young people

Beyond the shop floor.

While corporate philanthropy is nothing new, some take this commitment much more seriously than others. For these businesses, giving is more than just an act of social responsibility or an exercise in positive branding. It’s about making a significant positive difference, beyond what makes the brand look good.

One such business is Cotton On Group. Back in 2007, the company established the Cotton On Foundation, with the goal of helping the people of Mannya, Uganda, whose small village had been devastated by the HIV epidemic. For the Group, education seemed like a long-term, sustainable approach to the issues the region was facing – including famine, orphaned children and economic downfall.

Starting on the ground in Southern Uganda, the Foundation’s work has since extended to supporting communities in South Africa, Thailand and the Northern Territory. The focus is on building relationships with these communities, to create meaningful change across four pillars: education, infrastructure, healthcare and sustainability.

So far, so good. In under 10 years, the Foundation has created over 5,800 education places, implemented its Quality Education Model in 17 schools in Uganda, provided regular teacher training for over 300 teachers, treated over 110,000 health care patients, tested over 21,495 people for HIV, established three healthcare facilities, distributed over 100,000 menstrual education packs to underprivileged girls and more.

But most unique about the Cotton On Foundation is not what it’s achieved, but how it’s done it.

Let’s discuss.

Would you like water with that?

Approach the counter of any Cotton On store, and you’re guaranteed an add-on. Strategically placed around every point of sale are mints, water and tote bags, starting at $2 a pop. It’s a tempting purchase; most of these items cost more at the supermarket.

The scales are tipped when a staff member tells you (and they will) that 100% of the proceeds go to Cotton On Foundation, working to end extreme global poverty by empowering youth through quality education.

It’s a strategic move. By presenting a low price point, Cotton On is motivating its customers to contribute to change in a realistic way. Buy your mints here, instead of down the road, and you’re actively contributing to global change. It’s an easy purchase decision, but Cotton On Group ensures its customers know it’s a meaningful one.

“Cotton On Group lives and breathes promoting the Foundation in store, ensuring all team members and customers are aware of the work they do in Uganda,” says store manager of Supre Chadstone, Jessica Paturzo.

“In store we talk to customers about our Foundation every day.”

This is because, unlike many big businesses, it’s not enough that Cotton On Group donates a percentage of sales. Instead, the company wants to ensure its people are the drivers of change. So connecting team members to the work of the Foundation is a priority for Cotton On.

A firsthand education

Since the Foundation’s inception, Cotton On Group has sent over 600 Group team members to Southern Uganda, where much of the Foundation’s work operates.

The trips are funded by the Group, enabling teams to visit the villages they’re aiding and witness the results of their efforts firsthand.

“We slept in guest housing in Mannya. It was like dorms kind of, but no hot water, and only electricity when the generator came on in early hours of the morning,” says 21C of Cotton On Body Chadstone, Jessica Wegener, who travelled to Mannya last year.

It’s certainly an experience, and one that team members hold close to their hearts.

“It was amazing. Seeing the before and afters, and seeing the statistics back from the HIV centres and Nutrition Mission programs. We really are changing lives. It’s so fulfilling, knowing that we are contributing to literally help cease poverty.”

Cotton On team members are nominated by managers for the trip, for demonstrating dedication and passion, and going above and beyond for the Cotton On Foundation in their daily work.

“It’s a non-negotiable in my store, where all my girls are equally passionate about driving and raising awareness for a great cause,“ says Paturzo.

“The Foundation is a massive part of the reason why I love my job.”

Creating leaders

Cotton On Group also nominates internal Foundation ambassadors to further connect staff and customers with the Foundation’s work. Their role is to generate ideas, support initiatives and work with teams to further this work.

Paturzo is a Foundation Ambassador for her region, which consists of nine stores:

“It is a collaborative effort, and each and every member of the team has an important role to play to ensure that the Foundation is successful,” she notes.

The Foundation now has a mission of developing 20,000 educational places by 2020, with a focus on filling the gaps through to university. As the work of Cotton On Foundation grows, the Group’s leaders grow with it. And you can too.

Cotton On Group is now hiring retail managers nationally, with plenty of opportunities to get involved with the Cotton On Foundation. Click here to apply or here to learn more about the Foundation. 

The Cotton On Group has a number of charitable arms and believes in making a positive difference in people’s lives. The Cotton On Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to empowering youth globally through quality education, with projects in Southern Uganda, South Africa, Thailand and Australia. Through partnerships in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, the Supré Foundation fosters a supportive world where girls are empowered. 


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