There's increasing talk in corporate circles of "social responsibility." But does it work in practice? Procter & Gamble's George Carpenter thinks so:
The model we used was digital communication. The argument to senior management was that developing countries moved to cellular communications much faster than the North did; while only the rich lobbyist and stockbrokers had cell phones in New York, if you went to Mexico City, everyone had cell phones because the regular phones did not work. Not only was the adoption rate faster, but the developing countries will never build the same hardware infrastructure we did.
Based on these observations, we thought that there is a way to think about consumers we do not serve today, that if we design products specific to their needs and aspirations and the realities of their life, rather than transferring products that were designed for Europe and North America, that we could create large new markets. That was a hypothesis. The key was that we were going to develop products specific to those consumers -- not try to sell them what was left over from the North.
It's a good interview, well worth reading: whatever your view of multinationals aiming to sell products to the bottom of the pyramid.
It's a start, but rather than just creating new market expansion opportunities with improved social awareness, a genuinely socially responsible major corporation would (also) lobby their governments and form industry associations for pervasive ethical, environmental and socially responsible reforms. For eg: to introduce CSR or other quality-of-life measures alongside maximising shareholder profits as legally-binding corporate obligations.