Millions of passengers who have flown with airlines ranging from Aer Lingus to Qantas will be familiar with - and may have filled - Change for Good envelopes in the seat pocket. By asking passengers to hand in their unwanted foreign change, the initiative has since its launch 20 years ago raised over $70 million for United Nations childrens organisation Unicef, supporting projects in more than 150 countries.
Ten carriers participate in the scheme. Six are Oneworld alliance members - American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL and Qantas. The others are Aer Lingus, Alitalia, ANA and Asiana.
British Airways is one of the biggest supporters of Change for Good. A member since 1994, it has raised almost $50 million to support projects ranging from a programme to help street kids in Cairo to one providing care for Ukrainian children affected by HIV. It has also funded projects to provide clean water to a flood-affected area of Kenya, emergency relief after an earthquake in Indonesia and an education programme for child labourers in Bangladesh, who otherwise would not attend school.
The scheme is supported by 2,400, mostly cabin crew, "champions", whose job it is to make onboard announcements and make sure a promotional video is shown on long-haul flights. Some of these champions also volunteer to go on field trips to see the effects of projects being supported by the fund-raising. A film of these visits appears on the promotional videos. "It's a complete loop," says Mary Barry, British Airways' manager community relations, who heads the Change for Good initiative.
Projects tend to be chosen because of their proximity to cities the airline flies to, to maintain contact with Unicef's team on the ground and the beneficiaries of the aid. "We also want to be seen to be giving something back to the communities we serve," says Barry. Around three schemes a year are typically chosen, often major infrastructure or long-term health or educational initiatives, a change from an earlier practice of making many small donations. "We have tried to stop funding lots of little projects. Better that we put £3-4 million into a big programme so you can really measure the impact - where people can see something happening, like an immunisation programme," she says. At other times, the fund has made donations to Unicef's emergency relief programmes in areas such as Darfur in Sudan and those affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Change for Good's big advantage, says Barry, is that it is a charity that customers can instantly relate to, and which, at the same time, is rewarding for staff. "The beauty of it is that it has a simplicity that passengers can easily understand," she says. "And crews on board our aircraft are energetic and motivated to talk about where the money goes."
The airline has just signed up to partner the charity, which relies entirely on donations and does not receive United Nations funding, for another three years. For British Airways it remains "one of our flagship initiatives", says Barry. "It's two strong brands coming together to make a difference for children across the world."