I am pleased to report that this has been a year of major progress and many milestones. Since its launch in March 2013, our Heart of Experian Social Responsibility programme has gathered real momentum across all our regions, engaging and inspiring our people and producing impressive results.
The core idea is to use our unique assets and the skills of our people to help communities achieve their social and economic potential. We focus our activities on three key social responsibility aims: enabling the most vulnerable in society to access financial services, providing the disadvantaged with the financial knowledge to prosper, and supporting micro and small businesses to grow and thrive.
Against this backdrop, a significant milestone over the last year was the evolution of and investment in our social innovation programme. We are encouraging our people to submit funding applications for new products that deliver social benefit, while generating commercial growth. This unique approach fosters innovation, a core part of Experian’s fabric. From the many strong proposals received, we chose seven for the latest year and invested nearly US$700,000 in their development. These projects are detailed later in this report.
It is a source of great pride that many of our products and services already help to tackle social issues, such as poverty and debt, and developing small businesses. Through this annual innovation programme, we want to grow the social reach of our products by at least 5 million people by 2018. I am immensely excited by this concept and the impact it promises. It is a natural fit with our commitment to a sustainable model of growth, where social and commercial benefits are created side by side.
The Heart of Experian Social Responsibility programme is also changing the way our people can make a difference, as we build even stronger connections with our local community partners. As a result, we have seen more of our colleagues develop their skills on the front line. Our people volunteered over 24,000 hours in working time at partner organisations, an increase of 32%, giving back more time to communities than ever before. This overwhelming enthusiasm is vital to helping our communities achieve their social and economic potential.
Experian helps to empower individuals and organisations, enabling them to make better, more informed and responsible decisions. As we catalyse growth in emerging economies, we are playing a key role in lifting millions of people from poverty, by using our unique assets to resolve major social issues such as indebtedness, financial exclusion and fraud. As we deliver against our strategy, we also create new opportunities for Experian to prosper, while strengthening the global community we all share.