Ideas that inspire
You might be wondering why we’re putting out a newsletter in a world where the average person is inundated with information overload. The answer is simple: We are responding to an overwhelming demand by our clients and partners to bring our unique perspective to the ever-evolving field of “corporate social responsibility”, known as CSR.
Despite having been part of the corporate landscape for more than 30 years, CSR continues to evolve rapidly with a multitude of new approaches surfacing in recent years related to what we at Umalia refer to as corporate societal engagement , a term which encompasses all approaches .
Whether we use the approaches of corporate philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, conscious capitalism, triple bottom line – and the list goes on – we are ultimately referring to the role and impact which the private sector plays in society. There is increasing recognition that the private sector remains one of the key stakeholders capable of creating sustainable and lasting change.
As companies face increased global competition and regulatory pressures in a world where innovation is critical and where competitive differentiation is harder to attain, there is growing evidence that corporate societal engagement can actually be a lever for business innovation and growth. Not only can corporate societal engagement differentiate a company from its competition, it can also strengthen its value chain while increasing, among other things, employee and stakeholder commitment.
Furthermore, in addition to solving societal problems, a shared value approach can also lead the private sector to identify new and profitable business opportunities. Our Stimulus newsletter will share with you stories about how small, medium and global enterprises are doing just that: using their assets to help society while at the same time creating new business opportunities.
We hope that Stimulus will provide you with “ideas that inspire”, prompting you to consider implementing some of these approaches, even if it’s on a small scale or as a pilot project.
We encourage you to call or email if you’d like to explore with us your corporate societal engagement journey.
Lucie Bourgeois – Editor, Stimulus
Founding President of Umalia
Bendigo Bank is an Australian financial institution that began operations in the Bendigo goldfields in 1858. In 2007, it merged with Adelaide Bank to become the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group, with assets under management of more than $37.6 billion by 2015 and market capitalisation of around $2.4 billion. A top 60 ASX company, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group has almost 900 outlets in all states and territories of Australia, including 275 locally-owned Bendigo Community Bank branches.
Bendigo’s Community Bank program began in 1998 and is a good example of the shared value approach. Striving to be Australia’s most customer-connected bank, Bendigo recognizes that helping its clients succeed allows their communities to flourish, which ensures business and stakeholder success.
As part of their focus on connecting with consumers, Bendigo noted that many Australian communities had no bank. Starting in 1993, there had been a seven-year period during which 29 percent of all bank branches closed. This left rural areas without banking facilities, their companies without access to capital for development or growth and the communities without profitable companies as an income source.
The answer? The Community Bank model allows communities to form a company that runs a Bendigo Bank branch with local people as shareholders and as staff. Bendigo covers the banking license, trains staff and provides infrastructure, a full range of products and ongoing support. In return, it receives half the generated income. The community aggregates its banking business, pays expenses and collects the other half of the income, with no more than 20 percent going to shareholders and the remainder going to community development.
The result? Since the program has begun, over $94 million has been spent to build new community and health service centres, purchase buses and fire trucks, fund sports teams and scholarships, all with the profits generated from the banks. There have also been over 1,500 jobs created and each year around $30 million in wages and services are spent locally. What’s more, community members have new skills, and with these new competencies come new collaborations with other communities, not-for-profits and different levels of government, all leading to even greater social outcomes. Initially situated in rural communities, the Community Bank is a successful model that has spread to major cities as well.
In the end, the shared value approach enabled Bendigo to help address the financial needs and challenges of communities while creating new, profitable business opportunities.
Bendigo’s approach represents a holistic view in which business interests intersect with societal interests for the greater good of both. Note though that a holistic program can contain a continuum of approaches, from shared value (as illustrated by the Bendigo case above) to CSR to philanthropy. These different approaches shouldn’t be viewed as one “or” the other, but rather as a complementary set of “tools” to catalyze private sector engagement. We should see them as a set of enablers – instruments – in our portfolio to achieve a new private sector role which will benefit all stakeholders in society.
Shared value partnerships
In reality, every company is at a different point on the continuum of corporate social engagement because of where they are as a business (startup/growth/maturity/decline) and because of what they are facing at the moment (mergers / acquisition mode/leadership changes/ increasing competition/a major reputational crisis, etc.). Where they are, what they wish to become and what kind of leaders they have at their helm all play a role in defining their interests, their needs and the approaches they will take to engage with their communities. It’s important to recognize the continuum and to be able to use the full range of approaches to meet the companies where they are now.
Whatever strategy a company adopts, it will be the start (or the continuation) of a journey where corporate engagement can evolve, over time, to become the core purpose of the organization.
At the heart of these concepts lies the notions of engagement and transformation. Conducting business as a win-win approach can only happen if individuals, executives, employees, suppliers and customers understand fundamentally the case for change and translate it into strategies and initiatives which then serve as a stimulus for increased individual engagement and transformation, thereby creating what we call “the wheels of engagement”.
We have noticed that when we review their community investment programs with some of our clients, surprises are in store for them most of the time. For example, we have found instances where a large proportion of their donations cannot be accounted for, especially in global organizations where no central information management system is in place to keep track of contributions.
Bookkeeping which is inaccessible or minor contributions which have not been recorded add to the issue. We have also found that as much as 50 percent of what a company gives is directed to charities that are similarly being supported by their biggest competitors, a practice that impedes brand differentiation.
Another issue that often arises are huge discrepancies in donation-giving between offices in the same corporate chain. In one instance, one location donated over 450 times more per employee than another. Such differences can indicate supply chain inefficiencies, product surpluses, incomplete record-keeping or lack of employee engagement.
The first thing you must do to correct such inconsistencies is to find out how much and to whom you are giving. Then learn how you compare with your competitors. Are you investing where you can have the greatest social impact? Are you maximizing your visibility, engaging your employees and contributing to society to the fullest? Are your initiatives furthering your business strategy and/or your people strategy? Are they creating business opportunities?
Although some may argue that the goal of community investments should not be business benefits, we, on the other hand, believe that concurrent business benefits actually ensure the sustainability of engagement as such practices become embedded in the business strategy.
Umalia offers an impartial, third party review of your community investment initiatives that can reveal not only missed opportunities, but which will establish a strategic alignment with your business objectives, maximizing business and social impact while putting in place mechanisms for tracking results.
For over 20 years, our client, Terranova Worldwide corporation, has been offering complete training and communication tools aimed at improving information security, personal information protection and regulatory compliance
Recognizing the importance of sustainability, and especially the role that businesses can play in raising awareness about it for their employees, Terranova is launching a new Sustainability eLearning series.
Terranova teamed up with Umalia to develop the expert content aimed at adopting responsible and sustainable behaviors at work and at home. The modules aim to help individuals better understand the case for change around sustainability and, thus, make concrete and sustainable behavior changes at work and at home in order to create impact.
Each lesson is designed to increase awareness by explaining key facts and by offering pragmatic and practical suggestions as to how we can live more sustainably. It is hoped this will introduce and encourage sustainable behavior at the workplace, thereby contributing to create a more sustainable world.
The series focuses on all elements of sustainability, such as people, planet and profit. The subjects currently available include Sustainability, an introduction; Climate Change; Waste Management; Water; Energy; and Ecodriving – with more to be available shortly.
This Sustainability eLearning series will help you, as an employer, to benefit from the involvement and enthusiasm of your employees, to engage them in your efforts to be sustainable and to be a catalyst for impactful change.
As Umalia was created, it was quite evident that we needed to “walk the talk”. Although we participate in many community events and serve on a multitude of non-profit organizations and international NGO boards, we felt that our own corporate engagement should follow our approach with clients.
After a thorough selection process, we decided to form a partnership with a local community in Benin, West Africa, called Sô-Ava, 25 km north of its capital, Cotonou. Through our combined expertise and competencies, we felt we would be able to create impact while developing new markets and having the project serve as our “think-tank lab”.
Sô-Ava, a community of over 120,000, lives mostly in houses on stilts located on Lake Nokoué, which provides water for transportation, fishing, washing and human consumption. In addition to prevailing social issues, there is also a concern about the sanitation level of Lake Nokoué.
Following years of development action by international aid agencies, the community realized that a major stakeholder had not been engaged: the private sector. With only two villages electrified out of 42, education enrolment rates among the lowest in the country at 64 percent (56 percent for girls and 73 percent for boys) and a population growth rate of 4.2 percent the community continues to face severe social and environmental issues.
Furthermore, economic activity is dominated by fishing and agriculture within a context of ancestral fishing techniques, excessive fishing and “backyard farming” techniques, which all form the ingredients for major self-sufficiency issues – without even mentioning multiple catastrophes suffered over the years, such as floods, epidemics and fires.
This community convinced us not only of their thirst for change, but of their engagement at the town hall level and especially at the civil society level. Furthermore, we believed that through shared value partnerships, we could contribute to the community and complement the international aid agencies’ work to create sustainable and impactful change. That’s why, in 2012, we committed to a 10-year partnership with the mayor’s office of Sô-Ava and with the Collective of Civil Society Organizations, with a goal of forming shared value partnerships with the private sector.
Our actions in Sô-Ava
Since 2012, we have been involved on a continuous basis with the community, first by addressing the issue of the village’s water quality with Irene Wisheu, our Principal in Environmental Practice, who has a Ph. D. in Ecology, in partnership with Oxfam Québec. This provided a baseline, for our future partners, demonstrating the urgency to act.
In our work with the community, it became clear that in order to attract private sector companies as partners, the community needed to be really clear on their own vision and on the impact they desired to create.
As such, in 2014 and 2015, Umalia worked together with municipal officials, civil society organizations and local residents to collectively create a vision of development for the next 20 years, and an action plan for the next five years, complete with targeted measurable outcomes and stakeholder maps.
More recently, in the summer of 2015, we were asked by the mayor’s office and the Collective of Civil Society organizations to diagnose the state of collaboration amongst all technical and financial partners in the commune, including UN agencies, international NGOs, local NGOs and decentralized services of the state. We then conducted a two-day comprehensive workshop with all these partners to develop a framework and supporting mechanisms to ensure the alignment of development actions within the commune. This “Expanded Communal Framework for Dialogue” is now being implemented.
In concurrence with these actions, we identified a few projects where we could test out the community’s ability to attract private sector partners. We have since facilitated two additional shared value partnerships with Canadian companies, one with Papillon MDC with the goal of developing leadership, and one with Technologies Ecofixe (still ongoing) with the goal of testing out a new biological water treatment solution.
We will discuss these partnerships and give more information about our work with the Sô-Ava community in upcoming editions of our newsletter.
A respected scientist, Irene has dedicated her career to the advancement of knowledge relating to biodiversity and sustainability. She is an experienced researcher who has worked with the scientific community, governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as the general public.
After earning her Ph.D. in ecology, she held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at McGill University and was a visiting scholar at the University of Arizona. An accomplished writer and international speaker, Irene is a passionate ecologist, who played an active role in preserving the rare wetland flora that was the object of her studies.
Irene joined Umalia to help build bridges between the corporate world and the scientific community. She is confident that collaboration between businesses and environmental organizations will generate a host of innovative and sustainable partnerships which will benefit both business and the environment.
In this issue, we are glad to recognize Irene, who was recently honoured by Montreal’s Éco-quartier program for her regular and generous contribution over the years through community events related to sustainability. Well done Irene!
Umalia is a consulting firm which specializes in the strategy, planning and implementation of corporate and societal engagement programs to create stronger businesses and an improved society.
Our team is composed of core team members, as well as a network of international consultants from various sectors and with varied skills. We also benefit from the participation of a Council of Elders formed by six international executives from diverse fields.
We work across the whole value chain of corporate social engagement, from the diagnostic of community involvement initiatives to the design of Corporate Social Responsibility strategies and employee volunteering programs, including the creation of shared value strategies and partnerships which enhance competitiveness and differentiation while advancing economic, social and environmental conditions.
We also collaborate with non-profit organizations and communities through participatory assessments and organizational development strategies to create impactful partnerships with private sector partners.
Our clients include multiple stakeholders, including private sector corporations – which make up more than 50 percent of our projects – non-profit organizations, U.N. agencies and academic institutions. Although our offices are in Canada and Colombia, our work has taken us all over North America, South America and several African countries.
As a result, we get to see, firsthand, what works and what doesn’t in specific contexts, sometimes even within a single organization. Through these experiences, we have been humbled by the intelligence and insights provided by multiple stakeholders. This collaborative environment has enriched our approach, our methodology and our firm belief that we are catalysts, facilitators and architects of change, although we know that we don’t hold all the answers.
However, as a certified affiliate in the shared value methodology and as part of a global network of practitioners, we do know how to align perspectives, define mutually beneficial strategies, integrate stakeholder participation and ensure measurable, sustainable impact.