www.umalia.ca Spring / Summer 2017 • Volume 2 • Issue 1 Français
Message from the Editor: Where 1+1 = 1: the power of purpose-driven partnerships
Photo: Courtesy of Umalia Lucie Bourgeois, president of Umalia.

I was recently in Bénin, Africa to continue our work with the Sô-Ava community (see below for more details) and realized, once again, the power of a shared, purpose-driven mission, even between partners of different countries, sectors, organizations, etc. I was especially struck by one of the civil society leaders who very eloquently said: “In a partnership, 1+1 shouldn’t equal 2; it needs to equal to 1.”

It really made me think how such a simple statement conveys exactly what we at Umalia fight for: the necessity to unite through a shared purpose. How, in partnerships, we must find that higher common purpose, leaving our personal and organizational egos aside in order to focus on that shared purpose.

A project participant mentioned that “we must put the love of our community, and our development, ahead of financial considerations”. That comment coming from a member of the community where people live with less than a dollar a day. A community which knows intrinsically what it’s like to fight for every meal, to fight to get their children to school and to struggle to buy one pen and one workbook so that they can go to school equipped to learn.

I was also reminded of the power of purposeful, cohesive, shared-value partnerships which we have put together over the years. Whether originating from businesses themselves, from NGOs or a United Nations agency, our experience has taught us that finding that space – the intersection between business interests, societal interests and organizational capabilities – is key to enabling sustainable change.

The key is to root business and societal impact for sustainability.

The key to success for each and every partnership is the clear articulation of a shared purpose in a way that truly benefits each stakeholder and their core mission – whether it be driven by profit or societal impact. Stakeholders get the motivation and yearning to make the partnership happen through their belief in the potential of that vision, the understanding of what they can accomplish for their organization and for society.

Partnering is not easy, particularly when it involves multiple sectors, organizations, countries – each with their own intricacies. It requires a lot of dedication and work. There are, and will be, obstacles ahead. Leaders will change during the process. Conflicts will arise. Results won’t always be met on time.

You may question the partnership. But at the end of the day, what will make you continue and plow through will be that shared purpose, that shared vision. Imagining “what can be” instead of “what is” will drive efforts and people, while freeing up resources. No holds barred. No questions asked. You will want to see the outcome realized – for business and societal reasons – in a sustainable manner.

A purpose-driven partnership succeeds when its infrastructure and governance have been thought through and implemented consciously and conscientiously. Results must be tracked and measured. Communication mechanisms must be implemented to ensure all partners are informed. When successful outcomes are communicated, it feeds the motivation of each partner and inspires external stakeholders to do even more and ultimately enables impact.

As in our Bénin project, success results when there is a coming together of two or three or four partners to equal ONE! Another good example can be found in the In Focus section of this newsletter, where we discuss the partnership between Technologies Ecofixe and the Sô-Ava community. We, at Umalia, are driven and motivated to create that kind of purpose-driven partnership. Our core mission is aimed at bringing together partners from diverse sectors for business and societal impact. We operate this way within our team and with our clients, aware of endless possibilities of engagement and eager for results, which continue to surpass initial expectations in each and every partnership.

We hope you will enjoy reading more case examples of the work we do with businesses, civil society, foundations, academia and government and that you will be inspired to think about how you can leverage your organization and its people to further your business and societal impact.

Lucie Bourgeois – Editor, Stimulus
Founding President of Umalia

Client Success Story: NTD Apparel addresses twin challenges of business and social responsibility

NTD Apparel Inc. (NTD) is a Canadian leader in the licensed and branded garments sector. They have been one of the largest suppliers of Canadian retailers for the past 20 years.

In 2013, NTD, which has over 140 employees, began to rethink its business model in order to contend with multiple challenges such as the globalization of its operations, increased competition, growing pressure on productivity and the importance of an ethical supply chain.

NTD – with its head office in Montreal as well as a presence in Toronto, expanding into a larger one – had a choice on how to undertake that business transformation: they opted for an approach rooted in ethics, integrity and responsibility, understanding how important it was to “do the right thing”. They solicited Umalia to accompany them on their journey, realizing they could seize the opportunity to reinforce both leader and employee engagement, as well as their corporate social responsibility culture.

Working alongside CEO Michael Eliesen and his executive team, Umalia designed a change management plan which included mentoring and support during the implementation and follow-up phases. This change plan was rooted in basic CSR principles, including labour practices, human rights, governance, ethical sourcing in diverse countries and community involvement.

The support provided in the implementation was geared towards building internal capacity for the NTD team to own these principles and find ways to implement them in the future, thereby influencing the culture and building sustainable approaches for the business, even beyond Umalia’s intervention.

As part of the work, Umalia was tasked, in part, with facilitating the implementation of important changes including on the customer front (go-to-market strategy) and on business operations (ethical sourcing plan, logistics and distribution, inventory and space). On the people front, a restructuring plan, including transfers of positions to Toronto, inspired by best practices in the field around labour practices and human rights was developed, with a special focus on morale and climate. Communication, at all levels and bidirectional, was also a critical element of the plan all through implementation.

The result a few years later? As CEO Michael Eliesen recently testified, as a result of the work with Umalia and other initiatives carried forth, NTD is looking forward to its best year recently . This can be attributed in part to the vision created with the help of Umalia and grounded in CSR principles, as well as on a common purpose shared throughout the executive team. The methodical and coherent change plan and longer-term support have also enabled stakeholders within the company to understand these principles, own them and use them in everyday operations.

At NTD, the focus is not only on CSR but on the total business, including operations, enabling them to increase operational excellence (as evidenced by key performance indicators), thereby reducing production costs, and increasing competitiveness. Over and above all these positive developments, the work enabled the affirmation of leadership, not only at the executive level but also at the director and manager levels, and has increased employee commitment through a participative approach.

We are proud to have accompanied NTD through these changes and we congratulate them on the results. It is clear that the approach and initiatives have yielded important benefits for the organization, paving the way for NTD to fulfill its business goals while becoming a more responsible player.

Top Tips for CSR: Avoid the costs of under-reporting your CSR initiatives

In certain sectors and in some enterprises, modesty is the norm. There is a culture that good deeds are to be done, but not spoken about. No public announcements about philanthropy and no media attention surrounding community engagement. This is certainly a safer and more appreciated alternative to bragging, but might the silence be costing you and society as a whole?

At Umalia, we have often noticed that information that we have been given about a client’s CSR initiatives is unavailable on their web page. Similarly, during interviews, we repeatedly meet employees who are unaware of the contributions of their employers. By improving your reporting, your stakeholders will better get to know who you really are, with potential for the following benefits:

  • Increased employee engagement
  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Respect from your stakeholders and an increased potential for partnerships
  • A social license to operate

Furthermore, good deeds are inspiring and worthy of sharing. They encourage and motivate others to do likewise. Allow yourself to become a role model. You may set the example that could inspire your whole industry to improve how it does business.

Spotlight on Marie-José Surpris, Principal, Partnerships Meet a key member of Umalia’s core team
Photo: Courtesy of Umalia

A member of Umalia since its very beginning, Marie-José brings to the team formidable talents in local and international development. Her work with us is an extension of a long career spent in the field and at the executive level in Canada, Africa and around the world.

Her principal areas of expertise include project management, capacity-building, social communication and gender equality. She has applied her skills while working with non-profit and international groups such as the UN, Oxfam-Québec and PACT. She believes that the current level of readiness on the part of companies, non-profit organizations and individuals has set the stage for sustainable, impactful change.

Marie-José is also a dedicated volunteer, and after eight years of service as a trustee, she has been nominated as president of Handicap International Canada. Congratulations Marie-José! We are sure you will do a great job!

Update about Umalia’s CSR project in Bénin A powerful partnership with Technologies Ecofixe
PHOTO: Courtesy of Umalia Umalia's CSR project in Bénin has provided an opportunity for it to forge shared-value partnerships with other Canadian companies interested in collaborating to improve daily life in the West African community of Sô-Ava.

As part of our promise to keep you informed about our own corporate societal engagement with the community of Sô-Ava in Bénin, West Africa, here’s a brief summary of our latest work there.

Following the finalization of their five-year Communal Development Plan in 2015 and the implementation of a collaboration framework with all technical and financial partners, we were back again in February 2017, identifying what was accomplished in the first two years and discussing the critical projects and partners to be implemented in order to reach the desired results by 2020. This work will prove useful in the next few months as new projects are written and as new partners are solicited to participate in the vision of the community.

In parallel, for the past four years we have implemented a few shared-value partnerships with Canadian companies interested to collaborate with the community. We will focus here on one of these partnerships with Technologies Ecofixe Inc., which clearly demonstrates the shared value and the purpose-driven approaches that we use when conceptualizing and implementing partnerships.

Technologies Ecofixe is a Canadian technology firm whose mission is to “provide a clever and efficient solution to increase and secure access to safe water for all, whilst preserving diversity and the environment.” Ecofixe’s unique, fully-biological technology boasts a reduced energy footprint and meets stringent sustainability requirements while achieving unsurpassable cost-effectiveness.

Given the water issues in Sô-Ava and their impact on development, it was clear from the beginning that Ecofixe could provide a solution to treat the community’s water – essential for daily living – in accordance with the community’s desire to remain 100 percent biological. The ecological gains of the partnership were quite clear, and that’s how we at Umalia approached them.

Knowing that Ecofixe had been solicited many times to provide their solution in Africa, we also understood keenly that the partnership with Sô-Ava could provide market access for this small engineering firm to expand internationally. Here then lay the initial common purpose: treat the water in Sô-Ava while developing business in Africa for Ecofixe.

Our initial discussions showed a lot of promise, but it was only through our Umalia methodology, focusing on shared purpose and shared value that we were able – all partners together – to co-create a shared-value partnership which would go well beyond its initial intent.

Our purpose-based concept aims not only to clean the water but to do so in a way that is sustainable and adaptable to the local reality, while providing social, economic and environmental benefits. In a nutshell, working hand in hand with local authorities and with the collective of civil society, the project is designed to address local issues for Sô-Ava while providing market access for Ecofixe. The project aims to:

  • Clean the water with a biological solution.
  • Adapt the product to the local reality by enabling local production via technology transfer. This involves groups of women entrepreneurs and creating new economic activities for them in a sustainable manner.
  • Use local environmental waste to produce the product, which contributes to reducing waste and pollution.
  • Create agriculture assets through the output of the product.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Umalia A partner in the Bénin project is Technologies Ecofixe, whose mission is to increase and secure access to safe water in a way that is sustainable while providing social, economic and environmental benefits.

These four facets of the project go way beyond the initial concept. They exist because all parties agreed on a shared purpose and on creating shared value for each stakeholder. It is by building on each other’s competencies, experiences and innovative ideas that we were able to design such a concept, which never would have been possible without agreeing first upon a shared purpose and second upon an authentic desire to create value for all.

The first phase of the partnership among the Sô-Ava local authorities, the Sô-Ava Collective of Civil Society, Umalia and Technologies Ecofixe was a pilot project conducted in 2016 which passed with flying colors, yielding higher benefits than anticipated. We are now entering into another phase which will be broader in scale and which will require additional funding. As we launch into the funding process, we continue to feed the partnership and find additional opportunities for all parties involved.

As Marisol Labrecque, president of Technologies Ecofixe, said: “The partnership that was enabled and facilitated with Umalia has already yielded great insights on our solution, our approach with local communities and the market, on top of engaging our employees. We are convinced the next phase will deliver its intended benefits as much for the Sô-Ava community – socially, economically and environmentally – as for Ecofixe from a business perspective”. For more information about our partnership, use the following links to access media reports (in French only):

Partnering, in all cases and especially in cases where multiple partners are involved, requires a solid legal knowledge. We wish to wholeheartedly thank the law offices of Jolicoeur Lacasse who have provided sound advice and have revised the partnership agreement. This was done as part of their own corporate social responsibility and they continue to be involved and support us in this partnership.

Technologies Ecofixe wins 2017 Dunamis Award

Congratulations to Marisol Labrecque and her team at Technologies Ecofixe Inc. for winning the Laval Chamber of Commerce Dunamis Award for Best New Enterprise. We salute your vision, determination and engagement towards society and the environment, and are proud to be partnered with you.

Umalia in the news!

Listed below are radio interviews, web articles, TV presentations, reports from the Shared Value network, and an interview on leadership with Papillon MDC which we think you may find of interest.

Umalia partnership: Papillon MDC and Green Beaver partner with Crossroads International to stimulate women entrepreneurship in Sénégal:

Umalia partnership: Technologies Ecofixe partners with a Beninese community to treat water biologically, generate economic activity and raise awareness around water quality:

Umalia President speaks about purpose and profits and how companies can leverage their societal engagement:

Umalia Shared Value Lab featured on the Shared Value Initiative website:

Umalia President speaking about leadership:

Below please find a list of early spring speaking engagements with Umalia founder Lucie Bourgeois
  • March 25th 2017: Concordia University
    EMBA class topic: Shared value partnerships and sustainability
  • April 26th 2017: Colloque Développement Durable, Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Laval
    Societal engagement as a source of innovation
  • April 27th 2017: Forum Stratégie Innovation 2017
    Innovating through corporate societal engagement
  • April 28th 2017: “Students unite for sustainability” Collège Jean de Brébeuf
    Biological technology to combat the effects of climate change: a local response to a global problem through a multisectoral partnership

Earth Day: A year-long shared mission
Illustration : istockphoto.com

On April 22nd every year, there is a demonstration of support for environmental protection in 192 countries around the world. However, the challenge of Earth Day requires a year-round effort. To protect the environment, we must strive to live every day sustainably, using only what the planet can offer us on a renewable basis. Since our own well-being is so closely linked to a healthy planet, is not sustainability a day-to-day mission?

A challenge for many is bridging the space between a person and the planet. We suggest that you consider the networks that people have around them in their workplaces and communities. Start by imagining how the actions of individuals could encourage and empower the companies they work for to act responsibly towards their communities and environment. The result would be communities – strengthened by individuals and businesses – then in a position to live without diminishing their environment.

At Umalia, we see the power of the individual every day. Our ability to innovate originates with the diversity of our team members. We are privileged to be involved with a community in Africa and to witness their development with our support and the work of their passionate, dedicated leaders. In North America, we are regularly introduced to amazing programs within corporations that were initiated by single individuals. These champions inspire others and motivate their companies to support their communities and promote sustainability. The ideas and initiatives we have seen may have begun with a single person, but they rapidly gained energy and developed into purpose-driven initiatives.

This day, we challenge you to consider what you can do. Where can you offer your time or support so that your community is strengthened? How can you encourage your company to initiate or enhance a sustainability initiative? Look to the resources you have and what you can offer. Who can you recruit to help with your vision? For their part, Terranova, an Umalia partner, has a special Earth Day offer (see box below) and we, as always, would be happy to assist and support. Happy Earth Day.

Special Earth Day Offer of free posters from Terranova, a Umalia partner: What will you do for yourself this Earth Day?

Let’s not forget that being sustainable is a win-win situation and that good corporate citizenship has been shown, among other things, to reduce costs, while improving employee and customer relations, business performance and a company’s image.

Kick-start a new initiative by getting employees sensitive to, and familiar with, the issue. Or put new energy into an existing program by offering employees online sustainability training. Terranova is adding to its curriculum of subjects with the release of two new training modules, Responsible Purchasing and Sustainable Events. The lessons, which focus on increasing awareness and encouraging sustainable behaviours, are designed to engage employees in their organization’s efforts to be sustainable and to effect meaningful change.

Please join Terranova and Umalia on Thursday, April 20 at 11h30 - 12h30 for a FREE promotional and informative webinar and receive:

  • A preview of Terranova’s new module on responsible purchasing;
  • A description of how e-learning can be incorporated and leveraged within the context of a company-wide sustainability initiative;
  • A set of two posters promoting sustainability at the office;
  • The opportunity for a free trial of Responsible Purchasing or the module of your choice.

Register Here:


Terranova WW Corporation specializes in online information security awareness training. They have partnered with Umalia for the development of a series of modules on sustainability. The subjects currently available are Sustainability, an introduction; Climate Change; Waste Management; Energy; Water; Energy-efficient Driving and now, Sustainable Events and Responsible Purchasing.

The role of culture in sustainability: Re-engineering organizational culture for corporate sustainability

In a fast-paced economy, sustainability certification is a strategic opportunity for companies to embed sustainability into their culture, systems, people and products. This can help implement a sustainability strategic plan and set cognitive and behavioural foundations for sustainable innovations. To create new ways of doings things, practitioners must have a clear picture of the current state of their culture and identify the productive behaviors that drive performance to build an engagement strategy.

Considering that Values translate into Attitudes, which influence Practices, resulting in Behaviours helps to put things in your cultural journey into perspective.

ORGANIZATIONAL VALUES (the heart and mind of the company)

  • Define how sustainability can strengthen the vision and mission of your company.
  • Evaluate the extent to which current values translate into daily work routines.
  • Promote values which foster continuous improvement, performance and services to society.
  • Anchor the selected values into the human capital system.

ATTITUDES (the human architecture)

  • Consider building a team of cultural ambassadors who transmit a sense of ownership of the company and who ensure the behavioural compatibility of new ideas and practices with the core way of doing things.
  • The members of this team should address sustainability priorities and mobilize people while positioned as trainers, facilitators, technical experts or “intrapreneurs”  – a term used to denote employees who promote innovative initiatives.
  • Their roles and responsibilities should be formalised into the HR management system and governance structure.

PRACTICES (the motion)

  • Set a baseline of the current state of your employees’ engagement practices.
  • Identify key practices to harmonize across the organization and benchmark external practices to be integrated.
  • Build committees of practices to support sustainability priorities.
  • Set objectives and measure impacts with KPIs from Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) indexes.
  • Integrate cultural and ESG indicators into your scorecards. 

BEHAVIORS (the output)

  • Encourage employees to “do sustainability” and to drive impactful eco-efficient activities.
  • Include them in the monitoring of results to create quick wins and introduce triple bottom line accounting.
  • Consider rewarding sustainable initiatives with specific non-financial incentives.

There is no such thing as good or bad organizational culture, only companies that create favourable conditions for their members to act through wider realities, principles and business networks in the pursuit of sustainable development, personal goals and aspirations.

Achieving corporate sustainability will be a crash test for organizations in the years ahead and re-engineering your organization’s culture will help you survive the challenge.

Culture change (3rd order of change) affects major areas of business, but building a culture of sustainability leads to a paradigm shift because some key levers meant to ensure a sustainable competitive advantage are external to business boundaries per se, which is why engaging external stakeholders at the early stage of the initiative is crucial for success.

Embedding sustainability into culture should be considered a major pillar for innovation.

About the author: Austhin Madavane is an Umalia partner and has worked in the international development industry where he managed multi-sectorial programs in economic development, institutional reinforcement and climate change. He then specialized in organizational development, as well as culture and behaviour change. He is currently assisting an industrial group using its DNA to drive and sustain performance. For more information or comments, please contact: a.madavane@gmail.com