A better life for the world means guaranteeing every one of us, wherever we live, fairer access to good healthcare, education and housing. But to be truly effective, such initiatives must be implemented on the basis of consultation, tailored to the real-life needs of local communities and conceived for the long term. Non-profit organizations, companies and front line stakeholders: we meet those working to change the rules.
How can companies today express solidarity with local communities and NGOs in practical ways? What forms can this commitment take at grassroots level? To find out, we visited India, South Africa and USA.
“Companies are key partners in local development through the grassroots support they provide for communities and non-profits.”
“By working together, non-profits, local communities and companies can succeed in some of the major challenges facing humanity; challenges such as employment insecurity and professional integration of young people without training or jobs. Companies have the ability to help non-profits raise their game: they understand the areas we operate in, since these are their markets, they have links to key players in the ecosystem and are committed to implementing long-term activities. To scale up the impact of our operations by a factor of ten, the challenge is to build win-win partnerships with companies as equals. Non-profits and companies identify those things they have in common - such as a geographic area or sector - and things that have the potential to unite them over time, such as a convergent strategy that could include winning new markets for the company or reaching more people for the non-profit. Because their expertise and understanding of local development issues are complementary, they need each other to move forward. So, for example, the company could give its people the opportunity to get involved with a meaningful initiative, while the non-profit could gain access to the technical and specialist skills at work in an expanding business sector. Financial support remains crucial, because it provides the leverage needed to access a wider range of funding options. But companies have other opportunities to take action that are equally powerful. This puts them in a position to innovate and take more risks by committing themselves from the pilot phase onwards, as the Bonduelle Group has done by working with us to co-construct a highly innovative partnership in Cameroon, one of its major producing countries. Entirely focused on creating value locally, this initiative has opened up new opportunities for small farmers by enabling them to develop a short supply chain. As well as initiatives like this, the expertise available in companies is a guarantee of strict standards and professionalism for non-profits, while their high profile makes it easier to involve other key stakeholders. So if we are to succeed in the huge challenges we now face, connecting non-profits, companies and local communities remains a major issue, because it is crucial that we get to know and understand each other better.”
For companies, the issues around corporate philanthropy now extend well beyond those of social responsibility window dressing. Committed to a shared societal project, they are now looking for new ways to increase their positive impact by relying on teams closest to the field.
“You have to be able to rely on local skills and networks to implement societal initiatives successfully.”
How can companies contribute to the process of addressing societal issues?
Helping vulnerable people to achieve greater autonomy means helping them by respecting their personal expectations and the actual context of their lives. Companies like Saint-Gobain have many strengths when it comes to achieving this goal: a local structure with the ability to identify and respond sometimes to the many different types of vulnerability, physical presence in a broad spectrum of localities, and teams directly in touch with the daily life of communities. This is particularly true of construction, where every aspect of the issues around housing are addressed, but particularly social issues. Our teams can contribute in many different ways, such as offering high-quality vocational training for a construction industry that recruits qualified workers from all over the world.
Why has the Group chosen to draw on local expertise for rolling out its projects?
This determination to contribute to addressing social issues is integral to the corporate culture of the Group. Our initiatives are structured into a series of categories. And in each of those categories, we work with experts who share our values. For global causes, we work collaboratively with international institutions and organizations. Where needs are more specific to a locality, we rely on the support of local stakeholders. We work in the same way internally for HR programs that promote inclusion and diversity. To push back against stereotyping and local cultural biases, managers in each country develop and implement their own action plans, because they are best placed to identify effective levers that will make a real contribution to achieving the shared goals of the Group. In the same way, we have relied on local expectations and skills in the worldwide rollout of our CARE by Saint-Gobain program. By the end of 2022, all 170,000 of our employees will be able to access the full range of services, with some countries beginning with one or other of the guarantees. Medical networks are poorly developed in some regions, so our program is designed to help expand the range of healthcare services available. Our hope is that this will benefit not only our own employees, but also their wider local communities.
What role is the Saint-Gobain Foundation playing here?
We are working closely with the Foundation to help find local integration and housing improvement projects or people in situations of exclusion. Some of our employees are already involved in helping non-profit associations, and others are keen to do so. In both cases, the Foundation and the Group can support them in working for a cause close to their hearts. Convinced that the benefit comes not only from the help provided, but also from the richly fulfilling experience of meeting others from different backgrounds, we continue to encourage our employees to get involved locally.
The growing awareness among individuals, civil society and large corporations of the major challenges now facing humanity, such as climate change and the need to combat poverty and exclusion, has given new meaning to the initiatives implemented by NGOs. They are therefore becoming as closely involved as possible to help find immediate solutions, and ensure that progress continues to be made long term.
They did it
“Sustainability means giving local communities the skills to maintain their facilities long term.”
“We work with families to alleviate them from poverty through improved housing. Home is a foundation for social development: families live and interact there, and home has a profound impact on health and wellbeing. Our offices around the world play an active role in identifying and selecting projects. Each project is tailored to a specific country or place based on the local need. Communities and beneficiaries are engaged and contribute to this work from the very beginning. Families either work physically by building their homes or repay our support so that we can help more families. We like to “help families help themselves” as this approach has many benefits. Once families learn new skills, they feel empowered to change their life.
Philanthropic support from governments, donations from companies, foundations or individuals funds our work. These partnerships can be in the form of products donations, especially with companies from the construction sector. We like to share their skills and knowledge about construction standards or innovative products – sharing better, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly solutions. We also help them adapt their products – innovative bricks, flooring or solar panels for example – to the needs of the people we want to help. To make these products affordable to low-income families, the banking industry or microfinance institutions should provide access to affordable finance for these groups.
According to UN, 1.6 billion people live in poverty housing around the world. Our challenges are multiple, climate change and urbanization loom large among them. For the first time, more people live in cities than in the countryside. To address these issues in the long term, we need new coalitions between companies, NGOs, universities and researchers. All of them should speak with a unified voice to create better policies and laws. We think that sustainability is not only about materials and construction, it also means giving communities special trainings so that they benefit from these facilities in the long term. For example, when Habitat builds a water pipeline or installs a water point, we set up an ownership structure and train local communities to maintain them. It is important to create a structure and environment around these facilities. The beneficiaries learn how to pay for services and maintain them. Generated income from this small enterprise is then invested back into the community for further development.
At grassroots level around the world, there is no shortage of emergencies. Not least in education and health, both of which are priorities, especially for children. These images take us deep into initiatives we are supporting in India.