Ideas that inspire
We keep hearing how organizations are struggling to transform themselves: altering strategies during difficult economic times, adjusting go-to-market models, acquiring and integrating new business entities in an efficient way, evolving organizational culture in line with new social norms and behaviors, integrating millennials into business… and so on.
Our perception of what works in organizations and what doesn’t is greatly influenced by the longevity of initiatives and by the impact they have. One executive leader from a large organization to whom we recently spoke to was quite taken about our approach in designing and implementing an Employee Volunteer Program. He was surprised that in order to design the program, we did a diagnosis of the organizational challenges, risks and opportunities, spending time to discuss their vision for the program and how it fit with their strategic business objectives.
He mentioned to us that over the last 10 years, initiatives had come and gone. Although they made employees “feel good’” about doing something positive for society, he couldn’t point to one sustainable positive impact of the programs. Hence, he wanted to make sure that this initiative would be grounded, anchored in the organization’s strategy and sustainable both for the business, as well as for the non-profit organizations they would be supporting.
Many organizations, similar to this client’s, embark on new initiatives with “magical thinking” that they will solve or “fix” internal structural issues. They hear of a new management approach, quickly jump in and implement it, without having done the right homework ahead of time and especially without having properly identified the new vision, the purpose of the initiative and without managing the change process properly.
What follows is an endless repetition of the same story: excited by a new opportunity, a leadership team swears by the approach, implements it and changes a lot of its structures and processes, only to find a few years later (sometimes even sooner) that it didn’t result in what they were hoping for. Another idea, or fad, is introduced to them, with all the bells and whistles, and again they jump in to implement it. Once more, they are disappointed.
What results is that employees start to see every new initiative as yet another “pet peeve” project from leadership, and they stop believing in it. It then becomes very difficult for leaders to bring about sustainable change in the organization.
Corporate Societal Engagement strategies and initiatives risk the exact same fate. Companies are hearing more and more how these initiatives bring about employee engagement, recognition and visibility, not to mention stakeholder engagement and growth opportunities. Many tend to jump in with the first idea that comes to mind, perhaps one they heard of through other businesses and often driven from good intentions, but not necessarily strategically aligned to the business strategy.
Creating shared prosperity
For us at Umalia, corporate societal engagement is about the role the private sector plays in society and how it is implemented. It is about creating shared prosperity through change and transformation, as well as reforming the way we do things, the way we think, the way we perceive and the way we contribute. It is as much about individual transformation, as it is about organizational change.
In order for initiatives to bring about the business and societal impact desired, a firm must anchor itself in a well-defined change management process. We firmly believe that without building in change, the CSR initiatives will not be driven from within and will not be sustainable. Organizations must understand where they are today while reflecting on what they want to create and how to innovate to attain their objectives and develop a competitive advantage. They must prepare for obstacles and plan for the changes, managing them well and, as with any other projects, identify short-, medium- and long-term wins. Of course, they must focus on value-based outcomes and rally the right people for the endeavour – the champions, the change agents and the partners.
This is why, at Umalia, every project we embark on includes a change management component. We bring to our clients a long-standing deep expertise and experience in this field, both in private and non-profit organizations, which enable us to build strategies that can last.
Sounds complex? It can be. However, with a rigorous methodology that allows flexibility, the approach can be modular and tailored. We believe in meeting the company where it’s at today. Then, we envision a journey which could start with baby steps, evolving along a well-defined roadmap which cultivates engagement from all parties and yields benefits for the business.
Just like any innovation process, CSR strategies and initiatives have to be managed. As Bruce Good, Executive Vice-President of the Centre for Business Innovation of the Conference Board of Canada, mentioned in our Shared Value Lab in February 2016, the challenges of innovation do not lie in the amount of investments, but rather in how organizations are able to manage the innovation process. The same goes for CSR ….I invite you to read in our newsletter’s “Spotlight” feature more about our Shared Value Lab and how it was able to stimulate thinking and innovation for five large Canadian companies just a few months ago.
This issue’s “Client Success Story” focuses on Pega Medical, a Montreal-based biomedical firm sending surgical materials to developing countries. Also in this newsletter, you’ll find our “Top Tips for CSR”; an update on our inaugural issue’s “In Focus” feature on Umalia’s shared value partnership project in Benin; and our “News in a Capsule” feature, reporting on a new partnership involving Crossroads International, a Canadian NGO.
Perhaps these stories will encourage some of you to consider the CSR approaches written about, even if it’s on a smaller scale or as a pilot project.
We hope that this second issue of Stimulus will again provide you with “ideas that inspire”. We welcome your feedback and encourage you to call or email us to discuss anything pertaining to CSR.
Lucie Bourgeois – Editor, Stimulus
Founding President of Umalia
Pega Medical is a Canadian medical device manufacturer founded in 1994, with headquarters in Montreal. It is devoted to the development of specialty orthopedic implants for children, reaching young patients in more than 50 countries around the world.
As a small international company, with 16 employees and annual sales under $10 million, Pega Medical recognizes the role it can play to improve the lives of underprivileged children in developing countries.
In 2013, the executive leadership enlisted Umalia to help develop a tangible and realistic CSR strategy that would build on their expertise and long experience of helping pediatric surgeons to treat bone malformations in children, as well as on their strong relationships with patients, doctors and foundations.
A workshop included employees, as well as clients and partners. Through a rigorous methodology, Pega Medical was led to identify their medium- to long-term vision of how the company could contribute to society. Pega Medical realized that, in spite of its size, it holds a privileged position at the centre of a large network of practitioners (including no less than 3,500 orthopedic surgeons around the world), academics and NGOs. Its capacity to engage diverse industries and stakeholders could serve as a catalyst for change.
As a result, Pega Medical set up a CSR program that could fulfill its community investment ambitions while at the same time supporting and inciting surgeons to offer their time and competencies during medical missions in developing countries. The program is based on a peer-to-peer support system: in exchange for every implant purchased by their hospital, Pega Medical awards surgeons with one VOICE (Virtual Orthopedic Implant Coin Exchange), which can be accumulated or donated to a medical mission in which one of their colleagues is involved.
One implant is worth 50 VOICEs, and an instrument set, 150. The missions are also made possible with the assistance of partner NGOs and foundations, which take over responsibility for the logistics. Pega Medical believes this system is the most efficient to maintain stakeholder engagement across the board and ensure the sustainability of the CSR initiative. Together, they are able to have a much greater impact than if they had acted alone.
To date, Pega Medical has facilitated the provision of implants and surgical material to missions in Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Cuba and Ecuador, supplying on average two implants per child for up to five patients on each mission, for a total approximate value of $200,000 dollars. (This amount is covered in part by the foundations responsible for organizing the missions.)
Branding itself as a “not-only-for-profit enterprise”, Pega Medical views CSR as a core component of its corporate vision. The company has no commercial activity where surgeries take place, since most of these countries lack the means and infrastructure necessary for product distribution.
The two exceptions are Ecuador and Cuba, where Pega Medical’s contributions have paved the way for new business opportunities. Winning new markets is simply not what drives Pega Medical to engage in a CSR initiative – rather, a genuine desire to make a difference for children with orthopedic needs. Yet, from a business perspective, the company has reaped some benefits from its social engagement.
Since July 2015, one staff member has been leading Pega Medical’s CSR activities. It bears repeating that all employees were surveyed during the development of the company’s vision in order to voice their opinions and help shape Pega Medical as an enterprise with a strong CSR purpose. They remain invested in the program to this day. Moreover, the surgeons who participate in missions and their beneficiaries have expressed appreciation for Pega Medical’s contribution and accessibility: unlike larger companies in the bioengineering industry, Pega Medical enjoys a very close relationship with the patients who receive the donated implants, their families and the local foundations and hospitals which refer them for surgery.
Pega Medical’s CSR model goes to show that companies – no matter their size – are able and willing to imbed their social purpose within their business model with the main objective of creating positive change. And, rather than compromise their business strategy, such initiatives can, in fact, lead to new business opportunities. Last but not least, CSR allows these companies to demonstrate their values while inspiring the engagement of employees, partners and stakeholders to ensure a sustainable future.
Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Laura Bourjolly, Communications Officer, who researched and wrote this piece about Pega Medical for Stimulus newsletter.
A few months ago, – on February 19, 2016 – our consulting firm Umalia, which specializes in corporate societal engagement, teamed up with Cohesion Strategies, an expert consulting firm in brand strategy, to hold the first Shared Value Lab in Montreal. The two companies chose to collaborate in order to demonstrate how partnerships can be a lever to create both positive social impact and business benefits.
The Shared Value approach, developed by Michael Porter of Harvard University and Mark Kramer, stands out from other corporate social responsibility approaches in that it sees societal challenges as sources of innovation. Businesses can enhance their competitiveness and differentiate themselves while simultaneously advancing economic and societal conditions for sustainable progress. It is, thus, using the heart of the business – its strategies, products, and services – to create economic and social impact.
Fifteen executives from five Canadian firms, representing different sectors and industries, were present and highly engaged. These representatives from Industrial Alliance, Jefo, Saputo, Shire Canada and Ubisoft were joined by (and profited from the presence of) a panel of highly-qualified international experts from the Centre for Business Innovation of the Conference Board of Canada and, the Shared Value Initiative, as well as by a former executive with IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative.
During the day, rich in mutual reflections and discussions, participants had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the Shared Value approach and above all, to explore the potential for their own business. The discussions led them to identify innovative strategies and concepts, allowing them to position themselves competitively, addressing trade issues and how to respond positively to the challenges of society. The exercise, thus, identified the potential for them to co-create together and become positive agents of change.
These companies began a journey that will help them to explore how to grow their businesses while also creating a stronger society on all levels.
If a similar experience interests you, we remain open to holding more Shared Value Lab sessions with other companies to create a larger pool of innovative leaders committed to the prosperity of our society in all its facets. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 514-742-5861.
For more on the February event: https://sharedvalue.org/groups/leading-canadian-companies-find-inspiration-shared-value-0
The realization of a CSR initiative within an organization is clearly a cross-functional project. Consultations with stakeholders occur and people meet in teams to decide priorities, action plans and timelines. Given the nature of the initiatives and the way these touch every function, they will typically involve leaders and employees from operations, HR, purchasing, communications, etc.
If partnerships with external stakeholders are formed, then the number of people involved multiplies further. However, at key moments, it has been our experience that the responsibility for the advancement of a particular phase of the project often rests with a single person. What happens then, if this person leaves the organization or changes roles?
At Umalia, we have seen that it is not uncommon for there to be a change in team members partway through the implementation of a project or program. In fact, it happens quite often. The result can be a loss of momentum, time delays, communication issues with a partner, or even the cancellation of the project. As mentioned in our Message from the Editor, this points to the necessity of thinking ahead about how to sustain such initiatives in organizations.
Since employee departures or changes are not always predictable, our advice is to expect the unexpected. Mitigate the impact of a change in people by following these recommendations:
- Get buy-in not only from the champion of the initiative, but also from multiple executive and senior management members.
- Designate at least two people as representatives or as liaisons with partners.
- Identify and develop people with the potential to “fill in” – understanding how this also provides a developmental opportunity for some of your “top leaders”.
- Follow a rigorous project plan, with key milestones, documentation and a change plan.
- Communicate regularly with the executive team and key stakeholders.
These are some of the keys to ensure the sustainability of the initiatives put forth. Good planning and good change management will lead to the smooth, successful and sustainable deployment of CSR initiatives.
Three Canadian firms join together to help women entrepreneurs in Senegal
Crossroads International, Green Beaver and Papillon MDC have formed a private sector partnership – that was made possible with the support of Umalia – to increase the productive capacity and, ultimately, the incomes for Senegalese women in the soap-making business.
The 18-month partnership, will train 33 Senegalese women who, in turn, will share what they have learned with an additional 333 women in their home country. The partnership will focus on soap production using local environmentally sustainable plants and ingredients.
Crossroads International is a development organization dedicated to reducing poverty and increasing women’s rights around the world. Their local partner for the Senegal project is the Union Nationale des Femmes du Sénégal (UNFCS), which has a network of cooperatives across 10 regions of Senegal, where female members produce a range of soaps.
Papillon MDC Inc. is a state-of-the-art leadership development firm which designs tailor-made training programs for young women worldwide that address their unique contexts and challenges. Green Beaver, a leader in natural household cleaning and personal care products, will work with the Senegalese women on product development and marketing.
The UNFCS soap-making cooperatives help women, who make up 65 percent of the population of Senegal, to get a foothold in the local economy and puts them on the road to economic independence.
We will keep you updated as the partnership unfolds.
Editor’s Note: In addition to its role helping Senegalese women entrepreneurs, please see the following news brief about international recognition of Green Beaver’s efforts to prevent plastic pollution of our waterways.
Green Beaver wins recognition for having zero plastics in its products
A May 6, 2016 article in Montreal newspaper La Presse announced that The Netherlands-based Plastic Soup Foundation has named Green Beaver of Hawkesbury, Ontario as the first Canadian company certified by that organization as having no microbeads in their products.
Microbeads are plastic microparticles which can only be seen under microscopic magnification and are manufactured mostly from compounds such as polyethylene and polystyrene. They are widely used in cosmetics as exfoliating agents and in personal care products such as toothpaste, as well as in biomedical and health science research.
Such plastic waste, which does not degrade biologically, often ends up in the world’s waterways , including the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, where it is deadly for many marine animals.
The Plastic Soup Foundation, which is dedicated to stopping the plastic pollution of marine environments around the world, bestowed on Green Beaver the certification “Zero Plastic Inside”, which it will be able to attach to labels identifying its products as plastic-free and environmentally friendly.
When we launched our Stimulus newsletter this past winter, we committed to keeping you informed about our work with the Sô-Ava community in Bénin. We are in Year 4 of our 10-year corporate societal engagement with the community, which aims to bring about change through private sector partnerships we are facilitating.
Last March, we reviewed with local municipal authorities the status of our engagement and plans for our involvement in coming years. We discussed with them a forum they held in February with their cross-sector partners, who are involved in a five-year development plan for the commune. They discussed how each partner’s involvement and engagement contributes to the overall plan, as well as ways to raise awareness about it. The forum was a first for the commune of 120,000 people and a strategic venture into creating a concrete, complementary collaboration amongst all stakeholders.
Being back and having discussions with diverse people – ranging from the authorities to civil society stakeholders to the population at the base – made us reflect on our own involvement and on how change can occur in a sustainable fashion, not just in businesses but also in communities.
As before, we were deeply impressed by the level of engagement of specific individuals in the commune, at different levels and from different backgrounds. We saw first-hand, once again, how change occurs because a small group of individuals cares and moves forward, no matter the obstacles. These individuals want to see their community progress. They want to see change and want to believe that the future will be brighter for their children and for the children of the whole community.
In most cases, these individuals do this work with no other motivation than to see change happen. They volunteer to move things forward – INGOs and other organizations – despite the fact that they often have to leave their daily revenue-generating activity to do so. It is through their sheer belief, perseverance and commitment that things move. It is truly inspirational and reminds us of the quote by Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Yet, when we reflect on the sustainability of such actions, we realize just how fragile these initiatives can be as they depend on a small group of individuals and often these initiatives are not institutionalized enough in the community. When an individual leaves or is faced with the difficult decision of continuing to move forward or feeding his family, all the work that has led to this point is in jeopardy. (Similar to the other organizational examples described in this issue’s Message from the Editor.)
What can we take from this? It once again demonstrates the need to anchor change, to think ahead about how to secure all investments – financial, human resources, and people’s energy. It demonstrates the need for a sustainable vision and framework that will ensure the continuity of actions after change has been initiated. This applies not only to communities and non-profit organizations, but also to businesses undergoing change.
This demonstrates, yet again to us, how enriching cross-sector work and experience can be since they enable innovation and thinking to flow from one to the other. We see Umalia’s role as celebrating the achievements of such dedicated, capable individuals while providing them with the tools and support to leverage their full potential into sustainable initiatives and partnerships to improve their local communities.
In our Fall 2016 issue, we’ll discuss the next step in our collaboration with Sô-Ava and we’ll give a real-life example of how an innovative biological water treatment firm in Canada is reconceiving products and developing new markets while contributing to the community and its environment.
Umalia is a consulting firm which specializes in the strategy, planning and implementation of corporate and societal engagement programs to create stronger businesses, resilient communities and an improved society.
Our suite of offerings is grounded in the belief that businesses can simultaneously derive benefits while creating positive social impact through their corporate societal engagement strategies and initiatives…. Essentially, it means that profit and purpose can, and should, go hand in hand.
We work with private sector companies from around the world, as well as with non-profit organizations and multilateral agencies from the UN. Our offerings cover the spectrum from strategy design of corporate societal engagement programs (ranging from philanthropy to Corporate Social Responsibility to Shared Value Partnerships), facilitation of partnerships, implementation of employee volunteer programs and delivery of multi-channel sustainability training (virtual, in-class, eLearning), all grounded in a unique, sustainable change management methodology.
For more information, consult the audio of an interview we granted to Radio-Canada International recently (French only) and please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at email@example.com or to call us at 514-742-5861.