Helping out even during troubled economic times

IT MIGHT be easy to be philanthropic when the economy is thriving and wallets are fat. But the current, more challenging, era suggests that corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate philanthropy have now become part of the DNA of companies in Slovakia: they have not stopped or scaled back their efforts to help those in need – rather the opposite. One effect of the current economic situation, however, has been to prompt a more creative approach to corporate charitable activities.

Corporate social responsibility in action.Corporate social responsibility in action. (Source: SME)

IT MIGHT be easy to be philanthropic when the economy is thriving and wallets are fat. But the current, more challenging, era suggests that corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate philanthropy have now become part of the DNA of companies in Slovakia: they have not stopped or scaled back their efforts to help those in need – rather the opposite. One effect of the current economic situation, however, has been to prompt a more creative approach to corporate charitable activities.

The Slovak Spectator spoke to representatives of companies that won Via Bona awards for CSR in 2011, as well as to other companies active in corporate philanthropy, about the effects of the economic downturn on their philanthropic activities, their focus and the benefits that corporate philanthropy brings them. Rastislav Bielik, corporate communications at pharmaceutical company Bayer in Slovakia, Andrea Bilá, senior manager of operations and marketing at IT company NESS KDC and Marek Antal, CEO of NESS KDC, Michal Meško, director of the internet bookstore, Andrea Danihelová, spokesperson of the energy company Východoslovenská Energetika (VSE), Ondrej Prostrednik, lead designer and partner in Lighting Beetle, and Jana Gajdošíková, director of EMEA A/R Controls at Lenovo Slovak Republic all took part in the survey.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Has the current economic situation had any impact on the philanthropic activities of your company? Have you, based on the financial climate, changed schemes of assistance or have you launched any new ones?
Rastislav Bielik (RB):
CSR is an established part of Bayer’s sustainability strategy and corporate policy. We view the promotion of worthy causes as a long-term investment in society’s future viability and as a contribution to a positive business environment. Thanks to this sustainable approach we have been able to maintain our social commitments even during the recent economic downturn. We believe that a systematic approach is optimal and will do the most good for society.

Andrea Bilá (AB): The current economic situation sends us a signal that it is necessary to help each other more and more. The active approach to CSR is a significant part of the internal policy of NESS KDC, but we do not focus only on financial support. On the contrary, our effort is to support and actively cooperate in long-term sustainable projects and also use other variable and creative forms of support. We successfully involve our employees and their family members in volunteering activities and our philanthropic activities. Thanks to their positive approach to CSR we were able also to start supporting such unpopular groups of people as the homeless, whom we help to jump back from the bottom.

Philanthropy is not only about a financial donation. Active participation by employees and volunteering often means much more than any financial donation sent to an account. And the crisis does not affect this in any way.

Michal Meško (MM): For the time being the economic situation has not impacted our philanthropic activities and our activities to date have remained unchanged for several years. Over the long term we support projects in which we believe and which are linked to the philosophy of our company.

Andrea Danihelová (AD): VSE carries out its philanthropic activities regularly and it has not retreated from them even during the economic downturn. On the contrary, over the last few years we have deepened our cooperation with organisations like Úsmev ako dar (Smile as a Gift) or the 1. Lions klub Košice.

Ondrej Prostrednik (OP): The economic situation certainly affects the philanthropic activities of our firm. At question are, in particular, new approaches in the form of help. In the recent past we have especially focused on active assistance by providing our services to the third sector.

Jana Gajdošíková (JG): No, the current economic situation has had no impact on the philanthropic activities of our company.

TSS: In what fields has your company been active within corporate philanthropy in a systematic and long-term way?
In Slovakia as well as in other countries around the world, our commitment focuses on these clearly outlined areas: education and research, environment and nature, health and social needs. To be more specific, in Slovakia Bayer has for many years supported CSR activities such as Ecology in Focus, which we organise in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme, Piece of Happiness and, latterly, The Science Has the Future – part of Bayer’s worldwide project Making Science Make Sense.

AB: NESS KDC supports art, culture, sport, handicapped children, talented children and students. We support beneficial and charity activities. Our most extensive project is our cooperation with the NGO Oáza – Nádej pre Nový Život (Oasis – Hope for a New Life). This is a shelter and dormitory for the homeless with a capacity of 150 beds. Our firm has already carried out several projects helping to improve homeless people’s quality of life systematically. For example, our employees created a website, Lacná výpomoc (Cheap Help-out), via which clients of the Oasis offer their services by cleaning, moving, taking care of lawns and so on. They also regularly help directly in KDC. Another successful project is Tramps help Tramps, under which our employees together with Oasis clients built a shelter for stray dogs. Now the Oasis clients take care of these dogs as part of their working therapy. We continue cooperating with Oasis and are preparing new projects for them.

MM: We do not have a precisely designed plan or system of CSR or philanthropy at Rather, we try to support activities in our environment which make sense for us and have some personal connections to us.

To make our help as effective as possible, we focus on three areas: (1) support of reading among young people (by support for libraries, giving books as awards in competitions for children and youths); (2) support for youth entrepreneurship (support for start-up events and lectures at universities); and (3) support for the fight against cancer (projects Dobrý Anjel – Good Angel and the League against Cancer).

Apart from these we support some ad hoc activities mostly connected with the leisure-time activities of our employees and their families.

AD: Our support focuses especially on environmental and youth sport and projects from the social area, education and culture. We create room for volunteering. During activities to support the community we use all available forms and tools.

OP: We support non-profit organisations and good projects by providing them with the services we provide to regular clients. For example, we have created a complete website and logo for the non-profit organisation 3lobit. In this way we can help in a much more effective way.

JG: We focus our activities on handicapped citizens, visually disabled children and autistic children.

TSS: What benefits does corporate philanthropy bring to your company?
CSR projects are helping us to improve people’s lives – in keeping with our mission statement “Bayer: Science For A Better Life”.

Marek Antal: We do not do philanthropic projects for any benefits. We carry out them because we feel this need, and we can say this on behalf of the company as well as individual employees-volunteers. As a company we behave in a responsible way towards the society, region and community within which we operate. We are an IT company and our assets are educated people who were born here and grew up in this region. We want to give back to it. And this gives our employees the feeling of fellowship with the company and the region.

MM: Firstly there is the awareness that we help the world around us beyond our main activity. These are especially things we know helped us advance at some time in the past, or which we think, if more attention had been paid to them in the past, might have helped Slovakia advance further in the given area. Thus we understand this especially as a form of “giving back” and supporting youth in order that Slovakia becomes a better country day after day.

AD: Corporate philanthropy is beneficial especially for the community, people and organisations which really need help. It is part of the CSR activities of each healthy and prosperous company. CSR activities are beneficial for the company itself, its stakeholders, as well as the community in which the company operates. CSR can bring the company the loyalty of its employees, new investments, the reputation of a reliable partner in the region and thus also the
improvement of supply-consumer relations.

OP: The main benefit is that our team actively takes part in helping. Thus, at question is not only sending money but building something what will help these organisations. Our team feels that it has really helped.

JG: We want to be a company perceived as supporting social topics and supporting socially weaker groups. Philanthropy is also part of Lenovo’s corporate culture and our company is active in philanthropy around the globe. Our primary effort is to encourage our employees to involve themselves in the creation of projects and participate personally in support of socially weaker groups.

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