The company has a strong tradition of supporting projects and activities that have the potential to bring change to society in Slovakia. We discussed how the company wants to shape the changing society in Slovakia with its Chief Country Officer in Slovakia, Dušan Švalek.
How would you define the role of businesses in the 21st century?
The businesses of tomorrow have to take into account more aspects than they have in the past. Rather than profit, companies should seek some deeper purpose, a mission, on how to give back to society as a true corporate citizen. As a telecommunications company, Slovak Telekom has an obligation to help people and businesses to connect with each other. As we move further into the twenty-first century, we invest in modern technologies and communication networks to increase the interconnection of organisations, individuals and markets around the globe. We do this while respecting the environment and focusing on the greater good of society.
What caused this shift from a profit-first orientation towards a more socially responsible approach?
Profit only organisations are no longer sustainable in this fast-changing world. Having a higher goal other than profit is also a must have for organisations to achieve a sustainable model of economic growth. That’s why organisations today have a more complex role with diverse responsibilities in society, such as being environmentally responsible, reducing the digital divide and bringing prosperity to the regions. We also have a new generation of employees and customers who are aware of the problems the world is facing and who want to make a change. As society is changing, customers and employees seek companies they trust, and I think that organisations are the driving force in this change.
Where do you see Slovak Telekom in this fast-changing Slovak society? How have you integrated corporate social responsibility at Slovak Telekom?
In my opinion, our responsibility as the market leader is to foster innovation and support our customers and all of society on their journey to digitisation so that no one is left behind. Our mission is to ensure that the opportunities we have today are available to everyone, whether it is in the capital city Bratislava or the rural areas of Slovakia. This year, we achieved a new milestone by increasing internet speed for more than 1.2 million households all over Slovakia. We have increased the pace of investment to help digitise the country to assist economic development, especially in the rural areas of Slovakia. I am proud that we received The Award for the Most Trusted Brand for our internet and TV services for the second time in a row, proving that our customers appreciate our efforts. As a result, we feel we have a strong obligation to give back.
How does Telekom want to help Slovakia?
The modern world is changing rapidly through new technologies, and we make sure that these are accessible to everyone. Technologies are not only for the few, but for everyone to benefit from. I believe that through technologies we can bring prosperity to society and the economy, and achieve better fulfilment of individual people’s lives as well as communities. People become acquainted with technologies through consumption, later using them as productivity tools and communication channels. They then utilise the skills and knowledge they have gained in their careers, businesses or community projects. We are digitising Slovakia because available internet and internet literacy lead to the development of education, entrepreneurship and, last but not least, the freedom of all of us. The Internet opens the imaginary door to the world for information and knowledge, and enables everyone to realise their potential, whether they want to improve science, do business, or just communicate with each other. I see our company as a driving force that brings innovation through various educational projects for young people and support for grant projects and non-profit organisations, along with long-term support for those with various disabilities.
How do you choose which projects and initiatives to support?
Our aim is to support projects that have the potential to help and engage communities in whatever form of digital education, especially for kids, students and seniors who have limited access to digital technologies. However, this is not the only contribution of Telekom to the community and the environment. For example, few people know that most of the electricity that our buildings and transmitters consume comes from renewable sources. We also run several other projects, often linked to corporate volunteering, in Telekom. We have provided long-term support to the deaf community since 2002, when mobile technologies enabled us to communicate over personal text messages.
Why do you help the deaf?
Modern technologies give us opportunities to change what was previously unimaginable. In 2002, we realised that mobile phones, especially SMS, can help break communication barriers for people with hearing loss. We have been dealing with the hearing impaired for more than 16 years, and during this time we have managed to support many useful activities. One of the most successful ones is the Online Interpreter service, which enables the deaf to communicate with anyone with the support of an interpreter available to them on video chat. This is a very useful feature in everyday situations when they need to talk in the shop or at the office. We also decided recently to support the development of the Corvus application through the Telekom Endowment Fund, thanks to which people with visual impairments can benefit from useful functions of modern smart phones that we use every day, such as browsing the internet or checking the weather forecast.
What is your driving force for reshaping society?
It is very simple. I believe that it is our role as corporate citizens to move society forward, and at Telekom we have the competence to make the change happen. We want to have a positive impact on Slovak society, and we want to take the leading role. This gives us a very strong commitment to go beyond our profits and be active in creating the greater good for society. We have the scale and expertise to create an impact and support activities with a purpose.
How does corporate responsibility effect your business?
We apply the highest standards when it comes to supporting the environment, communities, employee education and customer care. One of the best examples of a CR project that had a great impact on our business was our programme of inclusive customer care. Last year, we were the first company in Slovakia to successfully incorporate inclusive care into our communication standards. Throughout the year, all our call centre agents were trained to help better identify barriers impacting customers, to tailor their communication style and better understand customers’ needs. The goal was to eliminate prejudices in interpersonal communication in the first line of contact. This has not only improved the customer experience, but helped employees to be more emphatic, open and sincere.
What kind of feedback did you get from your employees?
We get very emotional and positive feedback. Our activities are highly appreciated by employees and almost all personnel at customer centres took part in the special training to better identify communication barriers. This training helped employees and customers better understand each other. One example that talks for itself is from one of our colleagues from the call centre in Zilina, who said he really appreciated the training as he can better comprehend how difficult it might be for seniors to understand his technical language. He added that the training made him more patient and supportive of others. We continue to work with NGOs using new technologies like virtual reality, so that all our employees have a chance to learn. We are very proud to be leaders in inclusive care, and we hope we will inspire other businesses to follow.
Which projects are you especially proud of?
The environment and ecology are very important to us, and I am very pleased that this year we managed to make our popular projects of Magio Beach and the Telekom Night Run more environmentally friendly than ever before. Thanks to waste separation, we managed to halve the amount of municipal waste on Magio Beach, reduce visual smog, and get rid of disposable waste and plastic straws completely. In addition, all facilities at the site used solar energy and turned bio waste into bio-electricity for hundreds of Slovak households. The venue also served as a hub for education workshops and discussions where visitors of all age groups could learn about smart cities, digital technologies and climate change. Similarly, we also dealt with the Telekom Night Run sporting event, which was designed to be "green" so as not to create unnecessary waste. Runners' shirts, for example, were made in Slovakia from recycled plastic. All it required on our side was putting a piece of our heart and effort into it.
As a market leader, how can technologies help in changing society?
Technological change and disruption are omnipresent in society; from the devices we carry in our pockets to the lives we live every day, everything is getting “smarter”. Technology can be seen as a means of change and fast optical internet is the highway of the future for the development of the digital economy. The more people we bring it to, the more we will help to educate society. That is why we are most sensitive to the need to educate in the area of digital skills. It is also an area we want to focus on in the future in order to support our country on the road to computerisation as a means of building a free and economically strong society.
What are your goals for the near and far future in reshaping society?
We feel that digital education is absolutely needed in Slovakia as there is still great potential for improvement. We want to bring the digital resources to all the people in Slovakia and encourage them to take advantage of all the possibilities they provide in liberating society. This means that people could use innovative technologies in the best infrastructure that is accessible to all parts of society including those that have been left out so far. We feel that digital education and digital skills are necessary to address challenges young generations and also adults will have to face in the near future. We are ready to encourage communities and our own employees to take part in this process through continuous volunteering and donation programs. We have the passion and knowledge, and we want to share them with the rest of society to benefit from the possibilities of now.
Chief Country Officer for Slovakia (since 1.3.2019)
Dušan Švalek studied business economics and management at the Bratislava University of Economics and at the University of Navarra. He joined T-Mobile Slovakia in 2004 as Director of the Customer Services Division and from 2007 acted as the Executive Director of the Marketing Division. Since then he has acted in several managing roles, from Executive Marketing Director to Chief Residential Segment Officer for Czech and Slovak markets, where he was responsible for marketing, sales and customer services in B2C segments. In March 1, 2019, he was appointed Chief Country Officer for Slovakia.