Banking on high social returns
Citizen Commitment Week (CCW) may be an annual calendar highlight of Societe Generale’s adherence to corporate social responsibility, but making a difference in the communities where the French banking firm operates is a year-long effort.
According to Kate Henley, Societe Generale head of communications for Asia-Pacific, in Hong Kong, staff volunteers at Societe Generale organise events that support the Hans Andersen Club, a non-government organisation that provides practical help to needy children and young people.
Volunteers also organise activities and take part in events to support Societe Generale’s global charity partner, CARE, a leading humanitarian organisation fighting global poverty.
On the mainland, Societe Generale China has partnered with the Cherished Dream China Education Foundation (CDCEF) to promote the education of students and teachers in some of China’s most challenged communities.
Henley says events such as CCW and an annual charity bike ride, which last year raised about €500,000 (HK$4.70 million), are milestone occasions that generate a sense of common purpose among Societe Generale employees. Last year more than 80 volunteers from Hong Kong cycled about 120 kilometres around Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. This year the bike-ride organisers are hoping to attract even more participants for a charity ride in Taiwan.
“It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but because staff volunteers own the CCW and other charity initiatives, their activities tend to create their own sense of team spirit, which also happens to be a core characteristic valued within the bank,” says Henley.
While volunteers are kept busy organising events to support charity throughout the year, Henley explains it is during CCW at the beginning of June each year when charitable activities are ramped up. Involving 33 countries and more than 160,000 Societe Generale employees, fund-raising events this year in Hong Kong included selling homemade cakes and pastries during lunch breaks, wine appreciation sessions and attending films and presentations.
“We try to organise 25 to 30 events during work hours, after work and on the weekends,” says Henley, adding that one high point was a “Big Day Out” beach barbecue and sandcastle-building event organised for the Hans Andersen Club at Shek O beach.
Henley says the week-long series of events creates a sense of working together that spreads locally, regionally and internationally through the organisation. “During CCW, people frequently ask each other which events they are attending or helping to organise. There is a tremendous level of enthusiasm.”
For Jim Fletcher, a Societe Generale IT professional and volunteer CSR ambassador, working with the Hans Andersen Club goes beyond raising funds. “You get to meet and interact with the people you are trying to help, which is where the real satisfaction lies,” he says. “It is very reassuring that once people take the initial step and become involved in volunteer work, they tend to want to do more. People rarely join in as a one-off.”
Because activities often take place on outlying islands, non-local staff have the opportunity to see parts of Hong Kong they may otherwise overlook.
In addition to the hands-on experience of helping children, Fletcher believes volunteers derive other benefits. For example, employees from different business lines, professional skills, experience and countries work together.
“Volunteering and getting actively involved with charity work is a great leveller. It brings together our senior managers, corporate-banking set, compliance and legal, and people from financing deals and administration who under normal work situations may not have anything to do with each other” says Fletcher. “It adds another dimension to what you do at work and collectively what you are able to give back to the community.”
Fletcher says that because employees work long hours, the CSR ambassador team manages a number of voluntary projects that are not only designed to help local communities, but that also take into account the different interests, skills and constraints of the bank’s personnel. “We try to include activities based around sport, food and wine, and social occasions,” says Fletcher. He also points out that staff can nominate a project, which the CSR team supports and supervises if it is accepted.