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Teaching rising stars empathy

Published on Friday, 29 Oct 2010
Swire Beverages’ management trainees in Lijiang help out with reading at the Tianhong Hope School.
Swire Beverages’ management trainees in Lijiang play games at the Ruhanping Hope School.

By making corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects an integral part of its in-house management development programme, Swire Beverages hopes to ensure that the firm's future leaders have first-hand experience of charity work and community involvement across the mainland.

During six three-day sessions spread over two years, the programme takes about 60 promising staff working in Greater China on a journey, with stops in diverse places such as Sanya, Beijing, Lijiang in Yunnan province, and Kashgar in Xinjiang. The candidates, who are chosen based on their professional potential, are nominated by the general managers or functional heads.

Swire Beverages manufactures sparkling and still drinks that include Coca-Cola's products in Hong Kong, Taiwan, seven mainland provinces and parts of the western United States. It employs more than 22,000 staff.

Rather than wrestling with the usual finance and marketing issues, participants reflect on who they are now, their goals, and how they are going to get there. The aim is to improve self-awareness, set goals, and gain a broader perspective through empathy.

"We take staff to visit a local charity or community project and encourage involvement," says Jennifer Atepolikhine, who oversees CSR for Swire Beverages. "We see it as a key aspect of their professional and personal development."

If practical, the visits are tied to projects or themes the company already supports, such as building rural schools and helping children from poor families. As part of the most recent group to complete the programme, Hong Kong-based Jessica Leung says the experience changed her. Away from day-to-day responsibilities for commercial leadership on the mainland, where she determines the best price and product mix for different sales channels, she came to appreciate her good fortune and began to rethink certain priorities.

"Maybe before, I was quite self-centred and didn't care too much for the people around me," Leung says. "But I saw how lucky I am to have a good job and career, and that I am capable of helping others."

She says one of their most uplifting visits was to attend the opening of a company-sponsored library for a primary school in Xinjiang province. It was the culmination of years of planning and a joyous occasion for the children and their teachers.

Leung also remembers a day spent with the Bright Connection in Sanya. The centre provides shelter and therapy for orphans with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. "We played with the kids, learned how the organisation helps them and, since the visit, have continued to send donations," she says.

Looking for other ways to help, Leung used a week of holidays to volunteer for a project assessing educational needs in rural Guangxi. She has also signed up as a community ambassador to visit old people's homes in Hong Kong.

"Meeting less fortunate people and hearing their stories mean I will spend much more time on CSR in the future."

Right path  

  • Aims to involve the company's rising stars in community projects
  • Focuses on self-awareness, not just finance or marketing issues
  • Counts on the principle that if managers are in, staff will follow


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