Their names are shorthand for successful business practices: major Swiss-based international companies engage in philanthropy to the benefit of recipients, employees and society.
‘We need to live and breathe philanthropy through the conviction of doing something for society without the expectation of receiving anything in return,’ says Nina Kruchten, Head of Corporate Donations at Nestlé SA. ‘That doesn’t mean it’s not also about using the resources available to the best possible benefit.’ If philanthropic engagement is undertaken conscientiously and in earnest, Nina Kruchten believes it can have positive secondary benefits for the company. ‘The firm is seen as being more approachable and more engaged, both internally and externally.’
Companies are part of society, which means they engage in philanthropy in various ways. Many of these ways have only a minimal impact on the public; instead, they have a targeted effect on their beneficiaries or employees. Some activities are closely linked to the company’s field of business and make use of synergies. The Nestlé group has undertaken non-profit activities since it was founded 150 years ago, with these activities falling into two areas. Firstly, its activities are closely linked to the company’s history and its roots, upholding its founder’s legacy. ‘They revolve around the fundamental notion of improving people’s quality of life,’ says Nina Kruchten. ‘This was also what Henri Nestlé was striving for more than 150 years ago when he developed the first powdered milk and saved the lives of so many infants.’ Secondly, its activities revolve around its geographical locations and its 276,000 employees around the world. They are not just employees: they are also part of the local community. ‘We want to use our activities to contribute to creating a dynamic, attractive way of life in areas where our employees live and work. This includes our support for culture and sport, in particular.’ Nestlé divides its activities into three geographical groups so it can meet these differing requirements. ‘The global level includes activities where we, as a global partner, want to drive forward change in our set areas of activity,’ she says. To this end, Nestlé works with organisations such as World Central Kitchen, a USA-based non-profit organisation that specialises in providing meals for people who have been affected by catastrophic events. Its local commitment serves the concerns of local sites, and finally, Nestlé also supports activities in the vicinity of its head office in Vevey, Switzerland.
Many businesses make a major contribution to the social life of the location in which they are based. Their responsibility for their employees and the value they add create firm local foundations. Many cultural and sporting events would not be possible without additional support from businesses – for example through sponsorship. Their impact is felt in a variety of ways. Some businesses, such as the cantonal banks in the different cantons, have codified social responsibility requirements. Zürcher Kantonalbank, for example, has a performance mandate from its owner, the canton, consisting of the supply mandate, the support mandate and the sustainability mandate. These connect the business to the people of Zurich and to Zurich as a location.
For globally active companies, their various sites offer fruitful starting points for their philanthropic engagement. Zurich-based industrial corporation ABB is one enterprise that has used its global network as a basis for its charitable work. In 2007, ABB founded the Jürgen Dormann Foundation, which honours the services that former CEO and Chairman of the Board Jürgen Dormann rendered for the corporation. The foundation is involved in promoting scholarship programmes for engineering students at partner universities worldwide.
‘In some countries, our company already collaborates with these universities on technology and research projects,’ says Eike Christian Meuter, media spokesman at ABB. ‘But we don’t necessarily have to have a pre-existing relationship with the university.’ The relevant criteria when considering a collaboration are things like reputation or the range of engineering-related degree courses available at a university. The foundation and university eventually publicise the scholarship programme at the faculties together.
ABB provides skills and personnel for the work of the foundation, and it is headed by ABB employees. They select the candidates that receive the scholarships. They mentor the students, contributing their expertise. They coach the scholarship holders and give them insights into the world of work. ‘This means that the local ABB organisation must have the appropriate resources and be large enough to be able to give meaningful support to the foundation’s activities.’ Even the head office is involved in the programme. Every two years, ABB invites the participants in the worldwide programme to a week-long educational and cultural event in Switzerland. This gives them an opportunity to network and meet their colleagues from other countries. Meeting the CEO and senior management is also on the agenda. It’s not just the students that benefit from the scholarship programme. ‘For the staff members involved, this engagement is a welcome enrichment to their lives,’ says Meuter.
Curdin Duschletta has found that philanthropic engagement has an impact on the entire organisation. ‘An idea starts in one part of the organisation and also has an impact on the rest,’ says the Head of the Community Impact Switzerland department at UBS. ‘A volunteering programme can turn into institutionalised collaboration.’ This was the case with the company’s involvement in Powercoders, for instance. This non-profit organisation provides an education in IT to people with a refugee or migrant background and helps give them a foothold in the economy by means of an integration programme.
They got in touch with UBS because Powercoders was looking for money to expand to western Switzerland. The UBS Foundation for Social Issues and Education supported them, with UBS employees subsequently getting involved with the programme as job coaches. ‘UBS has a volunteer programme, with up to 5,000 employees participating here in Switzerland every single year, prior to the pandemic,’ explains Curdin Duschletta. ‘Around a quarter of our workforce get involved and give up to 50,000 hours of volunteer work, all told. This could be in application support, school programmes, or as a coach for a social entrepreneur, for example.’ Volunteer work has a long tradition in Switzerland, but corporate volunteering is a comparatively new trend. At UBS, engagement has risen substantially in recent years. UBS also provides experts for the Powercoders programme, who train participants for job interviews. ‘It was a win for all involved,’ he says. ‘Ultimately, our company wondered whether UBS could partner with the programme.’ As such, the bank is now one of the biggest providers of internship places for Powercoders. More than 25 graduates are currently working at this banking heavyweight – with five more starting their internships this summer. ‘This engagement isn’t just non-profit, it’s part of our talent pipeline,’ says Curdin Duschletta.
The ties or relationships between a company and foundation vary. Freedom from commercial constraints allows a foundation to follow its own path. As a Social Innovation Lab, the Innovation Foundation – the Adecco Group’s global foundation, based in Zurich – deliberately operates outside the company’s core service.
‘It allows us to reach groups that the company does not address,’ explains the foundation’s Managing Director Cynthia Hansen. ‘As a neutral platform, the foundation is better placed to bring a range of interest groups from government, business, society and academia on board.’ This is true globally. Throughout its geographical reach, the Innovation Foundation works independently. However, if there are regional overlaps, the foundation is able to leverage the potential, know-how and human resources of the company to build bridges.
Activities are not restricted to regions of the world where the Adecco Group has a presence. ‘We have a global mandate, based on needs,’ says Hansen. ‘Pilot solutions are often specific to a particular location. But the goal is always to select a country based on the potential to scale the solution up regionally and, ultimately, globally.’ She cites the current youth employment pilot project in Mexico as an example. The project has been planned in such a way that the foundation will be able to roll it out across Latin America in a second phase. The ultimate plan is to extend it globally. Alongside the global Innovation Foundation, the Adecco Group has five national foundations in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the US. They operate independently of the Innovation Foundation and serve their own local markets. These national foundations focus on issues such as integration of people with disabilities into the workforce, retraining, and diversity and integration in general. ‘The Innovation Foundation serves as a facilitator, making it easier for the national foundations to coordinate and collaborate with one another,’ Hansen explains.
UBS’ social engagement has a broad basis, spread across four teams around the world. ‘Our strategies, processes and structures are the same everywhere – but they need to be implemented on a local level,’ says Curdin Duschletta. Globally, they handle topics relating to economic participation and equal opportunities, which the teams then break down to suit local situations and engage in long-term partnerships. In Switzerland, UBS uses its Foundation for Social Issues and Education to support the qualification and professional integration of people with a particular need for support, while its Culture Foundation supports artistic endeavours. However, UBS is not solely active as the company itself: its Swiss umbrella foundation and the global UBS Optimus Foundation also see it give its customers a platform for philanthropic engagement. Plus, it also offers them philanthropy consulting and passes on its expertise when selecting and assisting with high-impact projects. This was long viewed as a service to ensure that donations were simpler and had a greater impact. However, the philanthropic sector has undergone substantial development, says Curdin Duschletta. ‘Our customers want to engage in dialogue with each other more and work together.’ In turn, UBS connects them to each other and contributes the network, expertise and experience of the UBS Optimus Foundation. For example, 15 philanthropy customers have already formed three groups on selected topics like climate action and child protection, discussing these issues with each other and jointly educating themselves. ‘We’re spending more time engaging as a facilitator,’ explains Curdin Duschletta. In doing so, the bank is playing an active role in the development of philanthropy. Problems are approached holistically, with networking and a shared, systematic approach taking precedence over activities focused on one single project. Hansen has also observed a major transformation in the role of corporate philanthropy over the last 20 years: ‘There has been a move away from unconditional hand-outs and towards collaboration, partnerships and impact investing.’ This transformation challenges companies, because it is tied to the expectation that they will not only contribute money but also resources, including knowledge, expertise, data, people and time. ‘The traditional roles of giver and receiver are being broken down,’ she comments. ‘The focus is increasingly on game-changing, people-centred solutions that demand a multi-stakeholder approach.’ The Innovation Foundation aims to encourage this type of collaboration and hopes it will become the norm.
Jörg Reinhardt also believes that a foundation can have an impact on society and the company. He’s Chairman of the Board of Directors at Novartis and chairs the Novartis Foundation’s Board of Trustees, too. At the AI4HealthyCities Summit run by the foundation, he said that the Novartis Foundation was a ‘trendsetter’ for the company and was driving forward innovations in areas such as access to healthcare and public health. He explained this was important to the company, too. The foundation’s current project, AI4HealthyCities, is an exemplary illustration of the approach followed by the Novartis Foundation in its engagements: carrying out pioneering work and validating innovations using data. Once this has all been completed, the foundation shares this knowledge with others. When it was set up, the Novartis Foundation focused on malaria and leprosy programmes, playing a role in building up organisations such as the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy. Novartis has now taken them on. Today, the foundation focuses on public cardiovascular health and on health inequalities – which is where AI4HealthyCities comes in. This project researches factors that impact cardiovascular diseases. As a first step, the foundation always works with local authorities to understand the challenges they are facing. With AI4HealthyCities, the foundation zooms in on cities that already have large quantities of data, which is evaluated using artificial intelligence and advanced analytics.
‘These findings can help political decision-makers make better decisions on which interventions, resources and partnerships will have a positive impact on the health of as many people as possible and create health equality,’ says Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation. The goal is to improve the health of the population and reduce health-related inequalities. Finally, the foundation enlists the assistance of various cross-sectoral stakeholders that are needed to make these plans a reality, and the findings are disseminated globally and made available to the public.
The data is circulated internationally via the AI4HealthyCities summit. ‘All the knowledge generated by the Novartis Foundation is made accessible to the public,’ says Ann Aerts. And despite the fact that the foundation strives to have a global impact, ‘Its local roots are key. This starts with the responsibility of local authorities themselves – this is the only way we can ensure that our initiatives are sustainable and have the potential to be expanded,’ explains Ann Aerts. As an independent legal entity, the foundation is independent and has its own areas of focus. ‘Our work is completely independent of the pharmaceutical space. However, we benefit from Novartis’ expert knowledge and also have a certain amount of access to the company’s resources, like its knowledge and employees,’ says Ann Aerts. As a result, the foundation’s initiatives often revolve around areas that are also relevant for the company – such as cardiovascular diseases.
As with the Adecco Group, the Innovation Foundation focuses on helping people access labour markets. The foundation receives financial support and maintains close collaboration with the company. It takes into account the company’s strategy. ‘But we look at it more from a social perspective than a commercial one,’ Hansen explains. The foundation’s activities complement those of the company. The Adecco Group acts on behalf of regular employees, whereas the Innovation Foundation champions underserved population groups. ‘Our mission is to help those who are not heard,’ says Hansen. The work focuses on people for whom services, platforms, training or other forms of aid either do not exist or are inaccessible. She adds: ‘The purpose of the foundation is to create sustainable livelihoods for population groups that are not normally part of the conversation.’ Unlike conventional foundations that award grants, the Innovation Foundation is a laboratory for social innovation. Its unique three-stage approach – Scan, Build, Scale – produces practical solutions to improve employability and access to job markets for disadvantaged population groups. Its relationship to the parent company allows it to draw on the tremendous expertise, data resources and reach of the Adecco Group – a Fortune Global 500 organisation and the world’s leading talent advisory and solutions company. At the same time, the Adecco Group benefits from the ‘halo effect’, profiting from the foundation’s research, its reputation as a Social Innovation Lab, innovative solutions and agile methodology.
Especially if there are major challenges involved, philanthropic engagement cannot, and should not, be seen as passing the buck: it does not absolve the company itself from grappling with the topic at hand. ‘Climate change is one of the most major problems of our age and it’s not something we can combat with donations alone,’ says Nina Kruchten. ‘With a company as large and globally present as Nestlé, change needs to come from within.’ Nestlé has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050: the entire company, all its products and every one of its suppliers need to get involved. And its philanthropic involvement also sees the company do its bit. ‘Through our partnership with World Central Kitchen, for example, we are supporting this organisation’s Climate Disaster Fund that distributes meals to people in places affected by extreme weather events linked to the climate crisis,’ says Nina Kruchten. ‘The ideal situation is for the topic to work well for both the business and the common good.’ In turn, its philanthropic activities continue to evolve. The foundation established by Nestlé to mark its 125th anniversary, the Fondation Nestlé pour L’Art, will have used up its funds at the end of this year, after 31 years. However, its legacy and Nestlé’s involvement in the cultural field will continue. Companies adapt and set new areas of focus in their philanthropic endeavours, just as they do in other fields. They are called upon to respond quickly – as shown by the recent situation with Covid. ‘The public are becoming increasingly aware of philanthropy, accelerated by external factors,’ says Nina Kruchten. ‘At Nestlé, we donated 100 million Swiss francs to non-profit organisations in 2020 and 2021 alone, to combat the impact of the pandemic – a donation larger than anything we’ve made before.’ And the private sector will continue to be called upon to take on the mantle of social responsibility, Nina Kruchten believes. Current economic trends and rising inflation highlight the need for financial support. ‘In general, we’re expecting more from companies now than ever before in terms of taking on social responsibility. In fact, this goes beyond ESG or CSR-related KPIs: this is where corporate philanthropy comes in.’
Social engagement has deep roots at UBS, with the company and the foundation closely linked on a human level. The bank handles the foundation’s operating costs, while the foundation’s employees are based within the bank. The Foundation for Social Issues and Education and the Culture Foundation are independent and were endowed with capital when they were established. Since then, UBS has provided top-ups of capital on numerous occasions. ‘The bank’s commitment to charitable activities is very clear, not least in its home market of Switzerland,’ says Curdin Duschletta. And precisely because of this proximity to the bank, Curdin Duschletta says that the importance of clean governance goes hand-in-hand with a culture of disclosure. The decisions made by the Boards of Trustees need to be independent: if someone has a conflict of interests, they step outside. Specialist expertise does play a role when putting together the Boards of Trustees – so there’s always a chance that a trustee might be connected to a particular project.
The composition of the Board of Trustees is crucial. Significant executive representation can be an asset to a foundation . Jean-Christophe Deslarzes has been Chair of the Adecco Group and of the Innovation Foundation since 2020, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Rolf Dörig. Since the foundation was established in 2017, members of the management team have played an active role in the Board of Trustees. In 2021, the Board was enlarged to include external members who complement the skills, competencies and representation of internal Trustees.‘The involvement of top executives is a clear sign that the Adecco Group is committed to making a positive impact and promoting social innovation,’ Hansen comments. The board of trustees of the Jürgen Dormann Foundation is also a diverse group. It includes representatives of ABB as well as independent members; 33 percent of them are women. ‘Diversity and integration are important to us, not only when choosing our scholarship recipients, but also when selecting members for our board of trustees,’ says Meuter. In addition, the members need to cover a broad range of experience in order for them to drive social progress. Meuter stresses the importance of networks, cooperation and coordination when it comes to increasing the future social impact of philanthropy. And that is where companies can help. ‘They can help to enable sustainable structures and knowledge transfer,’ he says. One area where companies can make a considerable contribution is in new forms of philanthropy that require entrepreneurial expertise. As Meuter points out: ‘This offers great opportunities for company employees as well, to get involved in voluntary schemes in which all parties benefit.’