Compa­nies that do good

Social responsibility

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.’

Company history

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.

Talent pipe­line

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.

Buil­ding bridges

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.

A faci­li­ta­tor

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.’

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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.’


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