The Hilti family feeds their company’s success into the Hilti Foundation. This charity enables people in disadvantaged situations to benefit from the company’s profits, reputation and skills.
‘As a family, we’ve always been involved in philanthropic activities on a personal level. My grandfather had a huge influence on this,’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti. ‘Every single one of us supports social programmes or gets personally involved in projects.’ Aware of their own good fortune, the family is committed to helping those in less fortunate positions. A 1996 project by Franck Goddio sparked the idea of bolstering this work by formally setting up a foundation. An underwater archaeologist, Goddio was trying to track down the ancient harbour of Alexandria, and his innovative, strategic method of exploring the seabed won the family over. The Hilti Foundation is still working with him today, though the charity’s activities now focus on international social projects.
Sustainable bamboo houses
One of the charity’s key areas of interest is the development of sustainable technologies for affordable housing, geared to the market in question. The diversity of its projects is perfectly illustrated by the bamboo houses built in the Philippines. An engineer working for Hilti completed her master’s degree at ETH Zurich, writing her thesis on sustainable, safe building techniques for creating affordable housing in developing countries. ‘It included a concept for a bamboo house, which we thought was really inspiring!’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti, a member of the foundation’s board of trustees. The Hilti Foundation made it possible for the concept to undergo a practical test in the Philippines. The findings revealed that this ‘cement bamboo frame technology’ is able to resist high winds, earthquakes, and natural disasters, while being sustainable and affordable. Plus, it offers high-quality accommodation that’s produced from almost 100% local materials. ‘Then, we set up the Base Bahay Foundation, a Manila-based organisation that has now constructed more than 800 bamboo houses in collaboration with local partners. In addition, this foundation has built up a supply chain for specialist bamboo processing across various regions of the Philippines,’ she says.
Two percent of the Hilti Group’s annual profits go to the foundation so that there are enough resources to fund these projects, with additional donations from the Hilti family adding to this amount. Michèle Frey-Hilti thinks that the foundation’s closeness to the company offers major advantages: ‘It enables us to make use of the company’s in-house expertise in the projects themselves and draw on a highly skilled global network.’ It gives a sense of security to local partner organisations: the Hilti Foundation works with local partners because these teams are familiar with what’s going on in their regions. These skilled partners help the foundation to achieve its goals, in line with its strategy, but the foundation also works with other charities who offer funding for external projects. ‘Ideally, the teams’ members have complementary skills,’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti. She adds: ‘As a charity, we play an active role in our projects, so it’s important to us that our values and ways of working align with our collaborators’ approaches.’ All its projects have a goal and are intended to continue having an impact even after the Hilti Foundation has stepped back from them.
Charity begins at home
Its close ties mean that the foundation has a sense of commitment towards the family, its customers and its employees alike. ‘They’re proud of the Hilti Foundation’s work, and see the deeper meaning in it,’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti. ‘That is why Hilti is now giving its employees the chance to be directly and actively involved in projects.’