More and more companies are getting involved in public welfare projects and are taking on social responsibility. Whether social welfare, sport or culture, there are many ways in which companies can contribute to society as corporate citizens.
Thanks to a chain of willingness to help, a new life has begun for a little Congolese girl called Ayïchi. She attracted the attention of a Belgian neurologist in a mission in the Congo. He diagnosed the rare “bobble-head-doll syndrome”, of which only some 30 cases have been documented worldwide. The most conspicuous symptom is a constant nodding of the sufferer’s head, which is triggered by a cyst in the brain. This slows down psychological and motor development and, if untreated, leads to an intellectual handicap.
A brain operation was the little girl’s only chance. Through the aid organization “Chain of Hope”, the neurologist arranged for the little girl to travel to Belgium for an operation and sought help from the B. Braun company, asking the company to provide the necessary surgical instruments free of charge. Jean-Luc Libert, a senior surgeon in the endoscopy/neurosurgery area, organized the necessary endoscope and assisted the young doctor during the operation, which went very successfully. Ayïchi is now back with her family in the Congo again. When she plays with her friends, no-one notices her any more as she is back to normal again. And she has a future.
There are many stories like that of Ayïchi. For the commercial sector, social involvement has become a fixed part of the corporate culture. These companies see themselves as citizens of society, in which it should be natural for every citizen, accept to responsibility for their social environment, getting involved and, together with other citizens, ensuring that society has a future.
There are many possibilities of social involvement – social welfare, culture, sport, education and environmental protection. Donations and sponsoring still play a very important role in such work but no less important is the donation free-of-charge of products and services to non-profit-making organizations. Participation by company managements or employees in socially responsible projects, such as sponsorships or free advice by non-profit-making organizations and support in public relations, is becoming more and more important.
Not least, there are many ways of using a company’s positive image or good contacts for non-profit-making goals.
Of course, such involvement does not require a trip to Africa. Every society has its problems. For example, demographic development is a socially relevant issue about which we in Germany should be seriously concerned, and for the sake of their own futures alone, companies cannot avoid their responsibility in this area. The problem is multi-facetted and offers just as many approaches. For example, the B. Braun company introduced the “Job and Family” programme more than 20 years ago in order to make it easier for employees to combine family life with their jobs. The programme was supplemented in 2007 by a part-time family-work scheme in which employees can reduce their working hours to 50 per cent but still get paid 65 per cent of their normal wage or salary. Family-based part-time employment enables employees to look after children and to look after other ill family members.
Demographic development is accompanied by another problem. Even today it is foreseeable that, in future, there will be a shortage of skilled employees and it goes without saying that no-one should slip through the cracks in the job world. But it is also true that many young people – especially those who leave vocational secondary schools – see no prospects for their lives. The consequences are helplessness, frustration and a lack of motivation to learn. But these young people have potential if someone takes an interest in them early enough. This was why B. Braun started up the PerspektivePLUS scheme. Each year, about 25 young people with no or insufficient school qualifications get the opportunity to take part in this programme to help them obtain initial vocational qualifications, thereby improving their chances on the job market. The success of this programme has led to the formation of regional networks between schools, company representatives from the commercial sector, industry associations, municipalities and citizens. It is their task to help those young people affected gain social integrity and personal and vocational prospects.
This transition management is supported by mentors. Some of them are pensioners who have made a commitment to contribute their knowledge and experience. Each participant is allocated a mentor, which makes it possible to coordinate assistance to pupils on an individual basis in order to obtain the greatest possible success. For companies in the health sector, the support for scientific newcomers and recruits is also important. B. Braun regards its organization and support of events such as symposia, workshops and awards – many with a long tradition – as a further pillar of scientific involvement. It is important for the B. Braun company to promote information, the exchange of views and advanced education for students, scientists and practitioners in the health sector.
Regardless of which type of social activity companies are involved in, be it the arts, culture, sport, the environment or social concerns, it is important that these activities are practised credibly and not misunderstood as marketing instruments. Only when a company takes its role seriously and achieves something sustainable over the long term can it become a responsible member of society. The important thing is that the employees also help bear this responsibility and contribute their ideas, skills and energy – just like Jean-Luc Libert, who enables little Congolese children like Ayïchi to look forward to a future.
The author is the chairman of the supervisory board of B. Braun Melsungen AG. He is a member of the state synod of the Lutheran Church in Kurhessen-Waldeck and of the executive board of friends’ and supporters’ organizations and foundations such as “Pro Nordhessen e.V.” or “Kinder- und familienfreundliches Melsungen”. For his services to science and the arts the state of Hessen awarded him an honorary professor’s title in 2006.