Bearing Responsibility – Events and the Community

ImageCommunity Projects have been a part and parcel of events for decades – that will never change. What will change is the sophistication of the various projects. Gone are the days when guests happily gather around a solitary tree planting ceremony, participating only through rapturous applause. Increasing awareness of wider sustainability issues and activism are driving bolder approaches to event community project planning and your guests want to get involved and create more of an impact.

It’s the usual innovators who are at the forefront of this; Ovation Bear, Ovation Global DMC’s honorary CEO, conducted an informal straw poll of his global offices and identified 5 Innovative stories of sophisticated community integration at Events:

1. More often than not, the integration of the local community comprises a one-off bolt-on activity designed to tick the CSR box. Conversely, Ovation is increasingly working with clients to be more strategic in approach. This involves looking at how local communities can be deeper integrated into the event planning process. A recent example of this approach is an Ovation Canada project where social enterprise suppliers are being given preference over less socially aware suppliers. With handmade delegate bags and sustainability conscious food suppliers, this conference will have a lower carbon footprint than many comparable.

2. Another leading light in the area is “The Connection Crew”, a winner of Deloitte’s 2012 “Social Innovation Pioneers” award. 25% of this London-based crewing & AV company are ex-homeless people who have been trained up as technicians and crew for events.

3. At a 10,000 pax conference our team supported in Asia, a marketplace was constructed at the conference centre for 40 local artisans and community groups to sell organic produce, handmade artefacts and gifts made from responsible materials on site. Co-ordinated by our ground team, this powerful tool, ensured both the organisers and delegates spend was supporting long term economic prosperity in a developing nation.

4. All our Ovation offices can offer clients a selection of charities to partner with but our caring team in Barcelona chose one charity to focus their energy on over last year.  Fundación Fátima is home to 32 children aged between 0 and 12 years without families. With Spain facing its biggest economic crisis ever and public funds being slashed to an absolute minimum, the orphanage was seriously struggling. By putting the Foundation at the centre of a engagement strategy, they organised a number of creative fundraising activities, personally took the children out on day trips to the zoo and FC Barcelona and partnered with Ovation client Symantec to support the shelter through their annual conference. After pitching for an event with Supermarket chain Lidl that included a CSR activity, Lidl decided not to run the event but still wanted to help Ovation’s chosen charity and donated Christmas presents to all the children.

5. Ovation’s Strategic Partner in Greece, Kipling Events, recently organised a community event to coincide with a company training academy. Using the same trainers who were in town to train the Ovation staff, Ovation invited 85 volunteers from Greek NGOs, foundations and associations to attend special sessions delivered by the Ovation experts. The results were transformational for those in attendance; by sharing management strategies from a high-growth global business the organisers were able to spark new thinking and energy in a sector really suffering the worst of the economic downturn.

The last example is potentially a game-changing CSR opportunity. Do you have the power to transform cities and countries where you hold events by using the intellectual capital held by those in attendance?

By thinking big, events have an opportunity to generate a stronger legacy in helping communities, supporting economic prosperity and protecting the environment.

Contact Ovation to find out how you can support and activate your corporate values through live events.

Discover the Power of Taking Action

Today Symantec released their first event sustainability report. Written by yours truly, this report celebrates the commitment of the software giant to organising more responsible and effective meetings.

For their flagship Vision conference organised in Barcelona, significant steps were taken to engage suppliers and implement better environmental event practices whilst on the social front they worked closely with NGO partners to support two community projects raising awareness about climate change and social issues.

MCI Sustainability Services were hired as an consultant, to review the sustainability processes, assess practices onsite, measure the event footprint and make recommendations for future improvement. As a conclusion to this stage of the journey we prepared this, the first event sustainability report to transparently disclose the sustainability approach, impacts and progress.

Key results achieved at this year’s event include:

  • $40,000 of costs were avoided through sustainability program
  • The venue, all key suppliers and 59% of the hotels provided sustainability measurement data. Carbon emissions were measured at 1,017 tons CO2e
  • 55% of event waste was diverted from landfill
  • 55% of all food served was sourced locally
  • $15,000 donated to community projects
  • Attendee satisfaction of the sustainability initiative was evaluated at 78%

Respect and congratulations go to the sustainability champion at Symantec – Claudia van’ t Hullenaar, from their EMEA events team. Claudia has demonstrated “the Power of Taking Action” , which became the theme for the report. A big salute goes to the CCIB Congress Center for their commitment and significant improvement in sustainable operating practices over the last few years; and also to all the suppliers who helped make this project a reality (WSP Environment & Energy, Events That Matter Ltd, BK Productions, A-Booth B.V., Kopfwerk, MCI Spain and Active Networks.)

In the words of Paul Salinger, VP Marketing Oracle: “Symantec is among a too small group of leaders who are active in pursuit of sustainable event innovation. The size and attendance at these type of events represents a tremendous opportunity to influence change in corporations, destinations and venues around the world. I commend Symantec for their approach.  At Oracle, our focus on sustainable events has helped us to significantly improve our environmental footprint, avoiding over $1 million in costs and driving innovation into the way we organize OpenWorld.” (check out his sustainability initiative and report at Oracle OpenWorld)

Simple steps that make a difference

This year I have had the pleasure of working with software giant Symantec, to help them on their journey to organize more responsible and better events. As a recognized leader in corporate responsibility, Symantec decided it was time to look deeper into how they run their Vision users conference, and so kicked of the sustainability initiative at this year’s event in Barcelona. One of the areas where they did a particularly good job was with the Social Responsibility projects. Reflecting on this, I was reminded how simple, yet how powerful the inclusion of a community project can be within an event. Not only can it demonstrate a corporations commitment to sustainability but it can serve to animate a conference plenary, connect delegates with the local community and enhance the entire event experience.

In Barcelona as part of their multilevel sustainable event strategy, Symantec supported the global children’s initiative Plant for the Planet, which aims to raise awareness of and respond to the issue of climate change. Symantec supported the organization of an educational training session held within the Vision conference for 50 children from 3 local schools. The Plant-for-the-Planet Academy is recognized as an official project of the UN-Decade “Education for Sustainable Development”, a concept which conveys sustainable thinking and behaviour to children and adults.

Felix Finkbeiner, the 15 year old founder of Plant for the Planet was the inspirational speaker during the opening keynote session.  Afterward this young superstar was joined by Symantec management to plant a symbolic tree in the grounds of the CCIB venue. In response to his plea, Planet for the Planet received 86 pledges to plant 36851 trees: 14 of these were made by Symantec employees, including a significant contribution from one employee who pledge to plant 14,000 trees. Symantec coorporation pledged to plant 10,000 trees, and I pledge to plant 1000.

Felix’s speech is brilliant. The young guy has helped build a movement that has planet over a billion trees. His goal is to plant a TRILLION. Now that’s what I call vision. Here you can watch his dynamic and inspiration performance, which earned the second highest speaker rating of the conference at 89%.

In addition Symantec donated $5,000 and left over conference materials (bags, pens, water bottles) to the Fundación Fatima foster home in Barcelona. This is one of MCI Barcelona`s projects and it was really satisfying to see that we were able to help them another little bit. With the austerity measures in Spain, these organization are increasing relying on donations to get them through these tough times. With the donation the center can now afford to insulate the area where the babies sleep.

In January Symantec will release the event sustainability report which will explain more about their strategy and progress. Watch this space.


Giving Back: MCI’s Power of Action 2011, Montreux

Here at MCI, we’ve been actively engaged in creating a community service action for our annual business meeting which this year will bring over 600 MCI staff and business partners to beautiful Montreux, Switzerland. Our approach, now a standard practice called The Power of Action, was first explained here.

How to integrate a social responsibility project in a wealthy community? As we learned with our 2010 event in Istanbul, partner with local leaders to increase the possibility of finding a great NGO. Collaborate with the NGO to understand their needs. Educate, then activate, the participants. Track and communicate learnings and successes.

So we decided to record for charity and convince Phil Collins production team to lend us a hand. Have a look at the results and let us know what you think.

May your own end of year efforts to give back to industry or community be well received and a springboard to a prosperous 2012! And please return to provide us your examples/photos/inspiring ideas to share for better events and a better 2012!

Sustainable Events: Holiday Season Medley

What better way to close out a busy 2011 than with rousing, inspiring, infectiously enthusiastic, innovative sustainable event initiatives?
We been busy elves of sustainability these last several months and wish to share a few of the events about which we are excited here. As always, we’d very much enjoy hearing about actions and ideas for sustainable events you’d like to share!

We draw attention to the collaboration underway in Denmark. In the lead up to the European Union presidency which will rotate to Denmark in January, 2012, the team that brought you the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol comes Sustainable Events Denmark, a nationwide effort to elevate sustainability as a standard practice throughout the Danish meetings industry as a way to showcase Danish leadership, innovation and design.

Andreas Clausen Boor, Head of Logistics for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, has been both the spark and, as the client representative, the patron of the initiative. Hear him explain it in his own terms in this great video.

Check out the new industry resource, the Sustainable Events Denmark portal, and share your suggestions, impressions and testimonials: here

On soap and other waste: are we doing it wrong?

In nature, and in a sustainable society, waste from one process is food for another (this and lots of other great stuff from William McDonough). Clean the World, and their effort to capture wasted soaps from hotels across the United States, might well be a brilliant example of this principle in action.  Yet the recent enthusiasm for the Clean the World initiative gives one pause.

Concerns about the soap recycling initiative:

1.  Why so much wasted soap?  This seems a design issue.  Hotels are under the impression that people need more soap than they apparently do. Scandic Hotels and many other properties who meet criteria for eco-certifications, have long avoided such waste though the use of refillable containers.

2.   Access to clean water and toilets  The communication here, for all the life-saving it references, seems to overlook the big part of the crisis that is the lack of access to clean water and sanitation (toilets and water treatment).  How do we join up a soap initiative with an access-to-clean-water-and-toilets initiative so that boxes of soap don’t arrive  independent of the water needed to make them effective?

3.  Donations of such products are discouraged by charity experts.  For every free bar of soap that arrives, the entrepreneurial incentive to open a shop or create a small business to create and distribute soap just got smaller.  Is it not better to build capacity in these communities than create a culture of dependence?

4.  Local donations downplayed?  Although a number of US-based charities receive soap, the front page of the Clean the World website has a focus on faces from impoverished nations.  Maybe it’s just a design choice, and is related to their brand and communication position that soap is needed to save lives but it seems odd not to position this as a local need, as well.

The point, here, isn’t to decry any organization as misguided, but to ask something more of our industry.  We’re better than this.  We can design our businesses to eliminate such waste and allocate the resulting savings in ways that truly build capacity and create meaningful change for communities in need.

The Power of Action: Giving thanks, sharing findings

Thank you! The Power of Action community service event  mentioned in our earlier post exceeded every possible goal we imagined.  The enthusiastic engagement and generosity of our team, partners and participants brought the following exciting results:

  • 171 people, including 125 kids, participated in a 4 hour long session to create 19 different figures of (mostly) waste materials
  • 108 graduation certificates were awarded to students graduating Young Guru Academy’s Read Think Share program
  • And, *drum roll* 6467 €uros were raised in support of the development of the 111th Read Think Share creative learning library in Turkey, this one in Istanbul

These small points can’t begin to tell the story, though.  We invite you to have a look at the fun videos and photos from the event.

What did we learn?

The integration of community action projects has become an important aspect of creating sustainable meetings and events. Without a ‘how to’ guide, many planners are left frustrated with the effort required to include a community action project.  Here are a few takeaways from our experience:

Purpose: Planners should give meaningful thought to their reason and intention for including a community action project.  It can be helpful to remember this: “It’s not about you”.   Start with a purpose to consider the needs of the people receiving your support.  That said, any project should be aligned with the central mission and values of the organization.

Selection: Non Government Organizations (NGOs) or charities are not event suppliers.  It’s possible the community partner is not (a) in need of the help you can provide or (b) able to respond to the needs of planners.  In this article, we’ve provided some thoughts of Do’s and Don’ts of working with NGOs.

Engagement: Increase participation through promotion in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Conference teasers, social media sites and individual emails can build a sense of excitement and increase the number of attendees. Reach out not only to potential participants but also the members of your network, including your supply chain.  MCI received school supplies and, from Parthen, we received real money needed to support the fund raising goal. Importantly, don’t forget to involve members of the community itself.  It’s important they have a stake in the organization and action.

Follow Up: Maintain contact with the NGO to stay apprised of their actions and provide updates to your stakeholders about the impact of their support.

What are some of the best ideas you’ve seen in the organization of meetings and events?  Please share your thoughts and examples!

The Power of Action

In our offices, November means the fast approach of the much anticipated MCI International Business Meeting.  Part education summit, part celebration, the IBM has become the turntable to which the MCI culture dances.  Moving each year to a different exciting destination, the IBM represents the most positive aspects of the company culture in a vibrant and exciting environment.  In recent years, MCI’s strategic plan to weave CSR into the business plan has included a movement to integrate sustainable event management practices more fully into the IBM experience.

Play 4 Africa/Shoes for Africa

In 2009, MCI brought the IBM to Vienna, Austria.  In an effort to include a ‘giving back’ element, we collaborated with Kiwi Shoes 4 Africa and also the Play 4 Africa social giving campaigns.  MCI teams from around the world brought with them over 850 pairs of shoes which were distributed throughout Africa as part of the Kiwi campaign.  We also passed the hat and asked for cash contributions from the team.  The cash raised was matched by MCI founder and President Roger Tondeur and was donated to the Play 4 Africa campaign.  The donation was enough to purchase 40 full football kits for residents of a UN refugee camp in Africa.

Building Community

Encouraged by the enthusiastic response from our team, we sought to create an even more exciting project for IBM 2010, Istanbul, Turkey.  We learned from the Vienna experience that community giving campaigns need clear strategy to avoid pitfalls common to such actions.  A framework of principles and guidelines are needed to select a campaign which aligns with our unique culture and brand.  Also, better planning can result in better partnerships and the creation of a campaign whose results match the intended, desired outcome.  That’s not always the case with giving campaigns. For example, we learned that organizations must be careful in giving products to vulnerable communities as this can negatively affect local business.  This earlier post helps review the Do’s and Don’ts of community giving campaigns.

Working with the MCI Executive Team, we created guidelines to inform MCI Community Action Projects.  Any project we undertake must Build Community, Promote Education, and Inspire Fun.

We call our initiative the Power of Action.

Partnering with the Young Guru Academy, MCI, and MCI partners including the Istanbul CVB, we will raise funds to build a children’s library whose curriculum is specifically designed to inspire creative thinking.  The Read Think Share program has already built 110 such libraries to benefit disadvantaged youth throughout Turkey and we aim to build number 111. Here’s Ali from The Young Guru Academy sharing a bit about Read Think Share

To add an element of fun, our MCI team have invited the 100 graduating students of the Read Think Share program to join us in a spirited afternoon where we’ll construct sculptures of iconic landmarks using ‘waste’ materials. After the completion of the IBM event, we’ll select a representative from an MCI office to participate in the classroom along side University students to teach the kids selected for the Read Think Share program.  It’s a great opportunity to build our commitment to social responsibility  from within.

Check out the presentation explaining our 2010 project MCI Power of Action.

We’re excited about this collaboration and for the opportunity to make a difference for the community of Istanbul.  Stay tuned for updates and result of the effort.

Community Outreach “do’s & don’ts”: tough love for big hearts

A recently released meetings industry white paper shows that integrating Corporate Social Responsibility into events will grow in 2011.  This coincides with the recent release of  ISO 26000, a comprehensive framework on which to build a socially responsible management system which might influence such a meeting.  All very exciting.

But for the meeting planner with a sincere desire to integrate a ‘social responsibility’ element into the events they organize, risk awaits.  The desire to ‘do good’ can result in poorly channelled resources and wasted time.  In short, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, which just happens to be the name of the website of our ‘guest blogger’, Saundra Schimmelpfennig, the founding director of The Charity Rater, LLC.  Saundra’s comprehensive experience in ‘aid from almost every perspective’ combines with just a touch of  ‘tough love’ and is a fresh and important voice for big hearts in the meetings industry.

Whether it’s disaster relief for Haiti or Pakistan, or painting a school as part of an event organizer’s effort to ”give back’ we, as an industry, need to be educated.  We must not operate on our assumptions exclusively.  Our ‘powers’ can, indeed, be used for good, but such outcomes require thought, planning, collaboration and strategy.

At my request, Saundra designed a list which speaks to green meeting planners. The result is this “Do’s & Don’ts” guide.  Please review these points and take a moment to review Saundra’s site.  What at first seems counter-intuitive (‘what do you mean my help isn’t helpful’?) becomes a new and very important understanding for any organization seeking to give back.  Please share your comments here and/or on Saundra’s site.

Also, if you feel these tips are timely and relevant, please share these and involve Saundra in your future discussions to develop your social responsibility plan.  With that, here we go…

The Do’s & Don’ts of community outreach: Meetings Industry version, by Saundra Schimmelpfenning

Do decide what your main goal is

It’s important to have a clear idea of what you’re hoping to achieve as some goals conflict with each other. The goal of creating a positive impact means doing activities that the charity needs the most, socializing or team building for staff is generally not the best fit for charitable volunteering. Building a quality CSR program requires targeted inputs over a longer period of time.

Don’t be surprised if the charity turns down your offer to help

Working with volunteers requires a substantial commitment of time and resources for a charity. It often means pulling staff off of other work to meet, greet, supervise, and problem solve for the volunteers. It can often take more time and resources to work with volunteers than if staff just did the work themselves. Even if large groups of volunteers are sometimes needed your group might not be available during the right season or the right time of day, or your participants might not have the right skill set for what needs to get done.

Do keep your contribution in perspective

Charity volunteer work days are often held for other reasons beside the need for free labor. They can be done to build an affinity for the project, as a link to fundraising activities, or as an awareness raising or educational activity. It’s important to keep in perspective how much you’re actually “giving back.”

Do donate money as well as time

Volunteer projects often need long-term maintenance. For instance plants – even native ones – need to be regularly watered for the first two years. Freshly painted schools still need maintenance, teachers, electricity and running water. While the villager might enjoy the novelty of working side by side with a foreigner for a few hours or days, an extra week of paid work is going to mean far more to him, his family, and the success of the charity.

Do consider mentoring staff or offering free trainings

It’s difficult for charities to pay for staff development and trainings as these are seen as overheads by donors. Consider either offering one-on-one mentoring with the nonprofit employees or have your staff work together to offer trainings for several nonprofits. This will help the nonprofit become more effective and potentially lead to long-term work with the charity as professional relationships are built.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t get it

In some cultures the idea of a well-educated foreigner coming to their hometown to do manual labor is crazy. After all the only reason they do backbreaking manual work is because they don’t have the education or connections to find a better job. They can also be confused by the economics of the whole thing. If you volunteer for a day then all they get is a day’s labor from you, and you’re likely far slower at the work than they are. However, if you were to work at your regular job for a day and then give them the money you made for that one day’s work they could hire several people for a day, a week, or even a month – depending on wages – and get far more accomplished.

Do consider having “Donate Your Day” events

Because of the economic considerations listed above, consider having days at work where staff donate their paycheck for that one day. This could include a group lunch purchased by the office. During lunch a short video or slide show from the charity you gave to could be shown so people could see how their money was used to provide jobs and meet local needs.

Don’t expect to work with vulnerable populations

While many people imagine themselves helping out in an orphanage or volunteering in an under-privileged school this type of work is often not good for the children. Unless you are a long term volunteer with a completed background check, do not to try to work with vulnerable children. You should also be suspicious of any organization that allows or encourages it. There have been recent incidences where sexual predators have used charities to gain access to children. Additionally children in orphanages need adults they can bond with and maintain long-term relationships. An ever rotating group of volunteers can create feelings of abandonment or problems creating future attachments.

Don’t bring donated goods overseas

Whenever possible purchase all goods locally. Donated goods often go unused because they are inappropriate for the local climate, culture, or way of life. If the goods are used then by giving them out for free you are outcompeting local stores and manufactures. While a single donation won’t have a big impact, the cumulative impact of thousands of similar donations can start to put local manufacturers and their employees out of work and hurt the local economy.

Do buy as much a possible from the local market place

Don’t rely on the fancy hotel chain for all your needs. Hire a local translator and driver to run errands and purchase the goods you need from the market place. Hire local taxi drivers, pay for local guides, and buy trinkets from local sellers. Spread your money to the widest variety of people so that it does the most good.

Do take time to make sure you’re supporting a good charity

The process to register a charity varies from country to country, but in general it doesn’t take a lot to get or keep charitable status. Many charities even function without legal status and without informing the government of their work. Unfortunately, some charitable projects actually leave people worse off than if the charity hadn’t done any work at all. You cannot count on any entity monitoring the work of the charity, it’s up to you to ensure that they are not a scam and are doing quality work. It is critical that all charities are carefully chosen before partnering with them.

Social responsibility as a tool against ignorance

Dispatch from the front line of the meetings industry:

Potential Client: “We have a great idea and need your help with making it happen”

Destination Management professional: “Great! Tell me more.”

Still Potential Client: “We’ll transport a group of 50 people from the venue to the hotel via local metro.  Here’s the good part..  we’d like you to help us find a black guy, dressed poorly, to wander through the train car..  but, instead of asking for money, he’ll give wallets and prizes to people.  Great, right!?”

Destination Management professional: “*stunned silence*” .. “(stammers) Wh.. what?  You mean, maybe a magician.. like a professional performer who entertains the group with magic tricks. .. something unexpected and fun.. right?  Because for a minute there, boy was I confused.”

no longer prospective client: “No. We want a homeless guy, not a performer..  and we want people to think he’ll ask them for money but, instead, he’ll give money. Get it?”

Destination Management professional: “I strongly advise you to re-think this and consider the shocking and horribly insensitive nature of what you’re proposing.  In no way would we, or anybody we know, help you with this.”

One that got away?  Or one that reinforces why this stuff..  all this discussion and focus and initiative for more socially responsible events matters now more than ever.

For those who feel that the meetings industry should focus on ‘green’ and get that right before confusing people with the complexities of social responsibility, I offer the above shocking actual conversation as example of the need for a meetings industry movement which includes training in social responsibility and in the organization of socially responsible events.

Please share your thoughts, even those that disagree with the above.


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