By Nazareth Seferian* for Responsible Business - Armenia
France Telecom-Orange is one of the largest telecommunication groups in the world, with more than 200 million customers globally. It provides mobile and internet services in around 33 countries around the world, mainly in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In many countries, the company is represented by the Orange brand, which is in the top 50 most powerful global brands.
While the CSR strategies of each country are tailored to local needs, there is an overarching global approach and the CSR teams of each subsidiary usually work in a close relationship with the Group CSR Team, headquartered in Paris. It is this balance of international experience and local expertise that makes Orange a leading player in global sustainable business and drives its ambition to be number one in CSR in the telecom sector.
The global strategy focuses on four major commitments –
1) recognizing and supporting employees, 2) ensuring transparency, quality, security and safety of customers, 3) sharing the benefits of the digital world with the greatest possible number of people, and 4) finding innovative solutions for a greener world.
The first commitment – recognizing and supporting employees – naturally has an inward focus. France Telecom-Orange aims to be among the most preferred employers in the countries where it operates. Besides a good benefits package, which HR experts are already considering a hygiene factor (as opposed to a major motivational feature to attract recruits) the company offers its employees a number of interesting opportunities to volunteer (including the chance for employees in France to volunteer internationally), run their own social projects and also own shares in the company.
The second commitment - ensuring transparency, quality, security and safety of customers – includes topics such as child protection, quality of service, data protection and radio waves. As part of its commitment to child protection, the France Telecom-Orange group is an active participant of a coalition of top-tech companies dedicated to this topic, set up with the European Commission in December 2011. The Group therefore takes a particularly close look at child protection initiatives in the countries of its footprint and lends its support to the Safer Internet initiative internationally. The company’s global website also has a section dedicated to radio waves, educating and informing customers about the latest research on the topic and linking to expert reviews.
haring the benefits of the digital world – the third commitment – focuses mainly on digital inclusion, overcoming digital divides such as age, physical or mental handicap, economic disparities and so on. While in France this might mean more of a focus on developing apps and adapted websites to the needs of, for example, the visually impaired, in some of the African countries of the footprint this is the innovative concept of the Djamaa phone – a community phone which allows poor villagers who are without coverage to use regular phone services.
Finally, the fourth commitment – finding innovative solutions for a greener world – includes the use of reducing the environmental impact of infrastructures as well as products and services. It also includes educating customers about their impact and providing them with solutions to be greener.
The pillars of this CSR strategy have been fed by active stakeholder engagement. The Group bases its stakeholder engagement activities around the AA 1000 standard and 14 of the countries in its footprint conduct regular Stakeholder Dialogues, with the Group continuously aiming to increase this percentage.
This global approach to CSR is communicated to all the countries in the France Telecom-Orange footprint but local teams have a lot of leeway to develop their own strategies based on the given country’s situation and local stakeholder expectations.
Responsibility in Armenia
Orange Armenia included CSR and philanthropy activities in its strategy from virtually Day One, when it entered the market in November 2009. Many of its activities in the domain of strategic CSR are firsts for the country – Armenia is not yet at the stage when CSR is on everyone’s business agenda and in a short time, Orange has done a lot to contribute to the perception of responsible and sustainable business.
Within a year or so, the company launched the first solar-powered base station in the country – both a calculated business decision and a gesture of commitment to environmental responsibility. In spring 2011, it ran a Stakeholder Dialogue exercise – again, the first of its kind – where the company’s management spoke to leaders from the state, non-profit and business sectors about the importance of certain issues in Armenia and the expectations from Orange in that area. Interestingly, the Stakeholder Dialogue turned into a personalized informational and educational exercise, where stakeholders ended up learning as much as the company – it was an unprecedented occasion for them to see a company come and ask them questions of this kind.
Based on the feedback from the Stakeholder Dialogue, Orange Armenia began to focus on digital inclusion, innovative uses of IT for social purposes and also on issues like child protection. Stakeholders also said that philanthropy was important, although with a focus more on development programs rather than handing out charity. Additionally, stakeholders said that the environment was not on people’s minds in Armenia today, but that Orange – as a company with a European frame of mind and years of experience in environmental responsibility – could be a driving force to make more environmentally aware consumers of the Armenian public.
Orange Armenia has a long-term program to bring the benefits of the internet to as wide an audience as possible.
With a minimal monthly salary of just under 100 US dollars, there are many Armenians who cannot afford to have a computer at home, much less pay for a monthly internet subscription. The company has partnered with local organizations to set up computer rooms in villages around the country. These are public centers people can pay a small hourly rate to get online as and when they need to do so. The computer rooms also host classes on basic computer skills as well as more advanced topics. This approach, equivalent to a bottom-of-the-pyramid strategy for this part of the world, has allowed thousands of Armenians to find an affordable solution to chat with their relatives abroad on Skype, get weather forecasts in advance to plan their crops, study online and - in one case – even find a bride from a neighboring village through a social network!
Society & Environment
Normally quite a conservative country, Armenia was rocked by a couple of online sex scandals in late 2011 and this pushed child protection up the agenda in stakeholders’ minds. Orange partnered with the Safe Internet Committee of Armenia to joint Safer Internet Day in early 2012 and promoted safe surfing practices in around 900 schools in the country – virtually all the schools with an internet connection. Workshops in schools involved children, their parents and teachers, while customers were informed through SMS of the resources on safe internet use available online in Armenian.
Orange also seeks to use internet and mobile technology innovatively to tackle social issues, where possible. One such project, developed by the US Peace Corps and the Armenian Red Cross Society, offered customers the opportunity to send questions to an expert on HIV/AIDS and get replies through SMS. The government had a phone hotline which was not having the desired impact, probably because conservative Armenians would not want to talk about the issue with the risk of being overheard by family members or anyone else in general. SMS was the solution – users’ privacy was guaranteed and one could easily delete the message later, if needed. While the actual number of people diagnosed with HIV is quite low – around 700 or so – the rates of infection are rising and coupled with the social taboo experts estimate the number to be closer to 7000. So one can say that the HIV/AIDS SMS hotline has had a big impact, because the first two months of its implementation alone saw more than 12,000 messages being sent, many with one all-important question being asked – “Where can I get tested?”
In June 2012, Armenia joined a rather elite group of countries such as the UK, France, Spain and the Netherlands when Orange launched eco-labeling in the country. This was an effort at the “environmental education” to which stakeholders had hinted – Orange customers now got a 1 to 5 score on the environmental friendliness of the handsets offered by the company, a piece of information many had not even considered asking earlier. There is also an element of cause-related marketing in the program – 1% from each phone purchased is donated to WWF Armenia, to be invested in various environmental projects across the country.
Orange has also launched one of the first corporate foundations in the country. With the establishment of the Orange Foundation in Armenia, there is a commitment to continuously contribute in the philanthropic domain as well. The Foundation funds projects in a number of areas, including addressing issues vital to human communication, such as visual impairment, hearing disability and autism. It also undertakes projects to develop rural communities and eradicate poverty, where one of the projects – helping economically vulnerable families support their children – seeks donations from customers through SMS and then doubles the collected amount. The existence of a separate Foundation also helps the public to perceive the difference in projects that are purely philanthropic and those that are essential to a sustainable business.
Orange in Jordan
The CSR strategy for Orange in Jordan is also the result of a major Stakeholder Dialogue exercise. Conducted in 2010, the Dialogue suggested that the company should focus on 3 major areas - internet penetration, supporting ICT entrepreneurs and sustainable development.
In order to deal with the issue of internet penetration, Orange set up the Broadband Fund, which aims to promote the concept and culture of Internet use within various communities around the Kingdom. In 2011, Orange Jordan set up 27 new computer labs in various public schools nationwide, in addition to renovating 267 already existing ones.
The company also focuses on raising awareness about and effective usage of the internet in specific groups, setting up 14 PC-equipped Knowledge Units in various governorates in the Kingdom. This is in addition to holding 50 community workshops on essential computer and internet skills with the objective of increasing internet penetration within the targeted communities.
Supporting ICT entrepreneurs is another area of strategic CSR for Orange in Jordan. Along with Oasis 500, Orange regularly supports the training of entrepreneurs in the country, focusing on the areas of ICT, mobile and digital media. The company has also launched the Orange Apps awards, which offer technology enthusiasts the opportunity to showcase their skills at developing Arabic language applications geared toward various mobile platforms.
In the area of sustainable development, much of what the company does would fall under the philanthropic umbrella. Orange Jordan focuses on villages and supports a wide range of initiatives, including basic things such as the renovation of schools and establishment of libraries, provision of modern medical equipment to clinics and allowing children a healthy way to spend energy by providing improved sports facilities. Orange Jordan also supports families in the country’s poverty pockets through scholarships for needy students and other initiatives.
There is no specific effort to distinguish between the communication on CSR and Philanthropy, but Orange Jordan remains committed to continuing programs in both areas, with a fresh Stakeholder Dialogue slated for late 2012 or early 2013.
Responsible Business in Egypt
In Egypt, France Telecom-Orange is a shareholder along with Orascom Telecom Holding, with the company operating under the brand name Mobinil. Like its sister companies in other countries, Mobinil has achieved a number of firsts in Egypt and the Middle East, including being the first telecom company to receive the ISO 14001 certificate, which it has since renewed for five consecutive years.
In Egypt, the company mainly focuses on education and employability, community development and the environment. In 2011, Mobinil launched a major initiative to make 100,000 Egyptians more employable. In partnership with five of Egypt’s largest non-government organizations, the program aims to provide knowledge and skills training to the people, making sure that they have the competencies they need to find good jobs. The program also caters to people with special needs, aiming to change them from token employees - hired by companies to look good and fulfill a government-directed quota - into equal and productive members of the labor pool.
The Mobinil Academy focuses on education in the field of IT and communications. The Academy also seeks to promote business ethics and CSR among students, aiming to shape a new corporate culture in the Middle East in the not-too-distant future. Besides supporting students in research and development through the provision of expertise and telecom-rated data, the Academy offers internships and temporary staffing, adding vital practical experience to arm the students of today with the skills they need for tomorrow.
Mobinil also invests in consumer awareness and has a section on their corporate website dedicated to issues of the health impact of radiowaves. Customers get the latest research at their fingertips as well as advice on the safe use of mobile phones.
The environmental policies of Mobinil includes important practices such as a waste battery collection and recycling program as well as targets to lower company waste, reduce the usage of non-renewable and environmentally sensitive resources as well as educate staff on environmentally friendly practices. The company also has an annual tree planting initiative as part of its commitment to be environmentally friendly.
More than Filling Gaps
In all three countries, a lot remains to be done. Many people say that the Arab Spring boosted a sense of urgency in companies to be more socially responsible and vocal about their support to solutions for the country’s social and economic needs. Whether or not this is the case, Armenia, Jordan and Egypt are countries where the magnitude and range of social and economic problems suggest that this is not something that governments alone can solve, nor can non-profit organizations cover all the gaps. There is a huge role for businesses in these countries and sooner or later, they will have to step up to the proverbial plate. These are also countries where the social and economic issues sometimes overshadow the environment and it is part of a company’s responsibility to not just be reactive to the issues of today but also proactive, to prevent the problems of tomorrow.
Source: Responsible Business Magazine