CSR should be a core part of any business, executives say.
BY ALEJANDRA LABANCA
Corporate social responsibility, sustainability practices and innovation should be part of the core business, not something to be achieved in addition to making a profit. This was the consensus among the CEOs and senior executives who took part in the Emerging Leaders Panel during the Latin Trade Symposium 2011.
Speaking before an audience of more than 250 prominent business leaders and senior executives of Latin America, Martin Migoya, co-founder and CEO of Globant, a software multilatina based in Buenos Aires, told the story of how his company was born out of social concern.
“2001 and 2002 was a tough time for Argentina. People lost their jobs, their savings, their hope,” he said during the panel that opened the symposium on October 28. “We were very disturbed to see the brightest minds leave the country, while India and other countries were giving opportunities to their own people to work in their own countries,” said Migoya, reminiscing about how he and three friends decided to found Globant during Argentina’s worst economic crisis ever.
“Entrepreneurs think that crisis are opportunities, so we got into action, challenging received ideas that said that any big company in Latin America comes from the outside and that good jobs in Argentina can only be found in Buenos Aires.”
Globant set out to hire local talented software developers and to open offices in medium-sized provincial cities to give people a chance to work where they lived. In a sense, they were innovating. “Traditionally, in Argentina, if you wanted a good job, you had to go to Buenos Aires. We decided to take the opportunities to where the people were and not the other way around,” he said.
Globant has been hugely successful, landing high profile clients such as Google and Coca-Cola. Migoya attributes his company’s success to its social purpose and to its insistence on rejecting preconceived ideas. “Thinking big is our purpose. We set out to create a multinational in a country where no one thought it could be done. Bringing the opportunities to the people is our purpose. Training our people on the best technologies available is our purpose. Today, we can start to think that the next Google, the next Facebook, will come from Latin America.”
Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht, agreed with Migoya’s take on business. “Sustainability is broader than the environment”, he said, “ it should be part of the business. We should transform it into a business opportunity.”
Juan Pablo del Valle, chairman of Mexican chemical giant Mexichem, said he believed that “to be corporate responsible you have to grow in a profitable way in harmony with the community.” Mexichem has grown exponentially since del Valle and his brothers took over the company in 2001. Sales have grown from around $250 million to an estimated $4 billion next year. “We have a triple play principle,” said del Valle. “Financial, Social and Environmental.”
On the same panel, Juan Pablo Bonilla, chief of staff to the EVP at the Inter-American Development Bank, spoke about how the bank had adopted an innovative way of thinking about sustainability issues to better serve its clients. “Under president Luis Alberto Moreno we started to think about sustainability issues transversally throughout the group. Sustainability is not an issue just for the energy department, for example,” he said, rather, it permeates every project that the bank undertakes.
Meanwhile, Ricardo González, senior vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean at BUPA, said that his company, which sells global healthcare insurance, sees its efforts to promote better health across the globe as a sustainability effort. “We are encouraging people to be more active to live longer, healthier, more productive lives,” he said.
On the other hand, José Tomás, president for Latin America and the Caribbean of fast-food giant Burger King, touted the company’s healthy menu choices as a strategy aligned with US First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to have kids eat right. “We want the consumer to have healthy options,” he said, and he mentioned that Burger King, recently acquired by Brazil’s venture capital firm 3G, recently introduced several healthy options such as yogurts, oatmeal and salads.
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