Vodafone - business supporting community

An interview with Roger Ellis, Head of Government & Community Relations at Vodafone gives some great ideas and inspiration.

What does your business do, and how is it run?

Our business is a total telecommunications provider and is owned by UK-based VodafonePLC, one of the world's largest mobile communications providers. Vodafone NZ has its head office in Auckland with offices in Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, plus retail outlets nationwide.

What is your business trying to achieve (financial, environmental and/or social goals)?

We aim to help our customers do their thing better - whatever it may be. 
 
How does your business support the community?

Through our Vodafone Foundation philanthropic work, our corporate responsibility work around sustainability, and the way we deliver to our many stakeholders - be they customers, staff, shareholders or communities. We generate employment for about 2,000 New Zealanders and we are one of the leading corporate taxpayers in the country. We have also invested over $2 billion into building world class communications infrastructure here in New Zealand. 
 
Why does your business support the community?

Vodafone's underlying belief is that if we are part of a healthy, vibrant and prosperous community that will help us have a healthy, vibrant and prosperous business.

What is the story behind your support (is your support proactive or reactive; strategic or ad hoc)?

We have a very strategic and proactive approach to the way we support and partner with community groups. We have a fairly rigorous selection process but once we have selected a group to work with, there's a high level of trust. We take a nurturing and supportive role, helping the groups we partner with to achieve their goals, so it's very much a two-way partnership that we strive for. We actively seek partnerships that have a strong fit with what we do. For example, mobile communications is our core business so it felt like the right thing to do to take a lead role in efforts to combat text bullying, where we partnered with Parents Inc. Similarly, we work with AA on the Drive Safe campaign aimed at encouraging young drivers to not use their mobiles while driving. 
 
Who initiated the support - directors/management, staff, customers, suppliers, local community?

All of the above! Our CEO personally took the initiative with setting up the Drive Safe and text bullying campaigns. Our HR Director is chairman of the Vodafone Foundation a registered charitable trust that sits outside of the business. Corporate responsibility means making sure that as we go about our business we are conscious of the social and environmental impacts. We always try to run our business in financial, environmental and socially sustainable ways.

What benefits does your business receive from supporting the community?

From a branding perspective the benefits are obvious - it's positive for our organisation to be associated with the programmes we're involved with. But there's much more to it than that. We learn a lot from the charity groups and trusts that we work with through the Vodafone Foundation and it's good for us as an organisation to work towards building social capital, as well as pursuing our financial goals.
 
On a cultural level, our employees are proud of the work done by the Vodafone Foundation. There is a lot of research showing employees tend to stay longer with an organisation when they have a deeper sense of fulfilment. Being part of an organisation that contributes to positive social outcomes boosts job satisfaction, which in turn promotes loyalty. The impact of this on reducing staff turnover has an obvious benefit to the HR side of the business.

What challenges have you had to overcome to create a successful partnership?

It's important to be clear about the goals we are seeking - both for Vodafone and our partner organisations. They need to be crystal clear, including timeframes. There also needs to be a high degree of trust to build a genuine partnership.

What would you recommend to other businesses? Any words of advice?

It's something any business can get involved with, regardless of size. Be thoughtful and deliberate in the way you work with charities. Have a strategy that is linked to the purpose of your organisation and the work you do. This will make it more sustainable in the long term, rather than just writing a cheque. And look for ways to promote staff involvement, such as helping out at working bees, tree plantings or beach clean-ups.

 

This case study supports the report on Engagement between Business and Community Organisations