Putting the foundations in place

Charlotte Grezo


Posted in: Guest Writers, Speaking Out, Strategy

Putting the foundations in place

September 04, 2006

Vodafone’s director of corporate responsibility, Charlotte Grezo, explains how the group, through its network of 20 local foundations, ensures its philanthropic giving is rooted in the communities where it’s operating.

The trend for companies to establish foundations as a way of managing their philanthropic giving is clearly evidenced by the growing number that are being registered with the Charity Commission. Setting up a foundation offers a good way for a company to show its commitment to philanthropic activity and also to provide some demarcation between its business and philanthropic objectives. For Vodafone, however, managing such a programme on an international level brings additional challenges, not least in balancing a consistent approach with relevant local application.

The Vodafone Group Foundation and its unique network of 20 local foundations is at the forefront of the group’s community investment programme. Vodafone’s financial donations are further supported by other activities including employee volunteering, product and technical assistance. Our aim is to use our global scale coupled with our local presence to create positive change in communities across the world, especially those where we operate.

By establishing local foundations we make sure that our giving meets the needs of the local communities in which we are based. For us, it makes little sense to decide philanthropic giving for Albania from our headquarters in the UK. That is why, as our company has grown, so has the number of our foundations. There are currently 20 local Vodafone foundations across the world, with a new foundation established in the Czech Republic last year and one currently being set up in Albania.

With the support of the group foundation and of local operating companies, local Vodafone foundations distributed £16m in the 2006 financial year, to social, environmental, health and educational programmes in their respective countries. The group’s contributions to social projects totalled £38.1m.

The contribution of local operating companies to their local foundations increased by 40% from the previous year, showing a great increase in regional ownership and commitment to local community investment. The involvement of the local business is crucial in creating an effective programme as by using expertise within the business means we can offer more than just money to our charity partners. For example, The Vodafone UK Foundation has run a series of technology seminars using Vodafone employees’ expertise and experience to help partner charities (Shelter, Samaritans and YouthNet) to develop their expertise in this area.

At the heart of our philanthropic giving is the desire to meet the needs of our local communities. As a global company it is very tempting to roll out a ‘one size fits all’ philanthropy programme, but this often results in ineffective and unsustainable programmes. Instead, we want to make sure that our giving is rooted in the communities where we operate, addresses local issues and has the most positive impact possible. We believe this provides a common and distinct Vodafone approach to our giving.

This is best illustrated by some examples of our local foundations’ activity:

  • The Vodafone Egypt Foundation is working with CARE International and the Egyptian government to bring information and communication technology to 100 schools in rural Upper Egypt
  • The Vodafone Romania Foundation is working with CRESC, a day centre for disabled children in central Romania, on a project that aims to prevent children aged one to eight years with physical or learning disabilities from being isolated, institutionalised or abandoned
  • The Vodafone UK Foundation is supporting a local partnership to reduce the number of hoax calls made to the fire service in West Berkshire, by using an A-level based education programme developed in partnership with three local schools
  • The Vodafone Germany Foundation is helping Off-Road-Kids, a charity for homeless children in Germany, to extend its services from Berlin to three more cities

Each of these projects is informed and run by local charities to meet particular needs in that area, so we can be sure that they will have a positive effect in the region.

Although we chose to set up a network of local foundations it is important that they are managed to a consistently high standard; so we have taken care to set common standards of governance and management that guarantee our philanthropy is both accountable and transparent.

For example, each foundation has a board of trustees that is responsible for making sure that funds are allocated appropriately and targeted at addressing local needs. Since the Foundations are set up in different countries they are each governed by the laws and regulations of that country and are obliged to meet all local financial reporting requirements. But in turn they have to report to the group foundation on their activities and account for their spending. We also expect them to measure the effectiveness of the support they are providing to charitable causes, using as a model the London Benchmarking Group standards that the group foundation itself employs. For its part, the Vodafone Group Foundation is registered in the UK and like all UK charities, files its accounts with the Charity Commission annually.

Many local foundations, for example in Ireland, the Czech Republic and in Hungary, appoint trustees who are external to the company. These ensure that the foundation has autonomy and reflects the local community in which it works.

Despite having such a wide network and striving to maintain a healthy distance from corporate objectives, it’s still important that a link is maintained with the company. After all, the business funds the foundations’ activities and the foundations are recognisable as part of the Vodafone brand.

At a global level the Vodafone Group Foundation has a vital role to play in supporting trans-national projects. We work with a wide range of partners in the environment, health, education and social fields. Last year we supported 29 such projects including work with the United Nations Foundation to support measles vaccinations for over one million children in Africa, part of a wider move to eliminate measles worldwide. We also made a grant to Télécoms Sans Frontières that enabled it to deploy teams to 10 countries stricken by disaster, providing vital telecommunications facilities for relief agencies and bringing direct benefit to 50,000 civilians.

Although we have established a strong and effective network of foundations we are by no means complacent. Just as our business adapts to meet new challenges and opportunities so too should our foundations. We have created a process of constant learning and development so that we become exemplars in community investment in the societies where we operate.

We plan to develop further our best practice in grant making across the Vodafone foundations. Our set up makes it possible for us to improve on our activities by sharing best practice between our foundations. Using what we have learnt from each other, we are both better informed and able to develop new partnerships that tackle issues of major international concern and create innovative solutions to global problems.

Dr Charlotte Grezo is Trustee of the Vodafone Group Foundation and Vodafone Group’s Director of Corporate Responsibility. Dr Grezo has served on a range of government committees and taskforces including the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment and the Sustainable Procurement Taskforce. Dr Grezo joined Vodafone in January 2001 from BP, where she was Director of Global Environmental Issues.