Personal touch from a giant
Andrew Gillingham: International pharmaceutical giant sanofi-aventis doesn't believe in "just doing business". It prefers to take the personal approach, and this is particularly true when it comes to the company's corporate social investment projects.
For example, the head office in France didn't order the company to become involved in the community in Rorke's Drift in KwaZulu-Natal, a local employee gave the company the necessary push.
As a boy, John Fagan wanted to be a history teacher. As a youngster, he visited the scene of the famous battle, which took place in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War.
Fagan, who is now the general manager at sanofi-aventis South Africa, learnt from historian David Rattray that an Irishman called John Fagan had died in the dramatic attack.
"I have no idea whether we were related, but it created a strong link between the community and me that kept drawing me back to the area.
''I was particularly taken with the events from a social point of view," said Fagan. "Many people have commented in recent years on the ability of South Africans to forgive. When the Zulu people were defeated by the British, that forgiveness and reconciliation was just as evident."
It was this initial interest that expanded to encompass the community of Rorke's Drift.
However, sanofi-aventis was determined not to take the sort of false steps that have often dogged corporate community projects. "We refused to impose solutions from afar. Instead, we talked to the people and asked them what they wanted. They were clear that their biggest need was for water."
So sanofi-aventis facilitated the construction of six boreholes, which have brought running water to within 200m of people's homes. And, in another break from usual practice, the corporation didn't drive the project; it encouraged community leaders to take full ownership.
"Community leaders went to the city to find the suppliers they needed and to buy the equipment that was required. We did it together," Fagan said.
On another tour of the battlefield, Fagan was introduced to Matilda Zulu, a healthcare worker with a clear vision of what sanofi-aventis's next project should be. HIV/Aids has caused many tragedies, but none more harrowing than the daily challenges faced by children orphaned by the disease.
"Mrs Zulu wanted to build a care centre for orphaned and vulnerable children, and she had a presentation prepared. She wanted a place of safety where youthful heads of families could leave their siblings while they went off to school.
"Her story was simple, practical and made complete sense."
While sanofi-aventis adopted the centre as a social investment project, its employees decided to raise the funds to build it.
With the help of cake sales and shave-a-thons, the staff raised enough to persuade headquarters in France to ratchet up its support.
However, the centre proved more costly than first envisaged and the next step was to involve sanofi-aventis' business partners, namely PriceWaterhouseCoopers, UTI Pharma, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, The Biovac Institute, IMS, Effervescents, Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis. ''Getting the additional funding was relatively easy. People want to help, and our partners loved the idea,'' Fagan said.
Inaugurated on October 8 2010 by Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Ikhayalethu Care Centre supports around 70 children in the 0-18 year age group. The minister stated at the opening that the centre is aligned to the Health Department's 10 Point Programme and addresses six out of the 10 points. He added that the project also addressed key elements of the Millennium Development Goals.
It provides counselling, care and medication for children with HIV/Aids and TB, as well as three meals a day and help with homework.
Children also receive uniforms and books, and their school fees are paid, as are day- and aftercare.
Since it became involved with the Rorke's Drift community in 2005, the company has built vegetable tunnels; provided security fencing for two schools and educational materials; clothing to about 1000 people; and 30 new mattresses and personal hygiene products to the local old-age home.
"With our staff and partners, we have invested about R3.5-million in these community initiatives," Fagan said.
"We have also opted for a long view with regard to our projects to ensure they are both sustainable and have a low impact on the environment."