AmCham Chile fosters debate on the challenges of community relations and business

In conjunction with the ceremony for the 2016 Good Corporate Citizenship Award, in which Telefónica received notable recognition, a meeting was held between representatives from the public, private and community relations sectors.

By Catalina Jofré

The Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce, AmCham Chile, has awarded top prize in its 14th edition of the Good Corporate Citizenship Award to Telefónica, for the company’s initiative, ‘Un Nuevo Técnico de Telecomunicaciones para la Industria’ (A New Telecommunications Technician for the Industry). By means of this scheme, Telefónica builds links with the sphere of technical-professional education, playing an active role in the educational process of technical courses while simultaneously driving the productivity, employability and job integration of young men and women.

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During the award ceremony, a further four initiatives were recognized for their achievements in the field of corporate social responsibility. In the Special Mention in Environment category, the winner was Arauco for its ‘Programa de Vinculación Territorial Parque Oncol’ (Oncol Park Territorial Connection Program); the Special Mention in Innovation went to AES Gener for its ‘Programa Mi Suelo es Tu Suelo’ (My Soil is Your Soul Program); and the Special Mention in Community Development was awarded to Colbún for its ‘Programa Parque Angostura’ (Angostura Park Program). In addition, there was an honorable mention for Paris and its ‘Programa Volver a Tejer’ (Back to Sewing Program).

Kathleen Barclay, President of AmCham Chile, stated that during the 2016 version of the award she was able to see the progress made in terms of the commitment of business leaders towards the issue of community relations. This is important because, as she explained, “it is the most senior ranked individuals in a company who ultimately commit to community relations as part of the organizational outlook and business strategy, which impacts directly on the sustainability of the company overtime”.

As a member of the judging panel, Barclay also pointed out that the programs applying to this award scheme continue to advance in terms of metrics and criteria which seek to evaluate the management and implementation of social initiatives. This, she believes, illustrates that the measures and actions being promoted by these community-focused programs are becoming more professional over time.

Challenges: metrics and institutions

In conjunction with the award ceremony, a community relations meeting was held for Chilean and foreign participants as well as representatives from the public and business sectors.

During the meeting, those in attendance discussed current practices pertaining to community relations and debated the most relevant challenges associated with this domain. The most noteworthy of the topics to arise in regard to the long-term success of the field included the need to create ad hoc institutions and the importance of establishing appropriate metrics.

From the international perspective, Milton Funes, Director of Program Impact and Learning at Global Communities, a non-profit that works as a mediator between businesses and communities in more than 40 countries, outlined the future challenges of community relations and business. He believes that companies should focus on the needs of communities in which they wish to operate, but with limits, in order to design concrete goals. The most important thing, he contends, is to evolve towards a shared value model.

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Another key element raised by Álvaro García, Executive President of Alianza Valor Minero, is to create institutions that guarantee a relationship of coexistence between companies and people.

“To coexist in harmony”, says García, “it is important to understand the ‘other’ and today there is a social representation deficit which hinders businesses from making mutually interchangeable commitments. An additional point is what the business itself is talking about. Current law obliges us to perform a consultation with indigenous people or an environmental assessment, but these aspects are not the main concerns of the general public, but rather social and economic issues. I don’t believe good intentions are enough; if countries want to build greater coexistence, they should create the necessary institutions to make it happen”.

From the community perspective, Zoila Bustamante, President of the Chilean National Confederation of Artisanal Fishermen (CONAPACH), argues that it is necessary for businesses to spend time in the communities in question in order to understand the wide range of places and distinct types of people.

“Many (communities) are invisible to businesses and a good corporate citizen must acknowledge this reality and make the effort to create a common good (.) Achieving this requires them to involve the environment around them”, states Bustamente.

Javier Zulueta, Head of the Participation and Social Dialogue Division of the Ministry of Energy, says that while the starting point is not to have a negative impact on the surrounding environment, companies need to go one step further.

“We also need to think about promoting local development and how to guarantee that a community is better off once the company leaves. If we can’t demonstrate that, in all honesty there is little sense in the community in question receiving the business in the first place”.

Finally, in regard to the long-term approach, Funes claims that once the intervention of a company in a given community has concluded, it is then necessary to measure the outcome.

He concludes by noting that, “the programs implemented by businesses must be transformed to measure their overall impact, (in which) external parties are invited to evaluate the process, and to subsequently assess how this influences companies in their actions”.

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