In 1997 we were asked by Marks and Spencer to help them initiate an employee community involvement programme in their stores in Paris. As BITC does not open its own offices abroad, we had the opportunity, encouraged by Peter Davies, BITC MD at the time, to find and work with a local partner. This partner was, and is, IMS Entreprendre pour la Cite, founded by Claude Bebear, Founder and former Chairman of Axa Insurance.
The programme was implemented successfully, and the relationship between BITC and IMS set the pattern for the future growth of our global network of partners. A critical moment in its development came in 2002 when our President, HRH the Prince of Wales, suggested that the idea of employee involvement in the developing world was one worth pursuing. We worked together with the International Business Leaders Forum to set up a series of seminars in South Africa and in Latin America, but it soon became apparent that the absence of practised intermediaries was hindering the programme’s successful growth.
As the partner network in Europe was initially built on employee involvement, it made good sense to use this existing body of experience and skill to drive the programme, by now named ENGAGE, and expertly managed by Jo Pyres. The core group of excellent partners involved at the outset included Marion Stoller and M Eugenia Larregola in Spain, Laetitia Gill and Estelle Lauvergne in France, old friend Henk Kinds in the Netherlands and Peter Kromminga and Stephan Koch in Germany, and the programme worked on a key cities basis, rolling out successive new cities when the right measures of success and stability had been assured.
During this process Jo left BITC for India, leaving a super legacy of enthusiasm and achievement, and we were fortunate to be able to pirate Maria Jose Subiela from the Cares programme, to ensure a smooth transition and continuing success. Nowadays it is under the brilliant guidance of Jenny Todd.
The network during these years was called CECILE, Co-ordinating Employee Community Involvement Links in Europe, but as its membership spread outside of Europe, and also embraced other CSR disciplines than CCI, the name no longer applied, and the CSR360 GPN name took its place.
We have welcomed many new and exciting partners into the network in the 10 years since the start of ENGAGE. Alicia Rolando from IARSE in Cordoba, Argentina, Roberto Salazar from S2M in Quito, German Granda from Foretica in Madrid, Neven Marinovic from Smart Kolektiv in Belgrade, Masha Chertok from CAF Russia, Serdar Dinler from CSR Turkey and Nguyen Quang Vinh from BOSD in Hanoi, are just a few examples of the amazing diversity and range of experience and skills across the network, which of course is still growing.
As the moment for my retirement from BITC last December approached, I was able to look back with enormous satisfaction on how this unique network, and with it the ENGAGE campaign, had grown. So many good friends, so many exciting places visited, and of course, so many intriguing meals eaten. Not sure if I could recommend the 100 year-old eggs which Shalini Mahtani suggested in Hong Kong, nor can I wholeheartedly endorse the chinchulines which Javier Zulueta from Gestion Social ordered in a cafe in Concepción, Chile, but otherwise I was spoilt.
I wish CSR360 GPN and ENGAGE every future success and look forward to keeping in touch.