Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the culture sector: cooperation beneficial for all

Viacheslav Smirnov, head of the velcom mobile network company’s (Minsk, Belarus) corporate communications, believes that supporting culture and art as part of CSR policy by organising exhibitions, musical meetings, festivals is a good bet for any company, even a startup.

- Viacheslav, what does “corporate social responsibility” mean at velcom?

- CSR is caring for the society in which we work. We try to care for all the citizens in the country, and not just our subscribers*. In 2015, velcom set itself two areas of corporate social responsibility. Firstly, “supporting national identity”. This area includes supporting national cultures. Secondly, helping children – talented, in need, i.e. “help” in the broadest sense of the word.

- What mechanism was used inside the company for determining these areas?

- We did not choose these areas randomly and it was not the sole decision of senior management, but rather it was decided in a special democratic way. The heads of several levels proposed different options and voted for specific areas for CSR. Naturally, they in turn consulted with their subordinates and colleagues.

- What resources do you use in supporting national identity and national culture in particular?

- Culture certainly occupies a significant place in the theme of national identity. We try to implement projects in different fields – history, art, music.

In 2015, as part of the “Classics at the Town Hall with velcom” project, we invited all residents of Minsk over four summer Saturdays to open air classical music concerts, the programme included works by Belarusian composers.

The velcom company has long been cooperating with the Belarusian National History Museum as well as our neighbours, the Dom Vankovichei museum. This museum/estate is the nearest cultural monument to our office, in a strictly geographical sense. The building and courtyard of the estate are located right across the street from our central office. This is, by the way, an interesting trend of contemporary CSR, where companies collaborate and care not only for society as a whole, but also closely interact with their immediate surroundings.

In September 2015, jointly with the Dom Vankovichei museum, we held “Classical Music with velcom. A new musical generation”, a children’s music festival. We set up a stage in the historical estate’s courtyard and talented children performed right here across from the velcom company’s office. I like the thought that for many children this was their first public performance, which will become for them their passage into the world of high art. Here they presented their creativity in public for the first time.

Another interesting project implemented by “velcom” is “1,000 Museums of Belarus”. We had ordered the making of a cycle of 25 clips of the most popular and informative museums of Belarus. Now the clips are broadcast on Channel One on Belarusian television. In addition, people share these videos on social networks, so their audience is constantly growing. I admit that we did not expect such a level of interest.

- What was the main goal for carrying out this project? How were the museums selected? Why were these particular cultural institutions chosen?

- Museums hold the national heritage. It is important to convey to people what museums there are and the idea that one can discover there a whole layer of Belarusian history and culture – for many, this is surprising.

- For you personally, was any museum a discovery while working on this project?

- Yes, I really liked the video about the open air Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Lifestyle located in Strocytsy, just outside of Minsk. After watching the video, I decided to visit it for myself. It is in fact authentic, interesting, rich, bright. Just like the rest of Belarusian culture.

- Projects in the field of culture are not as “responsive” as work with children. Besides, one has to understand trends, have taste, etc. Where should a company that would like to support contemporary art start as part of its CSR?

- On the 10th floor of our office building, there is a contemporary artist exhibition. The exhibition is rotated monthly. It is a gallery for our employees. This way we express our commitment to contemporary Belarusian art.

In April/March of this year, 12 contemporary Belarusian artists will, with the support of velcom, show their works and installations in Minsk. In parallel with the exhibition, master classes will be held where participants will gain knowledge about “contemporary art”. These are examples of our work.

It is interesting that we have a project for children with autism. As part of this project, an application was created for smartphones or tablets, “Communicator for children and adults with autism”, to help children with the disorder communicate. Communication for people with this disorder is quite a big problem. The communicator application was presented to the general public here at the company’s office. On the day of the launch, all the paintings in our gallery were replaced with works by children with this disorder. For they too draw, photograph and they are quite good at it, very talented. We try to use different approaches and opportunities to attract attention to this subject.

The velcom company incentivises its employees to take part in non-profit social events and encourages them to do voluntary work. This is not, of course, mandatory.

Our internal and external CSR policies are developed in parallel. This is very good and right in my opinion since this forms the company’s common values where around 1,800 people currently work.

- How can other companies organise similar work?

- For the implementation of some projects we resort to professional agencies that are capable of carrying out a project for us. However, the idea and organisation always begin with us, in addition control over the meaning of the content and implementation is in our hands.

When choosing projects, we rely on the expert potential of our partners. They have specific proposals – some we agree with, others we don’t. CSR projects always rely on teamwork.

- In your opinion, when does a company realise that it is important to share in addition to making money? At what stage or level of profit does this arise?

- I think that it is not about money, but a mentality. Many companies engage in CSR from the very beginning of their existence since such activities help to build the image of the company, form this image on the market. Today, many people when choosing their place of work pay more attention to the projects the company carries out in the field of corporate social responsibility. If the interests of the company match those of a specific employee, then he realises that this is “his” company. Many candidates when contacting the human resources department at velcom say: “I like what you do, I would like to work at your company.” 

* velcom currently has around 5 million subscribers.

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