Carillion's sustainable giving

Carillion’s CSR initiatives are built for longevity, not as a once-off endeavor

Arthika Saseendranath, sustainability manager, Carillion MENA is adamant that CSR is an ongoing commitment.
Arthika Saseendranath, sustainability manager, Carillion MENA is adamant that CSR is an ongoing commitment.

Carillion Qatar has much to be proud of as recent winner of the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative of the Year at Construction Week Qatar’s annual awards event. This prize is possibly one of the most emotive on the list as it involves interacting with local communities, forming a relationship and developing trust.

Arthika Saseendranath, sustainability manager, Carillion MENA is ebullient when discussing the win and highlights some of the reasons why she feels the company won the award: “We won the award for the CSR Initiative of the Year 2016, for our Give and Gain initiative. While the inspiration for the programme comes from Carillion HQ in the UK, we however decided to take this initiative and project it throughout the year.

“As the title reflects, we understand our community responsibility in that we need to give back if we are to gain from it,” she says and adds: “Four years back we didn’t have much competition in the CWQ Awards, we were two-time winners; but now we have stiff competition as the awareness improves and every year the number and quality of entries is improving. Now people understand the green building terms and also, the community engagement aspect has improved because people are becoming more aware of CSR and how to participate.”

She emphasises that working within society is a two-way process where, while Carillion may gain from a commercial aspect, the company gives back into the community in a variety of ways, developing strong relationships within it, while forming bonds of trust.

Saseendranath emphasises that Carillion’s CSR initiatives go beyond environment, embracing a deeper involvement with the people of the community. She expands on how this is achieved: “CSR is just one part of our sustainability strategy and we understand that we need to work with the local community in a variety of ways including volunteering; spending time with local students and more.

“So for example in Qatar, we are constructing a building. While we are gaining (commercially) and we are making jobs available to our employees and staff, we understand that we must give back to the community where we work.”

In response to being asked if this is a case of ‘paying it forward’ she concurs and stresses that while Carillion’s sustainability drive is grounded in environmental principles, of equal importance is the social aspect.

“We encourage our employees and staff to engage with the local communities; we work with special needs schools; we offer internships to engineering students with Qatar University and, because we are a construction and support services business we generate a lot of recyclable waste like wood, plastic, cardboard, paper and even concrete. One of the schools that we have been supporting is HOPE Qatar Centre for Children with Special Needs which is in line with our strategy to target special needs centres and special needs children,” she says with evident enthusiasm.

Saseendranath explains that there are a number of special needs centres that require materials and also, more than financial assistance, hands-on volunteering time. “Instead of simply donating money, we rather try to utilise our manpower and skills to make a difference,” she adds explaining that although Carillion is a construction-based company, the CSR initiatives do not necessarily or specifically revolve around construction.

She explains: “We try to involve construction in our projects where we utilise our skills from within, putting them to good use in the CSR initiatives. For example, we repurpose construction waste such as wood, cardboard and plastic.

“For HOPE Qatar’s annual school play we made furniture from waste construction wood. The school was extremely impressed with the results and we received an award from them, the Shukran Award. This is our USP: we are a construction business and we are utilising our skills to support the local community.”

Asked about what differentiates the company’s CSR programme from others within Qatar she pauses a while and adds thoughtfully: “While I can’t speak for other participants, what I have noticed as a business is that we have continuously produced activities and initiatives for the local community over a number of years and we do walk the talk. Our nomination shows this,” she adds with conviction.

And indeed, in the judging comments reference was made to the company’s ongoing CSR drive: “Carillion has been implementing various CSR initiatives since 2012” said one judge while others poured praise on Carillion for setting an example – and therein lies a clue to the company’s success in CSR.

As the sustainability manager enthuses with passion: “We are not just a one-off initiative, there to boast about an achievement. As a business we have been CSR-centric for the past 20-odd years internationally and in Qatar, we have had a presence for about five years.

“Year-on-year we have maintained that legacy; it’s part of our values, it’s part of our ethics and ethos. Our policies define those ethics and values because we have community and sustainability policies, coupled with a robust sustainability strategy which is taking us to 2020,” she tails of a little breathlessly.

Carillion too has as roadmap, the ‘2020 Sustainability Strategy’ that forms the core of its international policy and targets, that are tailored to fit the Qatar environment. “We have two policies,” Saseendranath informs: “the first is supporting sustainable communities, where we try to reach hard-to-reach groups eg a special needs centre and the other policy – also a target – where we encourage our staff to make use of six additional days allocated over and above their annual leave to undertake volunteering.

“They can do this as individual days or as a lump sum of days, to be taken during the course of the year – a ‘special leave’ policy.The volunteering work does not have to be local and the intention is to cultivate the values outside of the work environment as well, to give back to a community no matter where they are,” she explains. Coninuing she says: “This is extremely empowering in Carillion as it is practised and encouraged from the highest level down to our operatives” and gives an example of a supervisor who took the idea back to India when he went on holiday and, at his son’s wedding, instead of handing out traditional gifts and trinkets, he incorporated the values he’d learned at Carillion and he handed out saplings to 200 of the wedding guests.

“Even in a small village, this is creating a legacy; it’s not about branding, it’s about getting people to think outside the box,” Saseendranath stresses and adds, “The entire management chain was pleased to see the initiative and that the Carillion values are being shared outside of the workplace. People are ‘walking the talk’.”

So, with setting such an excellent example, CWQ asks what she sees as the main criteria of a good CSR initiative?

“That’s tough, you are putting me in the judging seat now!” she laughs and then considers before answering. When she does finally, it’s with emphasis: “What I definitely would not be looking at would be a ‘once-off’ project. If I don’t see a legacy behind the project I don’t think I would even consider that project.”

Considering further, she adds: “To me, the people factor is key in a sustainability project. So something to do with empowering a local community that needs support would work for me. Like empowering local students, or Bedouins… the local people, some sort of education, women and empowerment, the elderly and the local community, not the educated class, those outside of that sector…” she trails off.

“Grassroots level, with Carillion incorporating our skills,” she adds with renewed vigour. “I wouldn’t go for a project that simply requires a cash donation; that’s not what CSR is about. I would like to see the entwining of corporate skills at grassroots level.”

However, even community development poses a number of challenges and Carillion is not exempt from this. Saseendranath explains that the company focuses on helping children with Down Syndrome. “While we have a whole team of staff who are interested in interacting with children they are largely English speaking expats with no Arabic language skills, so the communication becomes a challenge dealing with local children,” she elaborates, adding: “This is where we have had to rethink our approach, so we become ‘hands-on’ and involve ourselves in activities such as mural painting etc, all part of uplifting the environment.”

So, what one thing would she change in the CSR sector?

Saseendranath responds without hesitation: “Given my experience, there is a lot of disconnect between companies; it’s more about individual thinking opposed to collaborative engagement.

“Some companies for example, do things for recognition, to get an award. I believe that if companies could work together instead of competing against each other, we could achieve more for the communities in which we operate, especially on the environmental and CSR fronts.

“We could make a bigger difference if we combined our skills sets and resources – but the environment is cautious and wary rather than collaborative and sharing,” she observes.

Nonetheless, Saseendranath’s engaging enthusiasm for working within Qatar’s communities is an example of Carillion employees tangibly, ‘walking the talk’.

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