Stakeholders share ideas on creating shared value

2013-11-13 - Customers, sustainability partners, government and community representatives believe that ABB’s products and services can contribute towards increased business and social value. They attended ABB South Africa’s stakeholder dialogue in October 2013 to discuss how ABB can support the sustainability agenda of customers and communities through its core business and product offering.
Stakeholders participated in round-table discussions and presented their views and feedback on the topic of "What are the sustainability interests of customers and communities that ABB interacts with?" and "How can ABB create shared value by supporting these interests?".

The areas where stakeholders believe ABB can make a contribution include: education and skills development, employment, local enterprise development, health, energy and environment, transformation, regulatory compliance and ethical behaviour. Stakeholders felt that the mechanisms to create shared value were good alignment, linkages and partnerships, avoiding duplication, efficient use of resources, innovative product solutions, local economic development and transformation and ensuring ethical behaviour and compliance.

The feedback offers ABB South Africa a broad direction or heat map of the issues and mechanisms to plan for creating increased business and social value from the sustainability programs and initiatives at the company.

At the stakeholder dialogue Leon Viljoen, CEO and country manager, said that sustainability was important for the success of ABB in South Africa and southern Africa and that it was important to hear views from stakeholders and for company strategy to be informed by stakeholder feedback. "It is also important when we are working on various project sites near communities that we try to assist communities to become more self sustainable."

The stakeholder dialogue, which has been held at ABB South Africa for the past seven years, is held to understand stakeholder needs, develop lasting relationships and respond to stakeholder needs. ABB uses what it learns from its larger engagement strategy to improve the process for future activities as well as guide the actions it takes to improve the life of people in communities where it does business.

This formal stakeholder engagement session forms part of ongoing engagement with stakeholders throughout the course of the year including forums for electro-technical issues, government relations, energy efficiency leadership networks and climate change mitigation and adaptation forums, community vocational colleges, universities of technology and university engineering faculties.

The topic chosen for this year's stakeholder engagement was on creating shared value. What exactly is creating shared value? Instead of seeing sustainability and corporate social investment as a cost or just a charitable donation, sustainability and corporate social investment can be seen as a source of opportunity, innovation and competitive advantage.

Instead of a "hodgepodge" of uncoordinated corporate social investment activities that are not connected with the company’s core business strategy, corporate social investment, for instance, can link with customers' needs through the company's products as well as communities to create better business value as well as value for uplifting the community through various social dimensions. For example, shared value could be created in investing in local infrastructure, transfer of knowledge and technology as well as skills.

Companies that have created shared value on a large scale include Nestlé working with dairy farmers in India and coffee growers in Africa. Toyota with its environmentally friendly Prius motor vehicle, and even Capitec Bank which provides low-cost financial products to give people better access to financial services. Discovery Health makes their clients aware of health risk factors through tools such as Vitality and the need to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This creates mutually beneficial relationships for both parties as clients are healthier and Discovery pays out fewer claims.

Creating shared value is important because in these economic times companies need to maximise the money that they contribute towards social development initiatives. As an example, ABB sponsors an FET College in Cape Town which has electrical engineering campuses in Khayelitsha as well as Lakeside. ABB through its sustainability partner SSACI the (Swiss South African Co-operation Initiative) is providing investments and major inputs into the FET curriculum, workplace experience for students as well as lecturer training – all aimed at making the colleges more relevant to industry and the workplace. One of the main beneficiaries of this support is ABB’s customer the electricity department of the City of Cape Town which draws on this college for electrical artisans. Other industries in the Western Province also benefit.

The ABB stakeholder dialogue is run along the international principles of the ASA 8000 stakeholder engagement standard. The stakeholder dialogue is facilitated by an independent third-party. The format of the meeting includes a brief update on the sustainability programs of the company, the purpose of the dialogue and then the dialogue is facilitated to ensure meaningful engagement and discussions.

The ABB stakeholder engagement session will help to guide ABB's future sustainability plans. Meetings will be held with customers and NGO partners to identify possible initiatives and partnerships. This will include a more in-depth review of ABB's activities to see how ABB could best contribute to present and possibly new initiatives. A summary report, including input from ABB, will be sent to all participants.

Chesney Bradshaw, Head of Sustainability for ABB South Africa and the southern African cluster, says, "Stakeholder engagement is not part of the "outreach" bucket of public relations or communications but is an important part of a company's strategy. Sustainability is an investment in creating business and social value for ABB, customers and communities.”
Leon Viljoen, CEO and country manager