Maria Ignacia Arcaya, SVP Social Impact &Institutional Relations, CISNEROS GROUP
What is your background in CSR/Social/ Impact/Sustainability/Communications if any?
My academic background is in Education, and my work in social impact began with the development of educational television content and online professional courses for teachers.
I have now been developing and implementing CSR initiatives for over 20 years.
As the daughter of a Venezuelan diplomat, I was exposed from a young age to different cultures and societies. I have come to believe that those experiences led me to question the differences I witnessed in the access to, or lack of, equal opportunities for high quality education; and in general, the quality of life across different socioeconomic groups and how the gaps differed from one country to another. While public policy and an array of other complex issues and stakeholders come to play in achieving the livelihood of communities and societies, over the years I’ve had the privilege to learn about the role of the private sector in this endeavor and to be a part of the efforts undertaken by a group of companies in which having a positive impact on the communities where it operates is part of the DNA.
"Our commitment to identifying opportunities for impact also adds value to our business partnerships, as is the case with Facebook, with whom we have joined efforts to offer conferences for women entrepreneurs in the nine Latin American countries where we are Facebook’s authorized sales partner."
What do you do at your organization in terms of CSR/Social Impact/Shared Value/Sustainability, how do you monitor and report (non-financial reporting?) the outcomes and what are the goals?
Each CISNEROS business unit has integrated efforts to ensure that its operations and core business are harnessed to have a positive impact on society and the environment. While each company’s implementation or delivery will vary according to its infrastructure and area of expertise, transversal issues that are addressed throughout our organization include access to educational opportunities, entrepreneurship, and gender equality.
To mention some examples, our media outlets provide a platform to raise awareness on issues related to gender such as violence against women and teen pregnancy; our sustainable tourism destination provides learning opportunities and access to micro credits to integrate MMEs and farmers in the value chain.
Our reporting mechanisms range from the Global Compact framework and reporting against GRI indicators, to audience metrics and perception, as well as beneficiary focus groups and surveys used to generate internal reports.
What do you think does a business/organization/foundation need if it wants to start introducing CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability practices?
I would summarize my recommendations in four key areas:
- Ensure that your internal policies are aligned with international good practices in hiring processes and benefits, allowing for an inclusive working environment that promotes work-life balance and opportunities for professional growth.
- Identify the potential environmental impact of your operations and take actions to mitigate or eliminate negative impacts.
- Understand the social, cultural and economic context in which you operate, consider how your core business can contribute to the quality of life of those communities, and develop programs accordingly.
- Seek partners with whom you share values and objectives, and that have the areas of expertise or engagement that you lack, in order to achieve the desired outcomes in your CSR efforts.
Do you feel that differentiating yourself through impact has brought an added value to your business and reduces risks? In what way?
Tropicalia, our sustainable tourism project in Dominican Republic, met the environmental and social performance standards required to close on loan agreements with IDB Invest and IFC. This would not have been possible without our vision for sustainability, which has been embedded in all business development decisions for the project.
Our commitment to identifying opportunities for impact also adds value to our business partnerships, as is the case with Facebook, with whom we have joined efforts to offer conferences for women entrepreneurs in the nine Latin American countries where we are Facebook’s authorized sales partner.
One of the girls from the “Soy niña, soy importante” (I am a girl, I am important) summer camp in Miches, Dominican Republic
Do you see a change in behavior in your consumers?
In the same way that our vision for sustainability and CSR have led to opportunities such as those mentioned above, our audiences have responded positively in acknowledging our commitment to social impact. This has been evidenced for example in nationwide surveys conducted by third parties in Venezuela, where our four brands are amongst the top 10 names associated with socially responsible companies.
How do new technologies and this digital age influence your work? Do you use new technologies?
An important part of our social impact work has been undertaken through awareness campaigns on traditional media (broadcast TV) for many years, so adopting social media platforms to further our efforts was a natural evolution.
Social media has allowed us not only to reach different audiences, but most importantly to achieve more engagement.
In addition, we have honed in on the new technologies as they have become available, as vehicles to deliver educational content for our CSR programs.
In your view, what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to marketing CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability efforts to the world in a more active way than merely through your sustainability report?
We need to consider each type of stakeholder when adopting the language and platform to communicate, so without a doubt we cannot limit our efforts to a sustainability report.
Communication is ongoing, and is intrinsic within the processes of establishing partnerships, engaging with the community and beneficiaries in a program, all of which are opportunities for communication in relevant and significant contexts for these audiences.