Learn about a Company’s Responsibility in Social Sustainability
The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Micah Avery Guiao, this chapter is titled “Sustainability as a Collaborative and Collective Effort.” In it, Bryan Rivera, the Head of Communications and Public Affairs of Bayer Philippines, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in maintaining a good CSR program.
Bayer Philippines’ Bryan Rivera on Operation Strategies in the Pandemic
Shortly after Bryan Rivera started at Bayer Philippines in January 2020, the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic came looming above his head. As the company’s Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Science & Sustainability, much of his time went to working with the local crisis management team to formulate measures aimed at prioritizing employee safety and ensuring full compliance with government regulations, but there was also a need to maintain business continuity amidst everything.
Luckily for him, as someone who has had experience engaging with agriculture stakeholders and smallholder farmers for nearly 20 years, the company is in the life sciences. “The solutions that we provide to farmers, patients, and consumers were considered as essential goods. We have agricultural inputs and pharmaceutical products— one is essential for producing food for us, while the other is for health, so you simply can’t live without both. Compared to other non-essential manufacturing industries, we focus on addressing both health and hunger, which are the primary issues of anyone,” Rivera said.
When the Department of Agriculture called on the private sector to accelerate projects related to agriculture in light of the food shortage the pandemic has caused, Rivera said that Bayer already had a project that was ready to be replicated everywhere.
Bayer Kubo (small hut) entered the picture in January 2020—two months before the enhanced community quarantine was implemented. Launched in Barangay Ususan of Taguig City, Bayer Kubo is an urban agriculture program that aims to teach community residents how to produce vegetables on their own for both consumption and as a business venture. Although not the program’s original intention, it has provided a model framework to address the projected deficiency in vegetable production output highlighted by the government, months prior to the health crisis.
Bayer is already known globally for addressing major challenges brought about by a growing population. Its initiatives focus on improving lives through health solutions, disease prevention, and better access to more and higher quality food. Some living examples include its farmer training programs through Bayer Agricademy, partnerships with local governments to boost farmer rice productivity, online sessions on family planning and common health issues, and digital farming using drones to level up agriculture and food resiliency for smallholder farmers.
The corporate social engagement program that Rivera boasted about takes things up a notch. What sets Bayer Kubo apart from other programs of similar nature is that it goes beyond the usual seeding and sowing—it also serves as a holistic forum to educate others on several health topics ranging from family planning to personal wellness, consistent with Bayer’s vision of Health for All, Hunger for None.
“Since we have that expertise within our team, why not? Our colleagues are more than willing to extend their time and effort to help communities be more conscious about their own health. This is equally important as the farming component of Bayer Kubo,” he said.
Despite the company’s aim to help communities, Rivera noted that everyone needs to adhere to both the national and local governments in implementing outreach activities, especially during the crisis where mass gatherings are not allowed. For now, they have focused on providing more technical expertise in vegetable production for the community while postponing some of their planned health educational activities until such time when it is safe to conduct such physical engagement. They plan to shift to online learning sessions and webinars.
Likewise, for other enterprises to follow suit, he said the solution lies in a change in perspective. Others tend to dismiss a simple reframing as an action too straightforward to even consider, but in Rivera’s case, it works most of the time. Instead of presenting the initiative as another corporate social engagement program no one really knows about, it should be packaged in a way that makes it imperative for everyone’s involvement. For instance, he mentioned that the residents of Barangay Ususan have even become more active—as well as serious—with applying what they have learned in vegetable farming, especially when the economic effects of the pandemic started to kick in.
Although the concept of urban agriculture isn’t new, most initiatives fail to achieve longevity due to a short-term perspective on its implementation. Companies cannot expect a short-term program to yield big results quickly. “It’s not sustainable if you teach them how to plant and they forget about it,” Rivera said.
Programs that have that kind of arrangement look like a “one-time deal” where communities are expected to employ what they have learned in a day to their entire lifetime. To this end, Bayer Kubo is estimated to be a 12-month project to oversee if results are steady. However, it’s worth pointing out that there comes a time where the participants’ interest in the program will slump. Farming isn’t as quick as people would like it to be during the first few months, but Rivera said this is nothing but normal. The critical stage is being able to push through with these initiatives despite these productivity slumps in order to reap the true benefits.
As businesses, there is a call to do more for the community than just catering to whatever goals the company has. If questions of cost always plague the minds of business leaders in molding a sustainable program, then nothing is gained. For once, the natural urge for businesses to generate profit ought to be pushed aside to focus on more important matters: “When we implement these kinds of initiatives, we don’t think about the business generation.” Rivera added that in today’s reality, business growth and sustainability go hand in hand and that both are equally critical when crafting long-term business objectives.
And while other companies are protective over their own corporate social responsibility programs, Rivera is waiving theirs up high in the air for anyone’s taking. Aside from working closely with the DA in pushing for urban farming in Metro Manila through existing projects, they’ve also partnered with several non-governmental organizations and advocacy-based associations to crowdsource on ways to widen their reach.
“It doesn’t matter to us which companies or organizations get involved in urban farming. It’s an essential need for us to contribute what we can and collaborate where possible,” he said. “The end in mind is that the collective effort makes a positive impact in addressing key sustainability issues revolving around health and hunger.”
To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Bryan Rivera, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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