Driving Social Purpose: Aimia Canada Weaves Stakeholder Engagement with Corporate Giving (Part 2 of 2)
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
Stakeholder engagement encapsulates a host of groups: community members, customers and employees. In Part One of my conversation with Aimia's Alden Hadwen, Director, Community Engagement, we explored customer and community engagement. Specifically looking at Beyond Miles, an initiative by Aimia's Aeroplan program. In this second installment, Aimia's Social Purpose - its corporate giving framework - is further explored linking community investment with successful employee engagement.
Employees give and receive
"Employee engagement is hugely important to us," says Hadwen. "People want to work in a company where there is a genuine commitment to both employees and the communities where they live." The Aeroplan program enables employees to give back to communities in Canada and abroad through Aeroplan Days and its Beyond Miles program.
Since 2006, Aeroplan has been offering employee engagement trips with its Beyond Miles charitable partners. For example, Aeroplan employees have travelled to Ghana and Zambia with Engineers Without Borders, as well as Brazil and Kenya with Schools Without Borders. "Currently, we have two employees from Montreal in Uganda with War Child Canada," says Hadwen. She provides an additional example of four employees that recently travelled to Kenya to work with an organization empowering women living in the slums of Nairobi. Participants return and speak about their experience to fellow employees - "they become ambassadors for the project," Hadwen remarks.
Aeroplan Days brings together employees from offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal around a specific cause, while building engagement. In 2011 over 300 employees gathered in Montreal to raise awareness and money for Dans la rue. The company and its employees raised $79,000 for the grassroots organization that works with homeless and at-risk youth aged 12 to 25.
Employees are an integral part of Aeroplan's community investment decisions. The company donated a million miles to the Ivey School of Business' LEADER Project (Leading Education and Development in Emerging Regions). LEADER sends students to Eastern Europe to teach business skills in emerging economies. Each year, an Aeroplan employee joins Ivey students on a trip to Eastern Europe to present about the company and share their business skills. Hadwen observes, "To go from working a day job to teaching about it, provides for a better appreciation and understanding of what you do everyday."
Linking employee and community engagement with Social Purpose
For Aimia, the company under which Aeroplan operates, tying community investment, employee engagement and customer satisfaction with its business is key to success. "Social Purpose is about trying to understand the big picture of how society is developing within the context of the business we do," says Hadwen. She continues, by linking the concept of Social Purpose, a corporate framework, with community giving and employee engagement.
Hadwen remarks about the importance of campaigns like Dans la rue for Aeroplan Days. "Activities were deep and meaningful for employees, even in preparing sandwiches to hand out. It's about giving respect back and forth between people through care placed in simple actions." She continues, "We've spent a lot of effort and corporate time and expense to have our employees have that experience so they would be forever sensitized. Many have told us that they will never see someone who is homeless in quite the same way."
There is a dual benefit that comes out of the Social Purpose framework, described by Hadwen as acceptance and reciprocity. "Employees who reach out and participate in campaigns like Aeroplan Days feel fulfilled and those in the receiving end benefit as well."
Aimia/Aeroplan was a Finalist for Best Stakeholder Engagement in the 2012 Social Innovation Awards presented by Justmeans, for its Beyond Miles program. For more information please visit www.aeroplan.com/donate.
This is Part Two in conversation with Aimia's Alden Hadwen, Director, Community Engagement. In the first article, Aimia's Social Purpose and stakeholder engagement was explored through Aeroplan's Beyond Miles program.
Image: YYZ TCD Spring 2011 - Photo of Toronto office employees planting trees with the Black Creek Conservation Project of Toronto, Courtesy of Aimia Canada.