Have you ever looked deep into the community from where you do business, the same community from where you will harvest talent down the road to help you in building, expanding or sustaining your business? Have you ever looked deep into this community to understand what its social challenges might be? Are these challenges being fully met by the government and its agencies? Is the talent going to be there when you need it? Or, will it be there when your children carry on your legacy? I see the issues in my own community and hope that one day local businesses will see the benefit of collaboration to address them.
About 17 years ago, a friend of mine was asked by the Bangkok Chamber of Commerce to speak about her work with UNICEF and the situation of children of Northern Thailand at one of the BCC member lunches. A few days after the presentation she was contacted by the General Manager of the Pan Pacific Hotel who had been at the BCC lunch and heard her speak. So moved was he by what she had to say, he called to ask what he could do. The GM had no idea of the hardship and social barriers in Thailand that prevented so many children from realizing their potential. This conversation is one that would come to change the fate of thousands of Thai children.
The Pan Pacific Hotel, like other Four and Five-Star Hotels in the city depended on local talent to help run its business. The GM decided to focus the Hotel's efforts on curbing the trafficking of children from Thailand's north. The risk of being trafficked in Thailand is precipitated by poverty and a family's inability to pay secondary school tuition fees for their children. In response, he did three things. He established a scholarship fund that would allow the children to continue their education and he developed a five month long multidisciplinary training programme centred on jobs one would usually find in the hotel sector. He then told his friends (other GMs in Bangkok's luxury hotel sector) about his plan.
Over five years, more than a dozen hotels including the Peninsula, the Shangri-La, the Sheraton and the Hilton had jumped on board to collaborate on the plan. Sure, the training programme included some menial work, but it also included management related functions, administration, accounting, and various aspects associated with the restaurant service including food preparation and pastry making. The girls learned skills that would help improve their employability once the programme concluded.
After completing the five month programme, the girls could return to their home communities or be interviewed for jobs in other hotels or industries where their newly acquired skills could be transferred easily. Everyone of the girls remained in the city to acquire paying jobs. Some went on to further their education while working part time. And I even know of a gaggle of young women who succeeded in getting university scholarships to pursue higher education. Some, but not all girls remained in the hotel sector.
In addition to helping transform a culturally accepted fate for thousands of girls, the Hotel's involvement helped spotlight a social problem that made it difficult for the government to ignore any longer, accelerating changes in government policy and programmes thereafter. Additionally, the programme went on to be replicated in Pan Pacific Hotels in Singapore, Manila and Los Angeles.
Wherever your community is situated, begin by speaking with the experts who understand the local social complexity before you decide how or where to make your investments. It may require a little extra time, but you won't be disappointed with the outcome.
photo credit: Chain by Matti Mattila, October 11, 2009 via Flickr