Collectively, this year’s Top 50 CEOs donate more than $30 million in cash and in-kind contributions to hundreds of causes. These activities ranged from supporting Ronald McDonald’s Sock it for Sick Kids (staff at Hickman’s Automotive Group purchased Ronald’s signature stripped socks, resulting in a donation of almost $2,000), to aid for Syrian refugees (Fancy Pokket contributed over $50,000 in pita bread at no charge), to fundraising for the IWK health centre (IWK Foundation’s raison d’être), to food drives for the UPEI food bank—just to name a few.
In recent years, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has shifted from business buzzword to basic customer expectation. Whether it’s donations to local sports teams and answering phones at a telethon, or running a full-blown marketing campaign to raise awareness for a good cause, if a business is making money, people expect it to share the wealth.
There’s a solid business case for putting a strong emphasis on CSR. According to Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy, benefits can: improve relationships with employees and communities; help manage risk; and, strengthen reputations. The end result? More customers, happier stakeholders, a bigger pool of potential employees, and interested investors.
Atlantic Business Magazine’s 2017 Top 50 CEOs are well aware of the benefits of CSR. Here, four of them explain why (and how) they’re doing the right thing…
Jennifer Gillivan, president & CEO of the IWK Foundation, says that non-profit and volunteer work is “at the core of [her] DNA,” something she attributes in part to her immigration to Canada from Ireland. “I share something with all immigrants; I remember why I came to Canada, I remember the journey, and I want to redeem myself,” says Gillivan. “I want to give back to this great country by volunteering, by doing my part to help make society better for all of us.”
As a CEO, Gillivan believes in practicing what she preaches, and modeling the behaviour she wants to see in her team members. “I am a better person and leader because of the experiences I have had through giving back,” says Gillivan.
While the work she does at the IWK Foundation is a major part of her effort to give back, Gillivan also spends a significant amount of time volunteering with and supporting organizations that prioritize women and children.
“I am a feminist, I believe in equal rights for women, and I am drawn to helping in this capacity,” says Gillivan. “Women and children are often not a top priority, and inequality is still very much a reality. So I will always work to support better conditions for women and children.”
It inspires employees
As a family-owned business, Hickman Automotive Group feels a responsibility to support its local community—with a particular focus on supporting organizations that promote children’s education, health, and safety. And according to president & CEO Bert Hickman, “this serves as a source of pride for many of our employees.” This is important; employee pride is a key component in maintaining employee engagement.
Employees are directly involved in many of the Hickman Automotive Group’s charitable activities, from collecting non-perishable food donations for Bridges to Hope to participating in the Janeway’s Children’s Telethon.
“The employees of Hickman Automotive Group are continuously looking for ways to support those in need,” says Hickman. “This year, they took it upon themselves to engage in Ronald McDonald’s Sock It for Sick Kids and their Families. Staff all purchased Ronald’s signature striped socks to wear at work that day, resulting in a donation of almost $2,000.00 to the cause.”
Philanthropy has been in the Hickman family for generations; Bert traces it all the way back to his great-grandfather, Albert Edgar Hickman, who was a Ford dealer and—for a brief time—a Newfoundland prime minister.
“I believe that as a successful business person, it is my duty and privilege to contribute to those in need in order to help grow our community,” says Hickman. “Today, my brother Jonathan and I continue in this philanthropic tradition. We work diligently to identify organizations best positioned to offer services in areas of community need to ensure that our contributions are used effectively and have the greatest impact.”
It’s a networking opportunity
Mike Timani is the president & CEO of Fancy Pokket Corporation, the largest producer of pita bread, flatbread, bagels, and tortilla wraps in Atlantic Canada. He’s also a dedicated community member—somehow managing to devote 30 per cent of his time to volunteer work while overseeing a 45,000 square-foot plant, and 70 employees. He’s been doing this for about 10 years now, and the extra effort has allowed him to support his community while also doing a lot of valuable networking with people in the food and beverage, public, and non-profit sectors.
“I have always been a big believer in networking to grow my business. [Networking through volunteerism] has been a tremendous benefit to Fancy Pokket and has contributed enormously to my success as a CEO.”
Timani supports a wide variety of causes in Moncton, and his efforts range from healthcare and the arts to sports and food banks. He’s also heavily involved in the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton (MAGMA), currently sitting on the board of directors. The organization is a settlement agency that welcomes refugees and newcomers and helps them integrate into the community. In 2008, he chaired its relocation to downtown Moncton.
“This resulted in an increase in their staff from 17 to 35 and more than doubled their budget,” says Timani. “The organization really began to thrive during this time and solidly established itself in the community and now employs over 50 individuals.”
His work with MAGMA led to involvement with the New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC), where he now holds a position as president & CEO. Over the last couple of years, he’s worked hard within that role to help settle Syrian refugees in the province by consulting with all three levels of government, and (through Fancy Pokket) donating $50,000 worth of pita bread over a two-month period.
“[The pita bread] was distributed throughout New Brunswick to the Syrian refugees at no charge,” says Timani. “I personally visited each of the family’s homes in Moncton and initially distributed the pita bread myself with the support of my company and the Red Cross.”
It builds stronger communities
According to Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Prince Edward Island, the institution he leads exists—not to teach—but to serve. He defines that service as the university’s collective contributions to society, “through research, social justice, volunteer, and educational initiatives to enhance social, cultural, physical, mental, environmental, and economic well-being.”
Examples abound: from workshops on animals, pet care and wildlife behaviour; to public lectures, writings and events that explore Island history; to student projects assisting community-based organizations in third-world countries and addressing food insecurity; to research into disease management; to employee volunteer efforts with professional, charitable, foundation, sport, and community organizations, both local and international; to varsity sports teams doing fundraising for breast cancer research; to countless other initiatives too numerous to mention.
When it comes to service advocacy, Dr. Abd-El-Aziz leads by doing. In addition to his duties with UPEI, he volunteers with the Board of Directors for the Confederation Centre of the Arts, and the Order of PEI Advisory Council, as well as the Board of Directors for the One Governance Foundation. And he participated in the 2015 edition of 21 Inc.’s Under 40 Summit by serving on the P.E.I. selection committee and as a panelist during the Ideas Festival forum.
Dr. Abd-El-Aziz says that UPEI’s pervasive volunteer, scholarly and charitable service culture benefits its students, faculty and staff, as well as the broader community. “It makes us better learners, teachers, researchers, and citizens. When we engage in service activities, it fosters a sense of pride and builds confidence in our University community. We, as a whole, gain a better understanding of societal issues and realize that, by working together, we can stimulate positive change.”