Amy Fischer is director for the Western Union Foundation and Joy Miller is senior manager for social ventures at the Western Union Company. The Western Union is up for the best employee engagement award at this year’s Responsible Business Awards.
In the run up to this year’s awards, which will take place on September 29, Fischer and Miller talk about shared value, engaging with employees and being singled out for an award.
This article was first published on Ethical Corporation’s website.
Ethical Corporation: One of the key pillars of your efforts to engage employees on responsible business issues revolves around the notion of ‘shared value’. What do you mean by this term exactly?
Western Union: When we use the term shared value, we’re referring to the idea that the company can drive revenue while benefiting society. We’re interested in exploring how our products and services can deliver maximum benefit for our customers and society at large, while simultaneously making Western Union’s business more competitive.
Ethical Corporation: Can you give us an example of what a shared value product or service might look like?
Western Union: Sure. A good example is NGO GlobalPay. This uses the Western Union network to enable NGOs (not-for-profit, non-governmental organisations) around the world to better move funds where they are needed, often to remote and hazardous areas.
After a natural disaster, for example, NGOs must move quickly to get people and resources to the areas affected. Or they may need to send money to their field workers or beneficiaries in areas where there may be no banks at all. Because of the very nature of our business – which involves moving money between individuals, businesses and NGOs – Western Union is able to offer a solution that resolves many of the challenges they face. It is a new product for Western Union and it’s already attracting new customers for us. At the same time, it is delivers positive social impacts as well.
Ethical Corporation: So how do you seek to engage employees around the theme of shared impact?
Western Union: One of the ways we do this is through our Shared Value Summits, a series of day-long meetings for our leaders to speak with external experts on new ways to drive revenue by solving a specific social problem. We’ve had two summits so far, and we are planning a third for later this year. The first focused on education and the second on empowering women in emerging markets.
At each summit, participants have included about six to ten Western Union leaders and around the same number of experts from global NGOs, development organisations, and other companies. Within Western Union, it’s seen as a real honour to be asked to participate.
Ethical Corporation: Could you describe some of the outcomes of the summits?
Western Union: Perhaps the best example is our ‘Education for Better’ programme, which we announced on the floor of the United Nations just ten months after the first summit. At that summit, the group focused on education challenges and identified a variety of opportunities for Western Union to fill the gaps through its products, services, and global reach.
Its outcome – Education for Better – is the company’s three-year commitment to supporting global education goals. Among other features, the programme includes specialised education products and services, cause marketing, advocacy, philanthropy and opportunities for employees to engage with local communities.
Ethical Corporation: Do you communicate outcomes from the summits to your wider workforce?
Western Union: Yes, this is really crucial for us. We have a comprehensive communication plan, and we regularly publish news articles about corporate responsibility and shared value in our global employee newsletter and on the intranet. We find that the summit themes resonate with our employees and generate ideas and conversations beyond the event.
Ethical Corporation: What are the chief challenges when it comes to engaging employees around sustainability?
Western Union: Most Western Union employees already understand the company to be a mission-driven brand. In that sense, we’re very lucky. That said, although the concept of sustainability is there in our company culture, employees may not necessarily use the same language to describe it. Terms like ‘shared value’ are quite abstract, for example. So the main challenge for us is to articulate what we mean. Persuading employees that responsible business is a good thing to do – thankfully that’s not something that we really have to face.
Ethical Corporation: How has being singled out for a Responsible Business Award helped?
Western Union: For us, it reinforces the concept of ‘moving money for better’, which is fundamental to our mission as a company. Winning the award provides a welcome degree of recognition for the work that we have done as well. And, most importantly perhaps, it emphasises for our employees that these issues matter and that they don’t just exist in a vacuum.
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