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Social Responsibility and the Meeting Planner

What is corporate social responsibility? On paper it is truly abstract, I will break it down:

  • Plan a meeting in Mexico, Panama, Eastern Europe or even Mississippi
  • Have the attendees go and do something good for the community they visit
  • They go home

There, I just saved you 10k on a consultant’s fee.

That is how the thinking goes, now let me talk about the reality.

I was just in Costa Rica with Site Chicago for our Annual Meeting (I am on the Board as the Communications Director). An amazing country, democratic and safe (about as safe as New York or Cleveland) with natural beauty and a firm commitment to the environment, Costa Rica provides very well for its people but, like all nations, there are shortcomings.

Case in point is Cen Cinai in Cartagena. A school, well, actually a day care center, I am a guy so they are one in the same for me. A place where average Costa Rican’s send their kids to be cared for when they go to work at the resorts, restaurants, and the sugar cane fields. A safe place staffed by wonderful, loving providers who make sure that the kids not only cared for and safe, but receive an education as well.
In short, a fantastic place to spend your time if you are a kid.

Until the fire.

Late last year, when no one was there (thankfully), the building burned, fast. Now…there is no school.

What there is, is a group of dedicated professionals who so desperately want to provide for “their” kids and they are doing a pretty good job. In the lot next to the school, they have a concrete slab that has a roof where the kids are coming daily. That is OK in the dry season, but the rainy season is right around the corner. When that happens, they will not have any walls to keep out the water and water there will be.

Site Chicago went to the school to provide some toys, not many, a few suitcases full, but badly needed. Toys were one of the things that went up in smoke. It was supposed to go exactly as I noted in the bullet points above. Go to a meeting, help for a few hours, go home.

How it is supposed to go and reality are two different things as every meeting professional knows. Make a plan, watch it go out the window and then tweak the program on the fly.

What happened to our group, should happen to every group. We did not just see something; we were becoming a part of it.

It started with the people. All of the parents were there with their children; they knew we were coming and made a point to come and thank us, a gesture that was not lost in the din of yelling kids. The Hotel had sent balloons and cookies for the event so that everyone would have a common point. It worked like a charm, after being there for only 5 minutes we were chatting and talking. Two cultures, two languages connected by nothing more than the sound of children laughing and sharing their, and our, experience.

Then we broke out the toys, and we saw why children are special, they get it, they get that life is life, and you should have a good time no matter what. I honestly don’t think the children cared why we were there. They were just happy that we were there.

The children jumped in with both feet, playing and being kids. The biggest hit we brought were items from IKEA. Crawl though tubes and pop up tents and stuffed animals.  The adults were laughing and smiling and treating us like we belonged, not like we were “the Americans or outsiders” and the kids were including us like we were members of the family. These items that cost us a small amount of money provided so much joy and happiness. Silly, but true.

Here is where things began to change, how you become part of something, an active participant and not just a fly on the wall.

The folks from the Paradisus Resort were saying “we can send people to paint, we can even provide the paint,” then ” We may have some furniture” and then it was our turn, our turn to do more.

We started asking the important questions, is the building structurally sound (yes), what else do they need (a roof) and how much does it cost (8K). This is when we said “eight thousand dollars! That is not a lot; we can do something.

This is the moment that we decided to come back to the States and do something more than dropping off some trinkets and hanging out for a couple of hours. We are going to raise the eight thousand dollars that the school needs to rebuild the roof. If they raise the money before we can, then we will give them the money for school supplies. The point is, we are now in it, we are a part of it. We are not casual observers sitting on the sidelines watching CNN and saying “look at those poor people, someone should do something.” We are now the something.

So, in the coming days, I will be posting about or progress and a link to the official Site Chicago page for donations, in the meantime, here is my point.

Corporate Social Responsibility programs can work, they are not just abstract articles.

I hear the arguments now “our attendees won’t go for it, they are not
the type; we don’t have the time.” These arguments are all in your head; they are your problem, not your attendee’s problem. It is you
that won’t go for it; it is you that is not the type, and it is you that is too
lazy to plan it for your attendees. Go and be a part of something. Make it yours.Own it and you will find why corporate social responsibility programs can work. They can not only change a life, but touch it as well. Your event programs are taken to a new level, one that rises above the norm.

Don’t do research, don’t think about it, just do it. Simple.

It may just be the best event or program you have ever had.

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