Community Matters Week at Sopra Steria is here: here’s how (and why) we’re doing it

Each year hundreds of Sopra Steria people support their local communities and local, national and international charities by volunteering and raising money for them.  For one special week, we do as much volunteering and fundraising together as we can.  This is what we call Community Matters Week, and today, 18 June, is the first day of our 2018 campaign.

Corporate community initiatives have become commonplace.  Almost all large companies and many small ones have some sort of philanthropic or charitable initiative.  If you ask us why we do it (we are for-profit entities after all), we will tell you that it is the right thing to do, and it is.  Companies must give back.  But there’s so much more to it.  Organisations that only think of community impact as the right thing to do, won’t do it as well as they could if they thought about it as a real business imperative, as important as (and, as I’ll argue later, in fact intrinsically linked to) the focus on profitability, the talent war, and pretty much any aspect of a company’s corporate strategy.

The problem with ‘the right thing to do’

When companies only think about community impact as the right thing to do, they aren’t forcing themselves to be imaginative and innovative; a reasonably sized cheque written out to a charity that may or may not have anything to do with the company’s objectives – or more importantly, its role in society and its capabilities – is often the sum total of its community impact work.  Certainly supporting the vital work charities do is important.  But these organisations miss the opportunity to have a much greater impact on the world while also benefitting themselves.  Furthermore, if cheque-writing is the main way a company seeks to make a positive difference, those cheques might get smaller when times are tough; organisations will want to continue to do the right thing, but it often becomes harder in lean times.  In short, this doing the ‘right thing’ mindset is not very sustainable.

Serious impact takes imagination… and critical business thinking

I like to think of developing a strong community impact programme in the same way we might think about choosing careers when we’re young.  We are encouraged then to think about what we’re good at, as well as what we enjoy, and the ultimate career path chosen should build on both aspects (probably with a slightly greater emphasis on what we’re good at).  For example, as a teenager, I really loved dance, but I wasn’t good enough to make a career out of it (don’t worry, my ego survived!).  It wouldn’t have made sense for me to pursue dance, just as, perhaps, it doesn’t make sense, for example, for a technology company to focus all its community impact resources on activities that have nothing to do with technology.

The question we ask ourselves at Sopra Steria is, ‘how can we make best use of our capabilities and resources to make a difference?’  We know that we will have a bigger impact when we do what we’re good at.  This will be true for other organisations as well.

The second step is to think big.  Too frequently, community programmes aren’t as innovative as the organisations that run them because they’re seen as something separate from the rest of the company.  This is another pitfall of the ‘right thing to do’ mentality because the ‘right thing to do’ can be anything (there is so much good work that needs to be done, so this is understandable), and the programmes don’t draw on an organisation’s innovators and strategists.  When companies think big about community impact, they follow up the question above, with another question: ‘what are the world’s most pressing challenges?’, and they get others to input: sector directors who work with customers and have a deep understanding of the things businesses are trying to address; strategists; and, of course external stakeholders, such as academics and organisations focusing on sustainable development).

It is important that this is the second question, and not the first because there are so many pressing challenges that it will be too difficult to answer this in any meaningful way.  With your answers to the first question in mind, you can identify some areas that your company, no matter its resource limitations or industry focus, could actually make a difference in.

The third and final step is to whittle down the long-ish list of ideas that will have emerged from the first two questions by testing which ones will integrate with and support your corporate strategy.  Ideally, your community programme will actually transform your corporate strategy, making it stronger by bolstering organisation mission and purpose.  Organisations stuck in the ‘doing the right thing’ mentality bristle at the idea that community impact should be a part of corporate strategy and therefore yield business benefits, but those that do not will be constantly at risk of being cut, and if they’re cut, they become less effective, have less of an impact, and that is not what anyone wants, surely.

Some help on the third question

It might not be possible to do the third step above well if you don’t have the business case for community impact programmes well established.  Although this will vary from industry to industry, there are some universal truths:

  • Communities are part your infrastructure and your future: they are the potential sources of your near and long-term future workforce and supply chain, so supporting effective, inclusive education and strong, inclusive local economic growth benefits everyone.
  • Community impact programmes provide competitive advantage both in terms of talent attraction and retention, and in winning business. Employees and customers alike want to work with companies that are making a positive difference in the world.  Employees want to be able to contribute to that in their work.
  • Community impact programmes are lenses through which to spot innovation and development opportunities: because of the point made above – that people want to have the opportunity to do good in their work – some of the most compelling innovations come through well thought-out community programmes that encourage employees to develop solutions to the problems in the world they care about.  For example, in France, a Sopra Steria employee has developed a solution to help homeless people keep digital copies of their important documents and photos so they are not damaged when they are sleeping rough.  Now we are taking this to market.  Furthermore, employees who work on such projects are developing valuable skills they can use in their jobs.

This week at Sopra Steria

All of this is informing what we are doing during Community Matters Week.  Last year we introduced a new Community Strategy that focuses on four areas:

  • Digital inclusion
  • Educations, skills & employability
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Employee engagement

Entrepreneurship and employee engagement are at the heart of Community Matters Week: all of our volunteers are using entrepreneurial skills to find new, more effective ways of fundraising for the charities we’re supporting.  They are marketing, selling, building relationships, sourcing products (for example to go in raffles and auctions), and managing projects.  Employees have a say in how Community Matters Week is run, helping to choose which organisations we support and to develop and run their own activities during the week.  All Sopra Steria people get paid time off for volunteering, too.

This year we have more digital activities than ever before.

Our Digital Innovation team has developed a new app that will be used by dozens of employees to track distances walked, run, and cycled in our Step Up for Scholars Challenge, which will raise money for scholarships for young poor people in India to go to university.

We have an eBay-style e-auction that will enable our large, distributed workforce to get involved wherever they are during the week by bidding on great prizes, with all proceeds going to charity.

We will be live-streaming events, again, so all employees everywhere can join in the goodness.

Finally, Community Matters Week isn’t where our Community programme ends – it’s just the mid-year celebration of all the things we do throughout the year.  For example, coming up soon we’ll be driving greater digital inclusion through coding clubs for girls, gadget surgeries for older people in libraries, and support for the digital skills curriculum at local training colleges.  Watch this space for further updates on how we’re going beyond ‘the right thing to do’ and making a bigger difference to communities because of it.

Going waste-free

This weekend is Earth Day – a time to highlight global support for improving environmental sustainability and bring together millions of people, cities, and organisations across the world.  As part of the sustainability committee at Sopra Steria, part of my role is to raise awareness of initiatives amongst our employees, I am also thinking about the importance of individual action, including my own.

Going into 2018, the images I saw in Blue Planet 2 such as the albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic, and the proliferation of media stories about the impact of plastics on the environment prompted me to think more about the waste that arises from my own lifestyle choices.

What does Zero Waste mean?
Zero Waste is as simple as it sounds: it’s all about trying to live without waste.  Everything we use should be reused or recycled or composted; nothing should go to landfill; ideally more and more of what we use will contain materials that have already been used before. Everything that we produced or consumed should be returned back to society or nature – so products are either reused, recycled or biodegrade.

In reality it’s not so simple.  Look around your supermarket and you’ll see thousands of products in packaging that cannot be recycled, everything from our food and drink, to cosmectics, to cleaning products comes in single use plastic and the challenge is how can we elimate this. .

How to get started

Arming myself with a list of all the places that stock zero packing products. I was ready for the challenge and started to plan how to adjust my lifestyle. I planned to reuse first, using my newly acquired home composting bin second, then recycling and finally sending non-recyclables to charity.

The first step was to eliminate all single use plastic. From the morning cup of coffee in the plastic-coated, non-recyclable cardboard cup, to the disposable cutlery used at lunch and the unnecessary food packing at supper, most of us have a lot of waste in our day-to-day life.  For instance buying a coffee daily is 30 cups and lids a month, all which end up in landfill,  and may take hundreds of years to decompose.  More importantly, it is 30 cups worth of materials that had to be mined, shipped to factories, manufactured,  and then shipped to my local Starbucks.  Thinking about the life of a coffee cup, from origin to where it ends up, its environmental impacts become clear and throwing a cup away every day seems unconscionable.  Suddenly, using a reusable mug seems like no-brainer.

Secondly, was composting all my food scraps.  I found that this step alone eliminated about 50% of my waste. Living in a second floor flat with no garden made this more of a challenge, I found a friend willing to take my scraps in their home compost heap which has made things much easier. But there are plenty of local councils who have composting services and there are lots of alternative options such as indoor womeries here.

The final stage was to address the longer use plastic items, buying cosmetics that come unpackaged (such as solid shampoo from Lush) and finding suppliers who will refill your cleaning product, eco companies such as Ecover are more than happy to refill existing bottles – find a local one here.

The results

By making a concerted effort to eliminate waste from my life, I have been able to reduce my waste footprint by about 90%.  The remaining 10% was made up of parcels covered in plastic, make up where there isn’t alternative packaging and longer use items such as headphones, tupparware that do break down eventually. The best result of this month-long experiment is the simply way it has enabled me to change my habits and make a difference.  It showed me that I can reduce my waste by a huge proportion, without requiring me to spend more money or make much more effort, and I have continued to live a low-waste life.

It is debatable whether it is possible to be truly zero-waste in modern society due to the complexity of our supply chains, but there are very easy ways to reduce the sheer amount that we as individuals get through.  What’s more, in the process, by changing the way we consume products – choosing products  with no packaging or recyclable packaging – we can have an influence the companies who sell them to us.

In any case, in sustainable living, it’s far more important to ensure we don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.   I have put time into changing my routines to make how I live as sustainable as possible and have no intention of going back.   While I’m not going to stress if someone accidently puts a straw in a drink I order, I will continue to search for no-waste solutions to my everyday decisions.   If we all take small steps in our personal lives, and continue to campaign for companies and governments to affect larger change, we can make a difference.

 

 

 

 

Start with the basics

Tyler is one of Sopra Steria UK’s Volunteers of the Year. As Volunteer of the Year 2017, he travelled to India to visit our international award-winning Community programmes run by our India CSR team. Read his previous write up on his volunteer work here

Yesterday took me to the new Government Girls Inter College, Hoshiyarpur in Noida, India. The school opened this academic year and has 1,270 girls on its register, all from underprivileged backgrounds. Next year the school will grow to a size of at least 2,000 and is expected to be a lot higher than this. Yesterday held great significance for the Girls’ School and I had the honour of being able to commemorate this day with them.

For the last eight months, Computer Science has been taught by theory. More than one-thousand girls have been learning IT skills from paper. Paper! Thankfully, yesterday we were able to celebrate the opening of a new computer lab with thirty new computers donated from Sopra Steria. The occasion was expectedly joyous. There were celebrations, speeches and all-too-necessary ribbon cutting ceremony. A fantastic moment that meant something to every member of the school, teacher or student.

As twenty 13-year-old children filed into the room and unwrapped the last remaining plastic from the screens and keyboards of the newly installed computers. The excitement of the girls ready to use these new machines was palpable. Great, right? The next few moments were like a sucker-punch to something I really ought to have expected. It started with a moment’s hesitation from a young girl finding the power button. Then a look of confusion from another trying to left-click a mouse. Perhaps the most basic of tasks for a child that age. The only thing was – this was the first time that any girl in that room had touched a computer, ever. And for some reason, it was as if someone had told me the sky had fallen down. Obvious when you think about it, but near unthinkable for any child in the UK today.

After a quick breath, I went and sat with two girls, Yashika and Pooja. They had opened Microsoft Word and it was great to see their teamwork as they hunted for the letters on the keyboard, as our very own Gayathri Mohan took them through their ABCs. Within a few minutes, Pooja had moved her second hand onto the keyboard as she began to type sentences. Computers are a absolute necessity in the modern working world and in some government schools here the may be only one or two computers for several thousand children. Some do not have computer access of any kind. For such a reasonable investment, the lives of thousands of children, their families and future families can be changed completely.

Many things we take for granted are new to girls like Yashika and Pooja. It’s a familiar feeling to feel passionate about tech and I hope to continue to be able to contribute to bringing these new opportunities to them. This trip has shown me the individual lives being changed from the Sopra Steria India CSR programmes. It’s hard to fathom that yearly 70,000 children are introduced to tech through these schools, provided with free lunches, access to drinking water and toilet facilities, among the many other initiatives. A big thank you to the team for guiding us round and allowing us to share in these moments.

Gender, AI and automation: How will the next part of the digital revolution affect women?

Automation and AI are already changing the way we work, and there is no shortage of concern expressed in the media, businesses, governments, labour organisations and many others about the resulting displacement of millions of jobs over the next decade.

However, much of the focus has been at the macro level, and on the medium and long-term effects of automation and AI.  Meanwhile, the revolution is already well underway, and its impact on jobs is being felt now by a growing number of people.

The wave of automation and AI that is happening now is most readily seen in call centres, among customer services, and in administrative and back-office functions.  Much of what we used to do was by phone – talking directly to a person. We can now use not only companies’ websites in self-serve platforms, but interact with bots in chat windows and text messages. Cashiers and administrative assistants are being replaced by self-service check-outs and robot PA’s. The processing of payroll and benefits, and so much of finance and accounting has also been automated, eliminating the need for many people to do the work…

…eliminating the need for many women to do the work, in many cases.

A World Economic Forum report, Towards a Reskilling Revolution, estimated that 57% of the 1.4 million jobs that will be lost to automation belong to women. This displacement is not only a problem for these women and their families, but could also have wider negative ramifications for the economy.  We know that greater economic participation by women, not less, is what the economy needs: it could contribute $250b to the UK’s GDP .

Both the economic and ethical solution is in reskilling our workers. Businesses and economies benefit from a more highly skilled workforce. Society is enriched by diversity and inclusion.  Individuals moving to new jobs (those that exist now and those that we haven’t yet imagined) may even be more fulfilled in work that could be more interesting and challenging.  Moreover, the WEF report suggests that many of the new jobs will come with higher pay.

But there are two things we need to bear in mind as we do the work of moving to the jobs of tomorrow:

  1. Our uniquely human skills: Humans are still better at creative problem solving and complex interactions where sensitivity, compassion and good judgment play a role, and these skills are used all the time in the kinds of roles being displaced. In business processes, humans are still needed to identify problems before they spread too far (an automated process based on bad programming will spread a problem faster than a human-led process; speed is not always an advantage).  AI will get better at some of this, but the most successful operators in the digital world of the future will be the ones who put people at the centre of their digital strategies.  Valuing the (too-long undervalued) so-called soft skills that these workers are adept at, and making sure these are built in to the jobs of the future, will pay dividends down the road.
  2. Employment reimagined: To keep these women in the workforce, contributing to society and the economy, we must expand the number of roles that offer part-time and flexible working options. One reason there are so many women doing these jobs is because they are offered these options. And with women still taking on most of the domestic and caring responsibilities, the need for a range of working arrangements is not going away anytime soon.  The digital revolution is already opening discussion of different models of working, with everything from providing people with a Universal Basic Income, to the in-built flexibility of the Gig Economy, but simpler solutions on smaller scales can be embraced immediately.  For example, Sopra Steria offers a range of flexible working arrangements and is making full use of digital technology to support remote and home working options.

Women are not the only people affected by the current wave of automation and AI technology.  Many of the jobs discussed here are also undertaken by people in developing countries, and those where wages are lower, such as India and Poland.  The jobs that economies in those countries have relied on, at least in part,may not be around much longer in their current form.

Furthermore, automation and AI will impact a much wider range of people in the longer term.  For example, men will be disproportionately impacted by the introduction of driverless cars and lorries, because most taxi and lorry drivers are men.

Today, on International Women’s Day 2018, though, I encourage all of us in technology to tune in to the immediate and short-term impacts and respond with innovative actions, perhaps drawing inspiration from previous technological disruptions.   Let’s use the encouraging increased urgency – as seen through movements such as #Time’sUp and #MeToo – to address gender inequality while also working on technology-driven changes to employment.  Let us speed up our efforts to offer more jobs with unconventional working arrangements, and to prepare our workers for the jobs of tomorrow.  Tomorrow is not that far off, after all.

Jen Rodvold is Head of Sustainability & Social Value Solutions.  She founded the Sopra Steria UK Women’s Network in 2017 and is its Chair.  She has been a member of the techUK Women in Tech Council and the APPG for Women & Enterprise.  She recently led the development of the techUK paper on the importance of Returners Programmes to business, which can be found here.  Jen is interested in how business and technology can be used as forces for good.

Trip of a lifetime

Tyler is one of Sopra Steria UK’s Volunteers of the Year. As Volunteer of the Year 2017, he will travel to India to visit our international award-winning Community programmes run by our India CSR team. Each year, Sopra Steria India CSR programmes puts around 70,000 children through school, while also providing free lunches, access to drinking water and toilet facilities, and a huge number of other educational and social benefits.

Tyler Quote

It’s been just over two months since I was chosen to be a Volunteer of the Year and despite all the planning, bookings and visa applications, the feeling that I’m leaving in less than a week to a place that is more than five thousand miles away is still yet to sink in.

Last year I gave over 450 hours of my time though two voluntary roles. Most of this time is spent as a Special Constable with Northamptonshire Police. A role of great variety. I often take on the role of a Crime Prevention Officer, working with the victims of fraud, particularly cyber and online scams, helping them to be safe and confident online and on the phone. I also volunteer with the British Red Cross as an Emergency Responder attending to both small and large emergencies. Thankfully large-scale emergencies are rare and most callouts are to domestic floods or fires, where I provide practical and emotional support to who lose their homes and possessions in what can be their greatest hour of need.

I’ve known for a while that Sopra Steria’s Social Responsibility program has been doing great work with young people in India. Community Matters week passes all to quickly in the office and besides a bit of fun, a good conscience and light feeling in my wallet; I wasn’t all too sure of the difference it went on to make. Starting this journey, I did not realise the sheer volume of good we are achieving because of events like these. Each year 70,000 children are sent to school by the program; the brightest of which are sponsored through University. We operate clean water initiatives, run career development centres, offer self-defence courses for young women and a thousand other schemes for good besides.

I’m truly humbled to have been chosen as a Volunteer of the Year and to be able to take this trip of a lifetime. I will see the opening of new schools; dine with University graduates that Sopra Steria has sponsored since their very first day of school. I will meet teachers we have trained in technology and computing to prepare the next generation for work in the modern world and understand how we are challenging social factors to stop these young minds being plucked from school and put to work. In just a few day’s time I will be travelling across India to see the inspiring good work that we, as a company, are doing and the difference it makes to lives of real children elsewhere in the world.

Volunteer of the Year

Robert is one of Sopra Steria UK’s Volunteers of the Year. As Volunteer of the Year 2017, he will travel to India next week to visit our international award-winning Community programmes run by our India CSR team. Each year, Sopra Steria India CSR programmes puts around 70,000 children through school, while also providing free lunches, access to drinking water and toilet facilities, and a huge number of other educational and social benefits.

Robert - Volunteer Quote

Having been an active volunteer for many years, supporting schools, colleges and universities as well as many STEM events through the #IET and #STEM Ambassador program, I’m really looking forward to visiting the #Soprasteria India CSR programs and learning first hand how much benefit and life improvement the students gain from our support.

Sopra Steria have rewarded me with this excellent opportunity after learning about all the efforts myself and the #IETSwindon team have put in to our activity program each year, and in particular our prestige event of support for #RIAT and the technozone at the Royal International Air Tattoo hosted at RAF Fairford each year. Over 3 days we have between 4,000 and 5,000 visitor’s through our stand enjoying all the hands on activities to encourage students to learn more about science and technology subjects (STEM).

Volunteer

I will be heading to India on Monday 12th February to see the amazing work our Sopra Steria India Foundation does. I’m looking forward to learning more about the culture and helping the students with any tech questions they may have. As part of my volunteer work, I see first hand how important it is for students to have access to technology and how excited they are by seeing tech in action. It is by showcasing the opportunities tech can provide that we grow the next generation of STEM leaders.

Follow my journey on Twitter or be sure to check back on this blog for my write up post the 10 day trip.

Have you heard the latest buzz from our DigiLab Hackathon winners?

The innovative LiveHive project was crowned winner of the Sopra Steria UK “Hack the Thing” competition which took place last month.

Sopra Steria DigiLab hosts quarterly Hackathons with a specific challenge, the most recent named – Hack the Thing. Whilst the aim of the hack was sensor and IoT focused, the solution had to address a known sustainability issue. The LiveHive team chose to focus their efforts on monitoring and improving honey bee health, husbandry and supporting new beekeepers.

A Sustainable Solution 

Bees play an important role in sustainability within agriculture. Their pollinating services are worth around £600 million a year in the UK in boosting yields and the quality of seeds and fruits[1]. The UK had approximately 100,000 beekeepers in 1943 however this number had dropped to 44,000 by 2010[2]. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in beekeeping which has highlighted a need for a product that allows beekeepers to explore and extend their knowledge and capabilities through the use of modern, accessible technology.

LiveHive allows beekeepers to view important information about the state of their hives and receive alerts all on their smartphone or mobile device. The social and sharing side of the LiveHive is designed to engage and support new beekeepers and give them a platform for more meaningful help from their mentors. The product also allows data to be recorded and analysed aiding national/international research and furthering education on the subject.

The LiveHive Model

The LiveHive Solution integrates three services – hive monitoring, hive inspection and a beekeeping forum offering access to integrated data and enabling the exchange of data.

“As a novice beekeeper I’ve observed firsthand how complicated it is to look after a colony of bees. When asking my mentor questions I find myself having to reiterate the details of the particular hive and history of the colony being discussed. The mentoring would be much more effective and valuable if they had access to the background and context of the hives scenario.”

LiveHive integrates the following components:

  • Technology Sensors: to monitor conditions such as temperature and humidity in a bee hive, transmitting the data to Azure cloud for reporting.
  • Human Sensors: a Smartphone app that enables the beekeeper to record inspections and receive alerts.
  • Sharing Platform: to allow the novice beekeeper to share information with their mentors and connect to a forum where beekeepers exchange knowledge, ideas and experience. They can also share the specific colony history to help members to understand the context of any question.

How does it actually work?

A Raspberry Pi measures temperature, humidity and light levels in the hive transmits measurements to Microsoft Azure cloud through its IoT Hub.

Sustainable Innovation

On a larger scale, the data behind the hive sensor information and beekeepers inspection records creates a large, unique source of primary beekeeping data. This aids research and education into the effects of beekeeping practice on yields and bee health presenting opportunities to collaborate with research facilities and institutions.

The LiveHive roadmap plans to also put beekeepers in touch with the local community through the website allowing members of the public to report swarms, offer apiary sites and even find out who may be offering local honey!

What’s next? 

The team have already created a buzz with fellow bee projects and beekeepers within Sopra Steria by forming the Sopra Steria International Beekeepers Association which will be the beta test group for LiveHive. Further opportunities will also be explored with the service design principle being applied to other species which could aid in Government inspection. The team are also looking at methods to collaborate with Government directorates in Scotland.

It’s just the start for this lot of busy bees but a great example of some of the innovation created in Sopra Steria’s DigiLab!

[1] Mirror, 2016. Why are bee numbers dropping so dramatically in the UK?  

[2] Sustain, 2010. UK bee keeping in decline