What changes to the strategic management of the Foundation has the merger with Unión Fenosa brought about?
Beguer: Few changes, because the Foundation was part of Gas Natural and Unión Fenosa did not have a foundation of its own. This enabled there to be no overlapping of departments, facilitating the cementing of the merger. Something which has hindered our management has been the crisis that has come to put a brake on the expansion of the Foundation to the rest of Latin America. We currently operate in 25 countries and all the indications are that we will overcome the obstacles and expand our range of action to other areas of the continent. We always keep in mind that the type of project to be carried out varies country to country. Let me give you an example: in Italy we have projects focused on the environment and in Portugal technical training programmes on gas for external publics. This implies different ways to focus resources. In Latin America the social area is a privileged matter, although this does not mean that everything is social. For example, in Colombia we have four training projects that have an important social background. We are training technical specialists in transforming cars from gasoline to natural gas. This benefits the company, but at the same time these young people who are trained come from neighbourhoods or areas of northern Bogota with level 1b, in other words with limited resources. This training opens up job opportunities for the participants and helps improve their quality of life.
What scale does it have right now?
Throughout the whole of Latin America, we are training gas inspectors and repairers of gas appliances, thereby providing opportunities, hence the social action, for people with limited resources. Although these projects have a connotation that also benefits the company, like all social projects they are fundamentally absolutely necessary actions for companies, the goal is to benefit the local population. A proper company has to have a social action programme, if not it does not make sense. The "Young Scientists" programme, which consists of applying a French educational system, aims to improve understanding and social interaction of children. I have been privileged to share this experience with them and it's amazing how children have been able to use their memory and order things in a practical way. In Colombia we have given this benefit to more than 22 thousand children. In addition, we are training the trainers and thus seeking to expand the programme.
In the latest edition of the Report of the Foundation we saw a strong presence of environmental issues; in fact the President's letter focuses on this issue.
Yes, this had to do the merger with Unión Fenosa. We are directly linked to gas and now with the merger we have become a centre for gas and electricity, in addition to wind power. Hence the dedication of the company to the environmental issue.
How does the work of the Foundation and that of the company complement each other? We see that in companies there is a tension between the commercial operation and the hard areas of finance and the work of foundations, how does this tension manifest itself in the company?
It is in the Foundation’s interest to have contact with the different departments of the company. For example, we try to articulate our strategy towards the external public supported by the training centre within the company's corporate university, which trains internal staff.
The First Export Programme works in the same way, directed at external interest groups such as SMEs, doesn’t it? How does this programme work?
The programme arose at a particular moment in Argentina's history, the “corralito” (restrictions on bank withdrawals). There was an urgent need to promote opportunities and capacities for SMEs. We have already been reaping success for 10 years and we expect more. We have managed to be a guide for a successful export strategy.
Another point where we see a link between the work of the Foundation and the company's business are the programmes for access to service for low-income sectors. This could be classified in what is now known as "Business with the base of the pyramid". In fact Gas Natural has won awards under that name. What is the current development of these programmes?
In Colombia we have extended the service to a large proportion of the population through the commercial area of Fenosa. However there have been great challenges, we are working to overcome the illegal connections which endanger the poorest members of the population. How do you think the Spanish crisis is going to impact, or if it is already impacting the management of the company? It has clearly affected the management and budget of the company. Despite this, our work has managed to keep our programmes running. What we have not managed is to expand to other countries which in other situations we might have done.
How do you think the Spanish crisis will impact on the movement of Corporate Social Responsibility?
Society tends to think that this is the first area that cut back in times of crisis. However, the company is looking to change these trends, and to hold fast to the strategy that we consider key for a service company. Although the budgets are adjusted, we try to make them more effective. Argentina is a special case because it is the place where the first programmes of the Foundation were inaugurated. We are interested in emphasising environmental issues in Latin America because we believe they are strategic issues for our company. We seek to transfer the Spanish experience, leader in this material. There is a high demand in Latin America for environmental actions, a civic commitment to the protection of local biodiversity.
How do you envision the future of corporate foundations, whose actions manifest the link with the community, in the face of the new scenario of sustainability that emphasises that CSR is not philanthropy?
I think foundations will focus more on local issues. Foundations are the model for maintaining a dialogue with the local population. But it is essential that they are not just a friendly face, the key is for them to show interest in and connect themselves to the country's needs. It is an ideal that will benefit the company and the local population.