I was in Aruba recently and took the opportunity to research some corporate social responsibility opportunities on the island. I have visited Aruba many times with groups but, as any planner will tell you, often on site there is not enough time to see anything except the inside of a hotel.
My liaison was Ruben Mannes, director of sales and marketing for Eco Aruba Destination Management Services. Eco recently opened in Curacao; in the U.S., it operates with sister company PRA DMS Southeast Florida. Ruben is a CSR enthusiast—Eco Aruba already offers give-back events—and he generously took time to research and set up appointments for me throughout the island.
Arikok National Park occupies over 7,900 acres of land—approximately 18 percent of the island—and boasts a brand-new welcome and education center with many sustainable features in its construction. One example is natural air conditioning; underneath the building, vents and water-filled basins take advantage of the island’s constant breezes to direct wind-cooled air to the areas above. Another feature is the wood used for the building: The South American hardwood will minimize maintenance.
The park center was built with the aid of funds pledged by the Netherlands in 2006 to the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. The DCNA is an umbrella organization formed last year to give a united voice to conservationists on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St Maarten.
The aim of the park is to educate and encourage conservation. It is counting on local support, volunteer help, and revenue from visitors to achieve its long-term goals and financial independence. For an outdoor-loving incentive group, one CSR idea is to combine a bike ride or hike with some trail-cutting and clearing. There is a great network of trails, in addition to a beautiful beach called Boca Prins. West of the park center and close to Fontein Cave, the beach could provide a perfect location for a barbecue after give-back activities. Fontein Cave is the most popular cave in the park; the only one with ornamental drawings of Arawak Indians, it provides a real sense of island history.
Another CSR idea is to invite a group of underprivileged children from a local school or youth organization to join your group on a nature scavenger hunt. This would give you an opportunity to meet local children, treat them to a special day out, give back, and learn about the special natural resources that the park offers.
Back in town, Mannes and I visited the Fundacion pa Hende Muhe den Dificultad (Foundation for Abused Women), an organization providing a safe haven and help for victims of spousal abuse. The housing it provides women is communal but with a separate private room and bath for each resident and her children; it is clean and simply furnished with donated items. Women here receive the counseling and support they need until they can become independent.
On the premises is a small, self-contained studio available to women who need temporary quarters and time to get away from whatever personal situations and think about their next steps. These women have not made decisions to leave their homes but can know they have a safe haven.
The buildings that make up this foundation are located in a quiet area, with a garden at the front and space along one fence for a small playground setup. This could make a rewarding CSR opportunity for a company looking for a hands-on project to benefit children. There is also space for a potential storage shed that would house toys and supplies. Other foundation needs and wants include the construction of a gazebo and general landscaping work. Some of the lodging facilities require renovation and repair, and, of course, there is always a need for financial support. For those looking for a less hands-on project, a private event—such as a casino night—could be held, with the winnings going to the foundation and earmarked for a specific project.
The Stichting Kinderhuis Imeldahof (Imeldahof Children's Home Foundation) is a children’s home originally opened in 1954 by a group of nuns, the Sisters of Bethanie. Now a private foundation, it receives a subsidy from the Dutch government to pay for salaries, as well as a stipend of $6 per day per child to cover for food, clothing, schooling, activities, and all other expenses to run the home. The foundation relies on the surrounding community for additional financial and in-kind support.
Children from six to 18 years of age receive temporary shelter if their home lives become untenable due to parental neglect, mental or physical abuse, or when excessive alcohol or drug abuse by their parents is present. Some of the needs and wants at the children’s home include more plants and shrubs and the creation of garden areas to make the grounds more attractive and appealing. There is an existing playground that needs repairs and upgrading.
The home’s coordinator accompanied us on our visit; the young woman had stayed there as a child. As she showed us around, she pointed out some of the lovely wall hangings produced by the nuns years ago. Craft items made in Aruba are not readily available, so perhaps there is an opportunity to help the home revive the art and give it income-producing potential.
A soccer match between the home’s children and students from a neighboring school on the day Mannes and I visited led me to think of a sports-based give-back. An incentive group with sports enthusiasts might enjoy a “mini-Olympics” where children from the home could form teams with visiting adults. It would be a fun way to visit the home, play some sports, enjoy lunch, and make a donation.
Mannes was the ideal partner for our visits; having lived in the U.S., he is very tuned into the incentive and meetings markets and is an enthusiastic supporter of CSR. We helped each other understand more about incorporating give-back events into Aruba incentive programs. At the same time, we helped educate the local charities about how CSR events could benefit them.
My visit also helped blur the line between tourist and traveler. Aruba is not only a place to relax and have fun; I now know people there that are making a difference each day, and it gives me a personal connection and becomes a place where I, too, have the potential to help change Arubans’ lives for the better.
Hands-on or hands-off, giving back just makes sense and is the right thing to do. The “wow” factor derived from personal recognition for achievement plus accompanying fireworks, wonderful meals, and over-the-top events can only be enhanced and made greater by incorporating “wow” results from changing lives. CSR has the power to do that.
Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent planner with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in southern California, pursuing studies in sustainability, and is a 2009 board member of Site Southern California. She can be reached at email@example.com, via her website, or on LinkedIn.