'Doing good across the borders' (by Mrs. Marilena Fatsea, Ph.D., Corporate Affairs Director, COSMOTE)

By Marilena Fatsea, Ph.D. (*)

Following its rapid expansion in South-East Europe, COSMOTE traces the steps to cohesion of its corporate citizenship practices with the aim of having a tangible impact.

Over the years, COSMOTE has built a strong brand that — in the mind of the average Greek — invokes the attributes of ethical commitment, pro-active contribution to society and its overlying corporate raison d'etre: a human-centric philosophy based on the principle of sustainability. That is: financial sustainability, the subsequent continued growth capability for shareholders, and sustainability for all people, communities and natural environments which ultimately shape the markets, work forces and wider operating landscape of the company.

COSMOTE has invested immensely, both in time and resources, in order to structure and preserve a strong social profile. It has opted to achieve that by focusing on the actual implementation of a wide range of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. In other words, COSMOTE selected the challenging route of investing and really becoming a positive force in the environments it operates in, rather than just successfully communicating its being a model corporate citizen.

Over the years, the COSMOTE brand has evolved and the COSMOTE family of companies has expanded to include operations in Albania, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and, most recently, in Romania. COSMOTE, as a group now, realises that its brand equity and associated social capital in Greece may not mean much in those new operating environments.

However, COSMOTE's CSR investment has proven a far more valuable asset. As it started expanding in other countries, the company deployed marketing practices, brand essence philosophies, strategies and, more importantly, human capital culture, all deeply affected by its existing social profile, past track record and reported commitments. Thus, the management teams sent out to those countries have not merely adhered to some CSR ideals but have consciously embraced and applied COSMOTE's core philosophy of human-centric sustainability through taking care of customers, its own human resources, the communities the company operates in and the natural environment.

Strategy deployment, synergies and co-operation in an array of operations have acted as the carrier of these human-centric philosophies, further establishing them in the common corporate practice.

COSMOTE's CSR investment is creating a common reference language for all, a living internal repository of best practices and reference procedures.
Ultimately, COSMOTE's internal concept of human-centric sustainability at all levels of corporate planning and operation is becoming a mantra of inspiration, motivation and transnational Group communication.

However, one should not forget that corporate social responsibility loses its meaning unless it addresses identified issues and helps alleviate the problems of real people, societies and environments.

No centrally enforced strategy could or can be viable unless it responds to actual needs. A philosophy needs to be acted upon. And who better to show the optional way to apply this but the local management and people — the heartbeat of COSMOTE's South-East Europe operations?

The South-East European equation

The COSMOTE Group has assessed the 'new reality' and concludes that in an era of globalisation a transnational company should take into consideration the local parameters of the countries it operates in by adopting a 'think global, act local' mentality without compromising its core values and socially responsible direction that has cemented the brand in Greece.

Most of South-East Europe is in a state of flux and comprises transitional economies with unique complexities for each country. The COSMOTE Group has no option but to 'aggressively' move into every single one of those markets by formulating a corporate social agenda, taking into consideration local realities: protecting and fortifying the learning capabilities of South-East Europe, working toward the equilibrium of working conditions in the region, embracing and communicating the uniqueness of the region's cultures, addressing South-East Europe's critical social deficit in health, etc.

Essentially, COSMOTE is moving into South-East Europe with the same principles, transparent operation and ethical values which have matured in Greece and have created a unique school of thought for all of COSMOTE's human capital, all based on previous experience of positive advancement in specific domains such as social welfare and health, environmental protection, culture and education and volunteerism. The mantra of 'sustainability' and the COSMOTE core value of becoming 'a positive force' remain intact.

For instance, COSMOTE has always viewed its human capital as the company's most valuable asset. Its expansion in South-East Europe has been a unique opportunity to replicate the creation of a modern and safe working environment offering equal rights and opportunities for all people, as it had done in Greece. In deploying that experience in countries like Albania, Bulgaria, FYROM and Romania, COSMOTE is helping to create a best practice reference point for the industry in those countries.

Apart from safeguarding its human capital, COSMOTE has succeeded in becoming a positive inspiration and benchmark for other companies in those countries. That inspiration goes 'beyond and above' through COSMOTE developing, promoting and supporting a culture of well-being (implementation of recreational activities, employee participation in sporting activities and healthy living endorsement).

An ever-evolving process

Working closely with our subsidiaries in the region, we are helping to spread the word of our core CSR philosophy, adapting it to local needs and addressing identified real-life issues, developing synergies for a wider impact. Even more, we are taking local successful practices into account and incorporating them into the global social agenda.

It is a learning process. Indeed, its challenges are many. The reward for making it happen in a meaningful way, however, can be far greater.

(*) Marilena Fatsea, Ph.D. is COSMOTE's Corporate Affairs Director. E-mail: mfatseacosmote.gr.

Source: The Bridge (Q3/2006, issue 2), a quarterly review on the Greek presence in South-East Europe and the South-East Mediterranean, published by BusinessOnMedia, Athens.