Interview Isrid van Geuns | November 2011
During the ‘Green Awareness Day’ on November 11, 2011, VGT, CBW-MITEX and MODINT came together during a gathering for the entire fashion branch to address the topic ‘Green is the Common Denominator’. Key message at this convention; how do these branch organisations view the MVO, what steps have been taken and why is branch cooperation so important.
Day’s chairman Annemarie van Gaal introduced the convention’s objective followed by a panel interview comprising chairmen of the above-mentioned branch organisations and their MVO experts.
Exclusively for MODINT Time, I was fortunate to have a delicious lunch with Annemarie and talk about the convention, her own vision and experiences with MVO and the binding power of storytelling.
Isrid: Annemarie, one of your company’s specialties is to help the financial sector to convey their story to be able to make a better connection with their consumer. I am actually quite curious if you thought the stories on stage this morning were inspiring. Wouldn’t you say the level of inspiration of these MVO stories could be raised?
Annemarie: “yes I suppose so. In my opinion, if the goal is for people to really commit to MVO, they have to come up with more meaningful examples.”
First of all, this convention has been a great initiative creating more insight, inspiration and support. Having said that, I would have appreciated the chairmen to have spoken more from the heart. Philip Chamberlain’s presentation (Head of Sustainable Business Development C&A Europe) could have done with fewer theoretical slides and more storytelling energy.
“I agree. I would have loved to hear what really happened in this family business. They used to not be so transparent and responsible, so what caused the complete turnaround? Who threw in the towel, who was opposed? Just dare to be open and tell the story. I love stories of struggle and victory.”
That is the reason why I enjoyed your powerful kick off when you told the story of the dictatorial director of a Chinese confection factory which you visited. In honor of your visit he had his staff line up for hours outside in the sweltering heat and snap at his staff.
Those were the same employees who told you afterwards how much they enjoyed working in this factory. The story clearly indicates that leadership and conducting the MVO policy together isn’t globally perceived in the same way.
“Exactly, and surely the MVO is in fact a little sketchy even for the average Dutch citizen, just like the complex issues relating to pensions. If I hand you a book about the general policies of the MVO in the Netherlands, it’s likely you won’t read it, just as you wouldn’t read a book about pensions. As part of storytelling, our company created a book for Zwitserleven including ten personal real life scenarios. These stories are about divorce, loss, mourning and many other serious events in relation to pensions in which anybody can recognise themselves.”
This approach creates a link to the subject matter and makes people stop and think about their own personal situation.”
What is the reason you joined MVO Nederland?
“I feel we don’t have an alternative choice and it’s just really important. It is time to realise once and for all that we as entrepreneurs stop waiting around for something to happen but grab the bull by the horns ourselves. Not just to benefit the planet and financial gain but for the people too. We need to learn a new way on how to deal with the people working for us.”
Is there perhaps a personal interest or story behind your connection with MVO?
“I have always been socially committed. I lived in Russia for more than 10 years and I was really confronted with reality at that time. At military parades the government ordered the use of chemicals so as not to have clouds and therefore rain on that day. Meanwhile the West concerned itself with the harmful effects of aerosols. I am just saying. Russia isn’t a just country. In Russia it happens that children with cancer go into treatment at the hospital but are being abandoned by their own parents in doing so. They may come out cured but as an orphan, no parents to return to. I am so done with this non integrity.”
Today we heard yet again about the importance of bonding, collaborating and awareness.
You represent all of that and I think you are a very conscientious and sensitive person.
“I do stand for that, financial awareness in which I am currently heavily involved, comes forth from that point of view. Never give up on people and intervene at the right time.”
I noticed you are a strong believer in ‘knowledge is power.’ If you give people knowledge and insight they become more powerful. It seems a reoccurring factor in the things you do.
“It’s true that halve of the battle is insight. That is of huge importance and needs to be brought to you in the right fashion. The other halve is dedication. Without dedication we will never overcome the problem.”
It just occurred to me you are a symbol of uniting insight and awareness in which you create you own revenue model as well as creating profit for other people.
“Yes, on my return from Russia, I felt I had to ‘stand on the barricades’ but soon enough I realised that wasn’t the right approach. It causes friction and resistance and in order to send a message it’s better done in a more natural way.”
Just be part of it?
Certainly, but more in a practical way. Show by example. Just like the pension stories.”
For that matter I see the opportunity for a business model in which you create a book like the one you did for the pensions but then filled with MVO stories…
Are there any thoughts you would like to give our branch, the confection industry, on the MVO context?
“We have heard repeatedly today that consumers want to buy from a company who identifies with MVO on the condition that it won’t cost extra money. It would be an excellent start as an entrepreneur to express more clearly what it is that they do and really show it.”
Back to the storytelling element. Companies and certain countries could really use some help turning matter into a story. To stop thinking the story can only be told once it’s completed. I am not a journalist with a green base and as an outsider I am looking for appealing elements and practical projects to connect to the MVO initiatives.
“Exactly and I think it’s necessary that people like you join this discussion. It enables you to think differently and view things with a fresh pair of eyes. It is not just about storytelling and to inspire people but also about making a practical turn. How are we actually going to do this? I miss that in most of the discussions addressing this topic. Not just talking, but adding experience to it too.”
Is there a practice model from your own company that may illustrate how to apply MVO?
“For example, my team owned three lease cars. We are frequently at the office leaving the cars unused. If we need to go to a meeting in Amsterdam we quite often use a scooter to get there. I consulted with everybody. Can we do this differently? We decided to get rid of the three lease cars and purchase one lease car in return. A very simple solution and it works perfectly. We never come across the issue of two people wanting to use the car at the same time. Even our staff agreed right away.”
With that, you explain what it is really all about. You don’t force a decision but consult with all parties involved. Besides, that kind of bonding power is typical female energy. I certainly don’t want to put words into your mouth but do you see a connection between economical feminism and the development of MVO?
“Yes, I do believe it would have been hard to have created a spark among just men with respect to social responsibility. Recently I watched a documentary about so called ‘Sharia’ banking. In my opinion that’s true MVO and these banks have only seen growth in times of crisis. Every director I visited, whether it be in Asia, India or the Middle east; they were all females! Just to hear how they treated their staff. This is how noble the profession of banking was meant to be.”
Excellent way to bridge this gap between banking and the profession of sales people. Sales has lost its value, but in the end how important is it the consumer gets to be told the real story?
“Very important! If your story is meaningful, consumers are more than willing to pay a little extra. You need to explain where your product is coming from and why as a company or shop owner you made a well thought out decision.
Finally, I would like to give you a beautiful example. I was part of the Women Excellence Award jury and one winner, a female entrepreneur, is chosen for each continent. Often times the winners are very much in tune with MVO even though they are not consciously aware of it. For women it comes with the territory. And so in Africa, on the Ivory coast, we find a lot of weaving mills. Weaving is a prestigious job and only carried out by men. No women are allowed to weave. However, one woman started her own weaving mill, hiring only women to do the job. It became a very successful mill, large and profitable. The point is not really an all female weaving mill, but the fact the tide was turned. It established the fact that not just men could do this job, and it creates an important change in the mindset of people.”
Annemarie van Gaal (1962)is the owner of Van Gaal & Company and went from single mom to successful businesswoman. She used to live and work in Russia and in Amsterdam worked as an investor in real estate, owned a magazine publishing house and she is the author of various bestsellers. She collaborated on financial television shows such as Dragon’s Den, Ten Einde Raad and Een dubbeltje op zijn kant. Annemarie is a columnist for Het Financiele Dagblad and Margriet. In 2010, she joined MVO Nederland and became the recruitment campaign’s spokesperson.
VGT – Association of Wholesalers in Textile
CBW-MITEX (Inretail) - Largest branch organisation in non food retail
MODINT – Branch organisation for fashion, interior design, floor covering and textile
MVO – Socially Responsible Venture
ISRID is an owner-run agency for access to talent, recruitment and change consultancy, serving an exclusive and high-quality portfolio of clients in the fashion, lifestyle and luxury industry.