Start from the inside
Cognifide is a British-Polish company, founded 15 years ago by Miro Walker and Stu Dean simultaneously in Poznan, Poland and London, UK. During this 15-year journey, it transformed through the business evolution cycle – from startup, then becoming a mid-size organisation, joining the WPP network as a part of Wunderman Thompson in 2014.
At every step of its development, the company’s leadership was taking a specific, sustainable approach. At first, they focused on the employment and industrial relations, supporting the business with responsible and honest internal relations, based on respect, dialogue and honesty. Then, the employees started to give back to the local communities. They simply began to question some of the company traditions – such as celebrating Christmas with small company gifts. They suggested better ways of spending Christmas money. 2012 was the moment where we took a careful look around us and started to notice our social environment more.
But – first things first. The desire to help others probably wouldn’t have been there without first taking care of the employees, business transparency, ethical business practices and respect for stakeholder interest in the first place. The whole approach seemed to be intuitive, but it turned out to be the most profitable direction. And this is where we recommend starting the journey.
Strategy helps to focus
Initially, Cognifide's initiatives were more ad hoc, but they were owned and led by employees. Despite introducing a strategy and structuring CSR activities, this principle remains unchanged – everything we do is based on the ideas of our people. What really counts in CSR projects is commitment and the willingness to share your passions and interests with others.
Cognifide's CSR strategy is based on three pillars: knowledge, diversity & inclusion, along with the environment. Another important thing for us is to ensure that our projects have the potential to scale and grow with us. The conception of strategy was based on surveys, interviews with people and research of the social environment. For instance, after involvement in sharing our knowledge with students and local experts during conferences and meet-ups, we knew that education is a natural direction of social engagement for us.
In each of these pillars, we conduct several activities, which you can read about in one of the previous editions of Contact Magazine http://bpcc.org.pl/contact-magazine/issues/26/categories/125/articles/762
Business connects to the environment
For over five years, we have stuck to our strategy guidelines, which has turned out to be beneficial both for the company and the local environment. There are several reasons for that. Firstly – we do what we really know – we share our experts’ knowledge, which already is our resource. Secondly – our staff (which are mostly the Y generation) are committed and engaged in their projects, because they own them. Thirdly, we can see the social benefits as well as the business return of our actions. In summary: competence volunteering is the key to sustainability.
Cognifide’s people are keen to learn and develop, but they are also very open to sharing their knowledge and supporting the local and global tech environment with their experience. It's natural for us to use these skills, instead of engaging in something that lies far away from our field of excellence. We can serve society much better by teaching programming to children rather than engaging in other ways which we know nothing about.
One of our long-term initiatives, Meet Go with Cognifide, is about teaching Go (an ancient board game) to children, enhancing their logical and analytical skills. This project was followed by another one: Scottie Go. Using the game of Scottie Go (which was, by the way, created in PCSS in Poznań) over 30 of Cognifide’s volunteers introduced the basics of algorithms to a few groups of young children. With the beginning of this school year, we have became a patron of the first class for programmers at the Secondary Technical School in Poznań. As the programming specialisation is a brand new one in the Polish educational system, we were involved in shaping the curriculum at every step of its creation. A group of multidisciplinary experts reviewed and improved the framework, ensuring that it is in line with the latest trends and newest technologies. We plan to support the class for the next five years, providing learning materials, lectures, reviews and scholarship for young talents. Here, we have an opportunity to make a real change in the education system.
That project is a continuation of a former course called Linux Gateway. Cognifide’s team of systems engineers invented, prepared and provided complex training in the Linux operating system for students, after seeing a skills gap on the market. The great (and very business-relevant) thing is that the best graduates (and we mean 19 year-olds here) joined us for longer as part-time employees.
We believe that the marriage of business and science brings benefits to all parties involved. We strongly engage in supporting local universities in Poznań, Poland. We are a part of the Employer’s Council of the Poznań University of Technology and a partner of the Adam Mickiewicz University, supporting their Mathematics and Computer Science Faculty. We also run an internship programme for students (sometimes we’ve been hiring over 40 interns at a time for paid internships!).
CSR: lockdown style
Our skills and business profile proved to be useful during the pandemic situation too. When business faced the lockdown, it was easier for a global company (especially in the IT industry) to switch to fully remote work. However, we had equipment, skills and ways of working that supported us in that process. We knew that for some people in our social landscape that new situation was hard. We discovered that lockdown didn’t mean we have to give up our CSR activities. In collaboration with the PISOP (the Association Centre of Promotion and Civil Initiative Development), we provided a number of webinars (about subjects like remote work, positive language and social media) to social and NGO leaders. We became a mentor for the Niwa foundation for education and development, supporting it in reviewing business and communication strategies.
It even turned out that we still could support others through our well-known Project Shoebox initiative (a collection of toiletries donated to women in crisis – one of our ways of supporting inclusion, described here). The fourth edition of Shoebox in Poland ended on 8 March, just a few days before the lockdown. This year, we collected over 700 boxes together with our partners – but we couldn’t deliver them all on time.
Because of the pandemic, we had to postpone shipping. It also turned out that we have even more toiletries and cosmetics than we expected! So, a box with extra soap and shower gels also helped in the fight against Covid-19. The personal hygiene products were donated to the local social welfare home and to the Jacek z Szafy [‘Jack-in-the-cupboard’] Foundation, which supports people in the crisis of homelessness. In this difficult time for everyone, helping the underprivileged was especially needed.
There and back again – employee's relations really are fundamental
The spread of the Covid-19 virus and the hard lockdown was a difficult time for everyone. From one day to another, we had to change our usual ways of working, merge one’s work and private life in the home environment and try not go crazy in the new reality. There was also the question of how to support employees in this difficult time. How can we adapt our actions to the current situation?
At Cognifide, we appreciate the involvement of our employees and their initiatives, thanks to which we can respond adequately to the needs of the local communities. That commitment and passion proved to be useful in maintaining internal relations during pandemic, taking care of our wellness and well-being. Events that had been taking place in the office were switched to online. To stay connected, integrate and remain in good relations, we had an opportunity to take part in a meeting on artificial intelligence or virtually visit the Games Museum in Bydgoszcz. Our regular meetings of the 7 Continents Club, where we used to meet and exchange knowledge and impressions about other countries or cultures were held regularly. Borders were closed, yes, but at least we could talk about our travels and cultivate our interest in that way, strengthening the feeling of connection. People interested in board games could learn the rules of Go (the same game which we teach to children!). Every week on Mondays, our employees received an online calendar with activities planned for the whole week, and tips and tricks about support for their health, well-being and nutrition.
In addition to the online relaxation and yoga activities run by employees, we were also supported by dedicated specialists. Physiotherapists helped us to organise a space to work at home and showed what exercises can be done without leaving home – everything happened online. During meetings with a dietitian, we could learn how to modify our diet and adapt it to a change in lifestyle, and what to eat to stay healthy and in shape. Finally, a meeting with a psychologist was organised for parents that suddenly stayed home full time with their children. They were able to ask questions and listen to some advice on how to organise the day at home with their children.
Responsible business reacts to situation
Our CSR approach proved to be a huge support for business when reality was flipped by 180 degrees. Strategy, the ways we get involved, the commitment and engagement of employees; finally – our care of employment relations – all these things helped us to operate efficiently, but also continue our social engagement in a new way. Being responsible means using our resources in a way that is mature, logical and beneficial to everyone involved.