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Multinational Companies Giving Back to Costa Rica

In a back corner classroom at the Fidel Chaves Elementary School in La Ribera, in San Antonio de Belén in Heredia, northwest of San José, 20 young students stared intently at small blue computers on their desks Tuesday morning. The students, ages  9 to 11, are studying global warming, the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon and atmospheric conditions.

One student, María Alexa Sanchez, 10, says she is concerned about global warming. She scrolls through her Microsoft PowerPoint application and shows a picture of a car emitting exhaust into the air.

“There are so many cars on the streets and everywhere,” she said. “It makes sense that all that carbon dioxide would heat the Earth.”

Sanchez’s computer, which she is sharing with her lab partner Allan Gonzaléz, is known as a Classmate PC. In 2007, the microchip and computer software producing giant Intel, Costa Rica’s largest-earning company and leading exporter, donated the Classmate PCs to the school to give back to the community that hosts its mammoth plant in La Ribera.

Donating the computers is one way that Intel demonstrates its commitment to corporate social responsibility. 

“Corporate social responsibility is much more than a buzz phrase to us,” said Mike Forrest, the General Manager of Intel Costa Rica. “It’s about understanding the communities around you and working with them to improve the education, productivity and well-being of as many people possible.” 

Intel, which arrived in Costa Rica in 1997, has worked with the Fidel Chaves Elementary School since 2000. Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of Intel’s relationship with the school, where the company first implemented a pilot program to encourage computer education in 2000.

The program appears to be paying off.

“What I see with computer and technology education is that it’s not forgotten overnight. Students don’t just memorize something, write it down on a test and then forget about it,” said María Adonay Rodríguez, who teaches children to use computers at Fidel Chaves. “They work on projects from one day to the next and are in control of finding information they need to complete the assignments. It’s a different method of education and is a tremendous benefit to the students.”

While Intel’s program, paired with the Education Ministry (MEP), has donated 900 computers to 12 Costa Rican schools, there are several other multinational companies that, despite their foreign roots, have found ways to contribute to the Costa Rican communities, schools and environment.   

In this second part of a two-part series on corporate social responsibility, The Tico Times looks at what some multinational companies based in Costa Rica are doing to give back to the country that hosts them.

Hewlett Packard

Ultrapark free-trade zone in Heredia, northwest of San José

Since setting up shop in the Ultrapark free-trade zone in Costa Rica in 2003, the reach of computer hardware and software giant Hewlett Packard (HP) continues to broaden. Currently, 6,500 people are employed in Costa Rica by HP and annual export revenues are in the millions of dollars.

In addition to the taxes it pays and the jobs it provides, HP is earning acclaim for its commitment to corporate social responsibility.  Under the direction of Karla López, manager of social responsibility programs at HP, the company has created service programs in the areas of education, community support and the environment.

The HP Innovations in Education program, which López considers HP’s most important education program, challenges technical high schools to develop projects integrating technology into the daily process of learning math, science and pre-engineering. The schools create unique and educationally beneficial ideas are awarded with the equipment required to implement their ideas, which has included, for example, donating laptops for use by all students enrolled in the course. To date, over $500,000 in equipment has been given to area schools.   

“We believe that education is the only way to ensure development in our countries, and technology is a great ally to create better educated populations,” López said. “We put into action what we know how to do best, and what we know how to do best is technology.”       

Recently, HP volunteers planted 6,000 trees in the “HP Forest,” located on the campus of EARTH University in the Caribbean slope town of Guácimo. In 2011, volunteers expect to plant 4,000 more trees on the campus.

“We have a very young population of workers here and they are very eager to help improve their society,” López said. “Environment is a very important topic, and as a company we understand that there is always more we can do and more we can give to improve the environmental concerns of the country. That desire to keep finding areas where we can improve the country has been the fuel for our volunteers and our projects.”

Scotiabank Costa Rica

San José

The Canadian bank Scotiabank, which was founded in Nova Scotia, arrived in Costa Rica in 1995 and quickly became one of the country’s leading private banks. In recent years, Scotiabank has bolstered its reputation through a number of corporate social responsibility programs. Its principal program, which it calls Brightening the Morning, includes several environmental, social and educational initiatives.

One of the primary environmental components of the Brightening the Morning program is called Recovering La Sabana.  Scotiabank has invested in the maintenance of the park, located west of downtown San José, and assisted in the planting and caretaking of the hundreds of urban trees.

On the social side of the program, Scotiabank has created a project called Bright Goals that provides 15 soccer jerseys, two soccer balls and a goalkeeper’s jersey to low income schools for every goal scored in the playoffs of the country’s First Division soccer league. The program is a collaborative effort between Scotiabank, the First Division’s organizing body, UNAFUT, and the nonprofit organization Do Good.

“We haven’t been able to schedule games on the same week for the boys and girls team because they share the same jerseys,” said Christian Hernández, the coach of the soccer teams at the Centro Educativo El Carmelo in Barrio Cuba, which was the first school to receive jerseys in May. “This school doesn’t have a lot of resources and these jerseys are a wonderful gift for our kids. They were all celebrating when the jerseys arrived.”

Scotiabank also donates books to Costa Rican schools, has a scholarship program for college students and encourages the 1,200 employees of the bank to volunteer in communities.

“We are convinced that part of our duty as citizens and part of the quality service that we provide should be dedicated to our clients,” said Rocío Zamora, the manager of corporate and public relations at Scotiabank Costa Rica. “Our motivation is to assist development in the communities where we work. This is our philosophy at the international level, and we assure that it is carried out at a local level.”

Bridgestone Costa Rica

La Ribera de Belén, Heredia

Bridgestone is one of Costa Rica’s oldest multinational companies, having begun the production of automobile tires in Costa Rica in 1967 with about 200 employees, who manufactured around 425 tires each day. Now, 43 years later, they employ more than 1,000 workers, who manufacture more than 12,000 tires per day.

As the company has grown, so has its commitment to improving the well-being of its employees, the environment and road and community safety. Within the company, Bridgestone has a program developed a program called Forming Citizens, which organizes a biannual camp activities with games and educational activities for employees and their children. The employees also participate in a choir and theatre program.

On the environmental side, Bridgestone has conducted several studies on how to limit carbon emissions at its plants, and is aiming to become a carbon neutral company before 2021. The company recycles tires and scrap metals for reuse.

In the social and education realm, Bridgestone has also a driver’s education program called “I Drive Responsibly” and has worked and invested to combat dengue fever in the country for for over 10 years.

“Corporate social responsibility is a day-to-day part of our operations, as we are constantly making decisions to create a positive impact,” said Ana María Arce, a representative in corporate and community relations at Bridgestone. “We are constantly looking to generate more contributions and support for the Central American and Caribbean region. Businesses should look to promote financial, environmental and social sustainability. At Bridgestone, we believe that is the correct way to do things.” 

Procter & Gamble

Forum Free-Trade Zone, Santa Ana, west of San José

The consumer products giant, which arrived in Costa Rica in 1999, has a corporate social responsibility program to assist children known as Live, Learn and Thrive. The program focuses on improving children’s health, providing learning tools and educational support, and building self-esteem.

Part of the Live, Learn and Thrive program is directed to eliminating barriers facing special needs children. The program donates funds to build wheelchair ramps and accessible bathrooms for schools. To date, P&G has built such infrastructure in 17 schools in Costa Rica, including five in 2010.

Another element of the program includes an initiative called Good Beginning, which commits funds and resources to early childhood development. The objectives of the program are to train personnel to adequately serve children in the early childhood stages as well as to commit more resources and research to the cause.

P&G employees have agreed to a monthly payroll deduction to contribute to the programs.


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