Corporate social responsibility is Dr Bea Andersen’s life’s work. She and her husband Bob have been running the family business Mount Elgon Orchards Ltd. for 20 years.
This flower exporting business grows roses on a farm in western Kenya for customers around the world. The company employs around 1400 people, making it the largest employer in the Chepchoina region close to the Ugandan border. Many employees live in the surrounding villages.
When Andersen moved to Kenya in 1995, living conditions in the villages were tough: many families lived in simple huts without sanitary facilities, and the lack of basic hygiene meant that infections were common. Local healthcare was inadequate, too.
To provide its employees with a functioning healthcare structure, the company had to act on a number of fronts at the same time. Inspired by the United Nations’ Millennium Villages Project, it focused on health, education and accommodation.
Andersen soon realised that to achieve progress in these areas required not only perseverance and passion but also partners who would provide technical and financial support for the project.
The Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsesellschaft mbH (DEG) was a key partner from the outset. It provides financing for development and has been supporting the company for more than 10 years in creating prospects for growth and improving living conditions for local people. Mount Elgon Orchards embarked on a development partnership with DEG financed by the develoPPP.de-programme, which is promoted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Andersen, who is a trained doctor, initially concentrated on healthcare for her workforce. The nearest hospital was 30 kilometres away, and very few employees could afford to travel to it, so she set up a local health centre. ‘The centre is open to everyone,’ explains Julius Sakong, one of the managers: ‘Patients get good treatment and the right medication.’
The Andersen Medical Centre is now well established in the region and beyond, and the staff of around 35 treat nearly 40,000 patients a year. As well as facilities for outpatients and inpatients, the Centre has a laboratory, a treatment room for minor surgery, a maternity ward, and facilities for dental and orthopaedic treatment. It also runs a special programme for Home based Care and HIV/Aids.
HIV/Aids was a particular challenge: a lack of education and restricted access to drugs made it harder to treat the virus, so in addition to the health centre, Andersen set up a mobile advice centre with support from the develoPPP.de programme. It offers free testing and advice in surrounding villages, and community helpers provide information and education about HIV.
Clinic worker Hellen Wanyonyi says ‘There used to be a lot of prejudice. Now, the education campaigns we run mean that people are more understanding and supportive of our clients.’ The clinic supports around 700 clients and offers women infected with HIV prophylaxis during their pregnancy.
To promote preventive health care among her workforce, Andersen set up the Habitat for Humanity project. Families can apply for an affordable loan to purchase a plot of land and build a low-cost, high-quality and sustainable house.
These homes are designed according to their needs and provide access to clean water and a garden, where families can grow vegetables for their own use. Jessinda Mutimba lives in one of these houses with her husband and five children. ‘We are very proud of where we live’, she says. ‘It feels good to be able to provide my family with a clean and safe place to live.’
Jessinda’s children also attend the primary school and secondary school set up by Andersen nearby. The school’s very first students are now returning to their home villages with university qualifications and applying for jobs in the company.
Yet many children and young people in the region are still unable to attend school. In rural areas in particular, their primary school grades are not good enough to enable them to move on to secondary education. As an alternative to unemployment, Andersen set up a vocational training centre where young people can obtain practical training and a qualification.
The training centre offers training for vehicle mechanics, electricians, bricklayers, metalworkers, hairdressers and garment makers – occupations for which there is a high demand in the local area.
The Andersen Vocational Training Centre also attracts applicants from the local town and neighbouring countries. ‘Many of our training courses are unique, such as those in agriculture and floriculture. With the knowledge our apprentices acquire here, they can go on to find skilled work on the rose farm or in another company’, Bea Andersen explains.
Another training course is currently being set up, this time for the hotel sector, with a specially developed curriculum. The new course will train around 20 apprentices a year in hotel management and services. To give the apprentices access to practical training, Mount Elgon Orchards is building a hotel near the farm with support from DEG.
The company has been able to access apprentices from the Andersen Vocational Training Centre to build the hotel and, says Andy Dean, Manager of the Mount Elgon Trust and head of the construction project, ‘the hotel will provide overnight accommodation for around 18 guests, a small meeting area, a roof terrace and a hotel kitchen with its own garden. The open-plan architecture encourages exchange and contact between the apprentices and the guests.’ The classroom directly adjoins the hotel.
‘The develoPPP.de-programme is ideally suited for companies looking for financial support for projects with a relevance to development,’ says Andersen. ‘DEG understands that we need to protect the company’s interests and to be in good financial health. A solid financial position and growth means we can be a secure employer.’
Contented employees are key to the company’s success: they work in the greenhouses and in quality management, cut and dispatch the roses, manage the administration, and are also involved in the many community projects the company runs.
Donata Nkonge, grading and pack hall manager, says ‘Employee welfare is right at the top of Mount Elgon Orchards’ agenda. The company runs many social activities that strengthen cohesion between employees, and that is good for the working atmosphere. Our employees love working here, and that really boosts motivation.’
Andersen is determined that her projects, services and infrastructure will go on benefitting people long term. By 2020, the Mount Elgon Trust – which also includes other funders, such as the Dutch organisation Wild Geese – will be ready to hand its projects over to local management.
‘Responsibility needs to be sustainable, conscientious and broad-based if it is to be effective’, says Andersen. She intends to continue to advise the projects at Board level. Her company’s slogan is ‘Quality. Responsibility. Fun!’ and Andersen and her husband will continue to live that vision and share it with others. A hydropower project, designed to ensure a secure energy supply, is already in the early stages.