The circumstances of the past year have provided meaningful opportunity for reflection as individuals, families, and organizations. The needs around us, further highlighted by the reality of the pandemic, are more likely to have our attention and asking questions of how we can respond in ways that make a difference.
In this season, Truth North Marine (TNM), a Montreal-based provider of weather routing and performance monitoring services to shipping companies, has been engaging in this kind of deeper reflection and asking important questions regarding corporate social responsibility. Throughout the process, they resolved to think of ways they could give back to their community and support worthy causes in this critical time.
Giving back has been an aspiration since TNM’s founding, however this crisis has provided the impetus to supercharge this initiative. But upon launching, the company found itself asking further questions: What was the best way to give back to their community? Who exactly is their community? How could they maximize their impact?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are undertaken by organizations large and small, and some have been controversial. Some critics assert that certain CSR initiatives work at cross purposes with the day-to-day operations of their organization. Even well intentioned organizations must exercise caution and conduct some due diligence when undertaking a CSR program to ensure that the partnered organization aligns with their own values. It is also important not to treat CSR as merely a PR exercise; CSR programs are a great opportunity to define your company’s values and then express those values through deliberate action.
When TNM launched their CSR initiative, they decided that partnering with a non-profit organization was the best option to maximize their impact. They also wanted the process to be guided by a set of principles: whatever organization they chose to partner with needed to have a measurable impact; the organization needed to be active in their community; and they wanted to ensure that their employees were able to provide their own input and, once they had selected a partner, would have opportunities to actively involve themselves. Their ultimate goal in abiding by these principles was to ensure their relationship with the chosen CSR partner was not just superficial and that they could hold themselves accountable for their impact.
In the end, this reflection led True North Marine to select Mercy Ships Canada as a corporate partner. TNM acknowledges there is clearly a dire need for the type of health services Mercy Ships provides to developing nations. In many parts of Africa, healthcare infrastructure is very limited or nonexistent. In Senegal, Mercy Ships most recent area of field service, there are only 0.69 doctors per 10 000 people. This means that many people simply do not have access to medical treatments, particularly those living in rural areas. During a standard 10-month field service in a particular port Mercy Ships is able to at least in part, fill the gap in medical services for people lacking access to potentially lifesaving procedures.
The nature of hospital ships as a platform for healthcare delivery also gives Mercy Ships the ability to adapt programs to changing needs and global conditions. After spending 10 months in port, a ship can relocate to a new area based on where the need is greatest. Once there, Mercy Ships can provide various healthcare services ranging from dental procedures to reconstructive surgeries.
Mercy Ships vessels are operated by skilled volunteers including: mariners, healthcare professionals, trades people and many more. By operating with a volunteer model, Mercy Ships is able to minimize the overhead cost of operating the ship and maximize the investment in programs.
One of the principles True North Marine used to guide their decision making was choosing an organization demonstrating a measurable impact. They identified that Mercy Ships meets this criteria as the organization’s impact can be measured by the number of procedures performed each year; last year in Senegal for instance Mercy Ships performed 1407 life-changing surgeries.
TNM also wanted to ensure that their partner organization was one that is active in their community. However, while the company is headquartered in Montreal, a substantial part of their workforce is located in India, with additional offices in Greece and China. In this way, the company’s “community” mirrors that of the shipping industry itself. Shipping is a truly global industry; the vast majority of TNM’s clients are located abroad and they have the privilege of working with ships Captains hailing from many different home countries. True North Marine decided to define their community not just by geography but instead by considering maritime professionals everywhere to be a part of their community.
Despite staying in port for 10 months at a time, the Africa Mercy must maintain a full crew complement of volunteer mariners. Many people within Mercy Ships come themselves from a maritime background and are driven by a commitment to service which is shared with TNM.
Lastly, in True North Marine’s search for a CSR partner they also wanted to involve their staff in the decision-making process and to ensure they were able to contribute in more ways than solely through financial donations. One of the benefits of a CSR program is that it can help provide team members with a sense of higher purpose and a feeling of personal involvement with the organization.
During their selection process, TNM approached members of their team and asked what types of causes they would like to see the company contribute towards. Management was in some ways surprised by the response from around the office because they did not realize so many of their employees were so passionate about so many causes. While the suggestions for partner organizations were diverse, one common thread was a desire to contribute to an organization in the maritime sector. While Mercy Ships Canada is TNM’s first CSR partner, the process of consultation gave the company an excellent opportunity to better understand their team and has given them many ideas for other areas they can support that will reflect their team’s charitable interests.
True North Marine is desiring that their ongoing partnership with Mercy Ships Canada will not be limited to financial contributions but will also give their employees the opportunity to become personally involved with the organization. While their whole office may not be able to volunteer directly, Mercy Ships Canada offers several ways for a team to become more involved with the organization. Because Mercy Ships relies on trained mariners to operate their vessels, they are frequently looking to fill volunteer positions. Companies in the maritime industry are uniquely positioned to reach mariners through their professional and personal networks and so spreading the word about these positions can contribute greatly to an organization. Additionally, some companies also sponsor their employees to volunteer onboard the Africa Mercy, with the company covering the service fee costs. While the exact nature of TNM’s engagement with Mercy Ships is still evolving, it was important to them that they selected a partner that could provide some opportunities for involvement.