Slovenia, March 2016: A pharmaceutical company adds a refugee component into their regular social corporate responsibility activities, showing importance of solidarity.
A leading Slovenian company made refugees a focus of their corporate social responsibility activities this year, with wonderful results for all who took part. Some 600 employees of Slovenian Lek pharmaceutical company that is part of the Sandoz Group, are involved in community work from helping the elderly and disabled to donating blood and planting trees. But recent arrivals were not forgotten, as 10 refugee families from the Logatec and 30 men from the Kotnikova Asylum Home branch were also included in special events.
“It’s all about giving and we open our hearts to those in need of help. Anyone who has been involved in volunteer work knows that these moments stay with us forever” said Katarina Klemenc, Head of Corporate Communications Department at the company. “And it’s all about people. Refugees are people just like us,” she adds. “When you experience the warm response that you create just by dedicating your time and attention to others, you then realise how little it actually takes to bring some happiness into peoples’ lives. This feeling is priceless.”
“This year, we wanted to reach out to, among others, our new friends from war-torn countries.”
In the context of the European refugee crisis, which saw hundreds of thousands of refugees pass through Slovenia, the company decided that something had to be done to help the refugees in Slovenia feel welcome and to give them a sense of well-being in their host community.
Busting myths through universal activities
Football and a visit to Ljubljana Zoo seemed good options to entertain the refugees.
“We were looking for a universal activity, something that is everybody can enjoy. To overcome the language barrier, a visit to the Zoo seemed an obvious choice for the children as did football for the men.”
With the help of a local non-governmental organisation, corporate volunteers made sure that a bus and entry tickets were ready to take the refugee children and their parents to the Ljubljana Zoo. Upon arrival, the children first learned some facts about animals and then they went on a guided tour, meeting many exotic and not so exotic animals along the way.
For the parents, children and the volunteers it was a positive and enjoyable event. “Many volunteers were curious about how the children would interact with them and how they would respond. After a day together, we realised that they are just like our children. They loved the animals and in particular they enjoyed those animals in the petting Zoo.”
The one day event also included an indoor activity. Around 30 male refugees gathered in the gym at the Ledina Primary School for a day of sports together with the volunteers and they were clearly anxious to show off their football playing skills. The motivation to take part exceeded all expectations and teams were created in no time at all and then the fun commenced! “A great number of people turned up. It was very exciting! It wasn’t just football, there was also dancing and eating,” reported one of the refugee participants.
A long-term investment into local integration
Undertaking local initiatives for reaching out to refugees and helping them integrate with the local communities is an important part of their integration process. UNHCR hopes that initiatives like Lek’s corporate volunteering, is only a beginning of actions where big and small local companies engage in work with refugees. Only in this way, will the host community recognise refugees as an opportunity rather than a threat, making sure that their knowledge and skills are used for the benefit of all.
Interaction and the process of getting to know each other will in the long run help refugees feel at home in Slovenia and at the same time help the Slovenian host community feel at ease living side by side with their new neighbours.