Letting employees lead on community engagement | Avery Dennison

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Letting employees lead on community engagement

The head of Avery Dennison’s LGM business in Latin America says the key to corporate giving is letting it grow from the grassroots

Ronaldo Mello saw the value of corporate community engagement early in his career, as an employee of a family-owned packaging company that stressed giving and volunteerism in the communities where it had a presence.

“This was 25 years ago,” he explains. “And 25 years ago, nobody else was talking about helping the communities around their plants. And this was at a business with multiple sites, from Colombia to Argentina. So we did a lot of social work, and I remember painting schools and helping people plant vegetables and talking to young people about what it’s like to work in a company.”

Those experiences stayed with him. Today, as Vice President and General Manager of Avery Dennison’s Label and Graphic Materials Business in Latin America, community involvement is a value Ronaldo instills in his teams.

Chile: Invernadero

Chile

Argentina

Argentina

In 2019 alone, many employees across the region took part in about 60 outreach projects directly benefiting a thousand people. Employees in Brazil held a clothing sale to raise funds in support of families in under-resourced areas of São Paulo. In Colombia, employees donated supplies to schools serving low-income students and held a holiday food drive. Team members in Argentina repaired a building for a volunteer fire department and donated gifts for patients at a children’s hospital. In Chile, they built a greenhouse for one kindergarten and helped another celebrate Christmas. And in Mexico, employees planted trees, built a home for a family in need, and donated food to a nonprofit serving the elderly.

And those are just a sampling of employees’ efforts.

“For me, giving to people in need is as important to our company as ethics, diversity, and sustainability,” says Ronaldo. “It’s an important value that I hold for my team. It’s easy to give money—we need to do that, and we do. But working with people in our communities, that’s the more rewarding piece.”

Putting employees in charge
Ronaldo recalls that when Avery Dennison began encouraging volunteerism about eight years ago, with activities initially prescribed by upper management. Few employees outside of the human resources department showed up.

“I said, ‘This should be region-wide. We need everybody. This is about teamwork,’” he recalls. “When we started giving employees more of a voice in who to help and how, the dynamic of the program completely changed.”

Eventually, decisions about community engagement activities (or “social work,” as it is called in Latin American countries) were put in the hands of employees through local social work committees. 

“They decide what they want to do,” says Ronaldo. “I’m not part of the meetings. Sometimes they come to me and say, ‘We need money for supplies because we want to paint the school,’ but they determine where to focus their efforts.”

Involvement has broadened since the committees were established. 

“In the beginning, we had five people show up for a volunteer event and they were all from HR,” Ronaldo says. “Now we have 50 people show up from all around the company—the plants, the DCs, and the offices. It’s a nice improvement.” 

“Ronaldo and his team give people a lot of flexibility,” says Alica Procello, President of the Avery Dennison Foundation & Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility. “They respect that what might work in Colombia or Chile might not work in Brazil or Mexico. So in each place, it feels like employees own it, because they’ve chosen it. That’s something we’re encouraging in other regions, because it’s been so successful. It starts with leadership being flexible and sending the message that doing something is what is important, and the team can determine what that something is.”

A commitment both personal and professional
Back when he was working for the family-owned packaging company, Ronaldo would return home in the evenings and talk about his volunteer experiences with his three sons, now grown.

“Now, about every quarter, all three of them take part in volunteer activities in the countryside of Brazil, where there are families who need help. As we engage Avery Dennison team members, I hope they are bringing this value home to their families as well,” said Ronaldo. 

A company can strongly encourage employee involvement, he said, but, in the end it comes down to individual commitment and passion. 

“It’s a personal effort,” he says. “Our employees often volunteer after work hours. It’s amazing. We don’t allocate time for social work. We don’t include it as part of our performance reviews. This is not something employees are being paid to do. This is something they are rewarded for personally.” 

Enthusiasm even COVID-19 can’t quash
There have been fewer in-person volunteer activities across Avery Dennison’s Latin American operations this year because of the risk of COVID-19. But that hasn’t kept employees from supporting their communities.

“There’s still something happening every month,” says Ronaldo. “Every day, an email comes around, seeking donations of clothing or food or milk for families in need. The teams haven’t stopped.”

Some teams are addressing COVID-19 head-on. Employees in Argentina are looking at how to use scrap from film materials to make protective aprons for local healthcare workers. A team in Brazil has donated face shields to hospitals and labels to a maker of hand sanitizer. In Colombia, employees are looking at donating printing and materials for signage explaining COVID-19 protocols when Medellín-area students return to school. And a Mexican team donated materials for health kits that an NGO distributes in poor communities. All of these efforts have come in addition to regular donations of essential goods to local people in need.

“In Latin America, we really like to help others,” says Thaís Sacchi Mazolli, a senior communications analyst for Avery Dennison who leads local community engagement activities. “It’s about love. It’s about, ‘I did something different today, with a very small reward for myself, that may change others’ lives.’”

Ronaldo agrees that the ongoing outreach is characteristic of Avery Dennison’s involvement in the region, part of the rhythm of work and life. 

“There’s not one big bang, where we have a single event, and then it’s over,” he says. “We have many smaller actions every month.”

“Sometimes I have to say, ‘Calm down, we don’t have the people or time to do so much this month!’,” he laughs. “But I think that’s a good thing. For our company, and for our employees as individuals, there are a lot of rewards in this work.”

Learn more about our Foundation and community initiatives here.
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