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Tech multinationals helping communities during Covid-19

Google donates €1m to Irish NGOs while others provide PPE and facilitate remote work

Google allocated €150,000 to the Ringsend Community Services Forum (RCSF) a local community networking group with a membership of 49 community groups

Google allocated €150,000 to the Ringsend Community Services Forum (RCSF) a local community networking group with a membership of 49 community groups

 

The US business community in Ireland has a long-standing tradition of supporting local community projects and initiatives. Indeed, a conservative estimate puts the number of community projects supported by American Chamber member companies at over 7,000, and they are thought to provide more than 600,000 employee volunteer hours every year.

Yet, the onerous restrictions introduced since the Covid-19 pandemic have not prevented them from fulfilling what they see as their inherent social responsibility, and instead they have shown innovation in a variety of different ways.

In the decade Facebook has been in operation here, they have built strong links with both local and national initiatives, says Gareth Lambe, head of Facebook Ireland.

“Being good members of our local community is important to us and over the years we have invested in the local community in different ways, whether it’s direct investment, employee fundraising or funding specific projects. Our employees also do mentoring work,” says Lambe.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lambe says Facebook recognised quite early on that its unique platform would enable them to help different communities in different ways. They have focused their response in three areas: helping people stay connected while apart, assisting the public health response, and supporting small businesses. So far, it has donated more than €100,000 to a range of organisations, including SpunOut.ie and Pieta House, to support work on mental health. They’ve also made culinary donations and personal protective equipment donations, as well as providing valuable advertising credits, to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Enable Ireland, and St Vincent de Paul.

Less tangible, but arguably just as important were the efforts Facebook made, working closely with the HSE, to hinder the spread of inaccurate information in the tense early days of the pandemic, Lambe says. “We provided free advertising to the HSE across all our platforms, as well as directing anyone who searched for coronavirus information to the HSE website.”

Facebook is also endeavouring to help the economic recovery by way of supporting small businesses, he adds. “We have 140 million small businesses [around the world] and they are the backbone of the economy but also the heart of the community,” says Lambe. Facebook has launched a €100 million fund for SMEs across the globe, and Ireland will be an important recipient of those grants, he notes.

Another internet behemoth, Google, is also getting behind communities and businesses in different ways.

Teresa Weafer, community engagement manager at Google Ireland, says Google has had a range of national and community-based projects running for many years, and a number of these have pivoted to online.

“In March, we announced that Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, would provide €1 million in grants to Irish NGOs to help deal with the impact and repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of this grant we allocated €150,000 to the Ringsend Community Services Forum (RCSF) a local community networking group with a membership of 49 community groups, and RCSF worked with the local community to distribute these funds to those that needed it most urgently,” says Weafer.

Despite all Google staff now working from home, Weafer adds that she and a few of her colleagues were even able to join in on some local community activities, while respecting social distancing. She also says the internet giant is helping the people of Ireland rebuild their businesses and careers, following the disruption caused by Covid-19 and help to close the digital divide across all sectors of the economy.

“We want to help get Ireland back on track and we are refocusing our efforts to help job seekers and businesses to restart, rebuild, and find new work, particularly the most vulnerable groups who have been hardest hit.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb Ireland is another multinational with a keen focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to Ann-Marie Fanning, CSR sponsor at BMS Ireland, while the majority of staff at the pharmaceutical company are working from home, the company’s community programmes and charity partnerships have not suffered.

“This has not dampened the energy and innovation of the CSR team or their plans for 2020,” says Fanning. “The team have had to rethink how to engage across our sites and continue to drive our CSR initiatives, our fundraising for partner charities, sustainability and volunteering.” For the interim, all the initiatives are virtual which allows those working from home and those critical staff working on site to participate, she says.

For example, the CSR team at BMS are now preparing for a virtual 5km run in July where all participation donations will go to St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown and Jigsaw Dublin 15. In addition, a virtual “Bingo Loco” is taking place during Pride week, where BMS employees will choose to donate to a charity of their choice in support of the LGBT community.

Fanning explains that the CSR team quickly reached out to its partner charities to set up bespoke corporate donation pages, so that donations could still be channelled online. “This will also allow us to still track funds and match these donations at the end of the year but also means immediate funds for the charities who have been hard hit during Covid and a lot of their usual fundraising initiatives cancelled,” she says.

The pharmaceutical company also linked in with the HSE to provide much-needed PPE, adds Fanning. “Cruiserath site donated sterile garb available on site to the HSE in anticipation of a potential garbing crisis for frontline staff. Over 1,000 gowns ranging from XXS to XL were received, checked, and made ready for collection by the HSE.”

Two years ago, Microsoft invested €5m to develop DreamSpace, a dedicated innovation and education hub at its campus headquarters in Leopardstown with the aim of engaging 100,000 primary and transition year students in a digital skills experience.

Cathriona Hallahan, managing director at Microsoft Ireland. Photograph: Conor McCabe
Cathriona Hallahan, managing director at Microsoft Ireland. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Cathriona Hallahan, managing director at Microsoft Ireland, explains that the Covid-19 crisis has spurred them to adapt DreamSpace into a virtual educational initiative. “The ‘DreamSpace HomeSpace’ series has been providing free online sessions for children and young people aged six to 16 to engage in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) learning from their own home,” she says.

Microsoft’s education team has also been working hard since March to give as many schools as possible access to Teams, Microsoft’s collaboration hub. The tool has also facilitated third-level learning with lectures streamed to 21,000 University College Cork students over the course of one weekend.

Microsoft has also helped Enable Ireland to transition their services online through the creation of a virtual service centre, meaning they can stay connected to their service users and continue to deliver a range of activities such as Zumba, art, dancing, physio and yoga, says Hallahan.

“We are all too aware of the additional challenges that many social services and charities still have to navigate due to the restrictions that were put in place, with many unable to maintain their regular work in the community. Now is the time for everyone to step forward and help address the challenges along the road to recovery.”