The Business Year

Teresa Moll de Alba de Alfaro

PANAMA - Economy

Finding Focus

Executive Director, Sumarse


Teresa Moll de Alba de Alfaro studied law and specialized in commerce in her native Spain. After spending several years abroad, she worked in exports and for an organizational consultancy, and later joined Sumarse as the executive director. Her business-oriented education and experience made a difference in her approach to the organization. She has been the executive director since 2009.

“We entered this incredible positive economic cycle just a decade ago.“

What is the main vision and mission behind Sumarse?

Sumarse is a multi-stakeholder platform that aims to promote CSR through sustainable development to develop the country. The objective of Sumarse is to help companies implement CSR best practices and global compact principles as well as be a platform to generate public private partnerships (PPPs) for development. Sumarse has 158 companies, 72 NGOs, the chamber of commerce, and various universities that are members. That is what makes us a broad organization and gives us a unique role when either international organizations or government institutions want to start a dialog with the private sector. This is why it is important that the financing of Sumarse is fully private.

Are local companies investing enough in CSR?

If you had asked me five years ago, the answer would have been no. Raising awareness on CSR matters over the years has helped create a program that allows companies to develop best practices within and be practical and business oriented. It has helped them develop. There are a handful of companies that are very mature and oriented toward sustainability, but there is a large group that are already implementing best practices. One of our achievements as an organization was including 25 of our member companies in the creation of a CSR strategy. In the next two or three years, we will have a much larger group of companies maturing in terms of CSR.

Which areas should be a focus for local and international companies operating here in Panama?

The main topic is always governance. That is where everything starts. It is hard to make companies understand this. They start by implementing practices, but when you make them go through the whole process they understand that if you make a plan and an analysis you come back to the starting point, which is governance. It matters how you align your mission, vision, and values, and then how you transmit these through the whole organization to allow the company to become socially responsible. It should start in governance but usually does not. Here in Panama we have been very successful in a few areas, such as corporate volunteering, now a hot topic in Panama. What we have done at Sumarse is give companies the methodology and process for how to do it. We always make them work in groups, develop the project themselves and share best practices among participants. At the end of the process they come out with their corporate volunteering program, in addition to having created working relationships between the companies. The added value of what we do is that companies start talking to each other and NGOs. We also teach NGOs how to manage volunteers and connect with businesses.

What are your plans for this year and what will be the focus of your activity for 2017?

The main focus for 2017 is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We started working on these since they came out in late 2015 and in 2016 it was more about understanding what it was all about and making the connections and getting all the info from the UN, studying the tools. This year we want to start working with Panamanian companies and show them how to implement these SDGs. I would say most of them have heard about the SDGs, but we want to show them what to do make an impact and take that further. The CSR week is the broadcast of what the companies do and will be a reflection of what we are working on. It is a time for showing what can be done in Panama. Panamanians tend to forget this is a country of only 4 million people, and that we entered this incredible positive economic cycle just a decade ago.

What role does e-learning play in your information and communication activity?

We are part of a Central American CSR network named Red Integrarse, and have completed several projects together. We even have a common strategy in Central America on CSR. One of the issues here was how to share the learning experience and bring our knowledge together. About 5,000 people in the whole region have taken e-courses. It is focused on CSR, and there will probably be a human rights module as well. They are all specifically oriented to Central America.

What do you want to achieve before the end of this year?

My wish list is to be able to give companies the means to understand the SDGs and their strategic importance for becoming more competitive and sustainable. In the end CSR is defining a triple bottom line, so it assumes that as a company that you have a social and environmental impact on top of having an economic one. This is what we want companies to understand. A huge challenge is human rights because people generally think of human rights as only relating to child labor. Our other wish is to be successful in bringing our organization beyond the capital and into the interior of the country. We especially want to expand into Chiriquí­.



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