FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

Panama 2017 | GREEN ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Teresa Moll de Alba de Alfaro, Executive Director of Sumarse, on the importance of good governance, aligning business practices with values, and how to achieve sustainable development goals.

 Teresa Moll de Alba de Alfaro
BIOGRAPHY
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. After working in business administration, she 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.

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 peculiar role when either international organizations or government institutions want to start a dialog with the private sector. It is thus 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. Now there are a handful of companies that are very mature and oriented toward sustainability, and there is a large group already implementing best practices.

As far as CSR is concerned, what specific aspects should be a focus for local and international companies operating 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 with a few topics, such as corporate volunteering, a hot topic in Panama

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 the 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. Last year we had 1,200 people for CSR week, the business conference, and the universities.

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

We are part of the Central American CSR network (Red Integrarse) and have done 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 importance in their strategies to make them more competitive and sustainable. At the end CSR is defining a triple bottom line, so it assumes that as a company you have a social and environmental impact on top of an economic one. A huge challenge is human rights because people generally think of human rights as merely 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.