……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. oikos and DisruptivePlay came together on 17th April 2019 to organize a workshop for trainees, interns and working students at Helvetia, one of the leading insurance companies in Switzerland, that has supported oikos for over two decades now. We exchanged ideas, built towers and, above all, learned more about our values and identity. We, furthermore, discussed how our actions could aid a broader societal purpose, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and create a more just and sustainable world. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
The room was filled with a soothing voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator as the images of peculiar children and outstanding humans who have disrupted the world around them projected on a wall of our workshop room: “The greatest of people that have ever been in the society, were never versions of someone else. They were themselves… They carved niches, that represented the unique expression of their combination of talents.” With these inspiring words, we encourage our participants to rediscover their values and began the day with a duly titled “values exercise”. This session helped our participants to see each other in a different light. We tried to bring forth their personalities, and uncovered them as stronger, more vulnerable, generous or braver than others expected them to be. The participants connected their values with their real-life experiences and reflected how these values had driven their decisions and actions in the past. In pears, the participants shared their stories and listened without judgment: in silence with no advice, questions or discussions, learning that sometimes being present, “being there” is the most important way to show support.
With the help of our unlikely assistants – lego bricks, we tried to further unbind their curiosity and motivate them to reveal their unique qualities. We watched how each of our participants created a model of their self and how mere clusters of bricks were transformed into metaphors for life, each color and shape representing their strength, weakness, interest, virtue or flaw. When towers were built, brick by brick, each of them showcased unique personalities of our participants. Identical shades and forms spoke about different experiences and outlooks on life. When after the exercise the participants were asked to find a tower that looked like theirs, they stood, for a few seconds, bewildered, then one of them exclaimed: “there is not one similar to mine, they are all different”. Sitting around a table, they shared what was the most important part of their model. One trainee pointed to little dolls to tell that their family mattered the most, another participant referred to a flag and their cultural heritage. The attendees also looked at a key learning point that Helvetia has given them. The responses were as diverse as the colorful models scattered around the room. They emphasized importance of working together, communicating openly and building a community. Furthermore, they spoke about the need for being brave, flexible and agile to achieve set goals. They also talked about barriers that are hard to overcome, as well as about personal or political discussions that might hinder one’s walk towards an aim. Finally, they shared about times when they feel at their best and why those particular set of circumstances bring the best out of them.
What followed was a discussion and reflection on our passions and a change we want to see in the world. We wanted to demonstrate to our participants how their passions might be put into service for overcoming societal or environmental challenges.
The participants learned about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of them heard about the SDGs for the first time but were quick to point out that some goals, like no poverty or zero hunger, had lost relevance in developed states such as Switzerland. SDGs like climate action or responsible consumption and production, however, featured prominently in discussions. The participants also observed how the SDGs are intertwined with one another and how lack of action in one domain might hinder progress in others. The participants reflected on the trivial day-to-day activities, internalized, unconscious habits or actions they take as part of their job without always thinking through them. They contemplated on the toll these activities have on our environment and society and what each of they could do to change it. The participants admitted that achieving the SDGs would require rethinking how persons make decisions as individuals, employees, and citizens. They talked about actions each of them could take in order to get closer to the goals.
At the end of the day, Kristine Schulze, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Helvetia talked about the company’s corporate responsibility and its contributions towards implementing the SDGs. She explained why the goals matter to the business world and mentioned factors like SDGs expression of inequalities and unexplored market needs, their contribution to increased efficiency and cost-saving as well as reputation management. She outlined the SDG areas where Helvetia’s actions are of special relevance. For instance, she emphasized the role of the company in promoting sustainable economic growth in Helvetia country markets (SDG 8) and investing in low-carbon economy (SDG 13).
To advance the goals, it is instrumental to remould the talks on the SDGs to the SDAs (Sustainable Development Actions). The final session of the day did not disappoint, as one of the participants approached Kristine to ask why the company was still using paper coffee cups and what could be done to change it. Her willingness to act on the spot was the desired impact of the day and the very embodiment of our workshop title Inspiration Day. For us it was just a beginning of the conversation towards real transformations to a better world led by a young generation of sustainability-oriented decision-makers.
Young employees, like our participants, will take the reins of the global economy in the coming decades. Therefore, it is vital to expose them to the responsible, self-directed leadership, as well as to the key sustainability challenges and goals of our century. Workshops like ours and companies like Helvetia that welcome open discussions and self-criticism allow these young people to be a part of the solution and not simple spectators of the current corporate system.
In 160 years, the Helvetia Group has grown from a number of Swiss and foreign insurance companies into a successful international insurance group. Today, Helvetia has subsidiaries in its home market Switzerland as well as in the countries that make up the Europe market area: Germany, Italy, Austria and Spain. With its Specialty Markets market area, Helvetia is also present in France and in selected regions worldwide. Some of its investment and financing activities are managed through subsidiaries and fund companies in Luxembourg. The Group is headquartered in St.Gallen, Switzerland.
Helvetia is active in the life and non-life business, and also offers customised specialty lines and reinsurance cover. Its business activities focus on retail customers as well as small and medium-sized companies and larger corporates. With some 6,600 employees, the company provides services to more than 5 million customers. With a business volume of CHF 9.07 billion, Helvetia generated an IFRS result after tax of CHF 431.0 million in financial year 2018. The registered shares of Helvetia Holding are traded on the SIX Swiss Exchange under the symbol HELN.
Futureproof World is a subsidiary of Disruptiveplay and is a strategy consultancy that builds enduring organizations. They work with organizations to prepare for the world of tomorrow by bringing together insights of our changing world to the process of creating strategy. Their focus is to future proof organizations so that strategy and actions are aligned with the changing needs of our society, our environment and the global consumer. They help organisations to make decisions, actions and investments that are sustainable over the longer term and position a company to be a leader in their industry.
The workshop with Helvetia was prepared as a part and extension of the oikos leadership development program LEAP. The program is designed to inspire young leaders to become more responsible and sustainable in their decision making and equip them with insights, knowledge, and tools to do so. To learn more about the program, please visit the LEAP webpage.
Inspiration day in pictures: