Master’s student Jenny Convey shares information about a Dutch corporate foundation she met during study abroad, and how corporate foundations can connect their company’s work to their mission to serve others.
By: Jenny Convey
Our first stop of the day was the beautiful Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s most well-known and magnificent art museum. We all locked up our bikes and happily made our way onto the museum campus, grateful to be indoors where it was dry and the coffee was flowing. And what a treat to get to have our morning lecture in such a cultural institution, especially knowing we would have time to explore the museum afterwards and get to see eight centuries of Holland’s national treasures, from Vermeer to Van Gogh to Rembrandt and beyond.
For our first appointment of the day, we learned about corporate foundations and corporate philanthropy in the Netherlands. We had a fascinating presentation from Mark Versteegen, Director of the KPN “Mooiste Contact Fonds” (its name roughly translates to “the beautiful connections foundation”), which is the corporate foundation of Dutch telecommunications company KPN.
Mark explained that their mission is just as the name suggests: paralleling their parent company, the corporate foundation is in the business of connecting people and they focus on combating loneliness and social isolation in the Netherlands, which we learned is a huge issue in this country. The foundation’s work focuses only on projects that allow KPN to use the company’s knowledge, skills, technology, and/or employees to tackle the loneliness problem, and they do so together with their nonprofit partner organizations.
KlasseContact is one of the programs KPN’s foundation seems the proudest of and promotes the most. It supports children in Holland who have long-term chronic illnesses by installing a state-of-the-art rotating camera device in the child’s classroom and in their home or hospital room so that they can still participate in their school classroom in a dynamic way. In this program, KPN uses their technology to power their philanthropic work.
On the other hand, within their Zilverlign initiative, the foundation uses the people-power of KPN by asking their employees to volunteer to call elderly folks who live alone—often because their spouse has died—at the same time each week to chat and check in with them. They are extremely touching programs that KPN highlights in beautiful promotional videos that really tug at your heart strings, but I did find myself juxtaposing the level of need in the population they have chosen to serve (the lonely) with some of the marginalized groups or causes in the United States who I would view as having much more urgent needs, from victims of gang violence to those experiencing homelessness and other issues.
We learned today about how innovative corporate philanthropy can be as businesses like KPN marry their cutting-edge technology and business savvy with their philanthropic endeavors and invest in au courant practices like corporate social responsibility (CSR). Companies in this day and age have come so far from the back-breaking, dangerous and uncaring workplace of the industrial period, for instance, and instead seek both to do good in the world and at the same time attract employees, customers, and shareholders based on a positive reputation they build in part through their foundation, cultural sponsorships, and CSR.
Yet despite this seemingly modern approach, it struck me how similar the human condition and philanthropic responses to it can be even across eras. In particular, just the other day, we covered the history of almshouses in the Netherlands going back about 400 years and philanthropists at that time were also focused on supporting widows—just like the Zilverlign or other KPN programs for lonely seniors, who are very often widowed—and were also highly motivated to give back in order to enhance their reputation in the community.
To conclude, one very simple—and very cute!—way that KPN and their corporate foundation tries to foster a positive reputation in the Netherlands is with their mascot, Maatje. Maatje means “buddy” in English, and he serves as the mascot for the KPN Mooiste Contact Fonds, which gives out plush Maatje dolls to lonely children so that they can always have a little buddy to share their worries with. Our whole group was lucky enough to each receive the gift of a Maatje to bring home with us! In my view, philanthropy is always more meaningful when you do it with a buddy, so I am sure he will serve us well back in the States!