Every year, the Swedish Business Awards acknowledge companies operating in the three Baltic states. Every country has its own awards, with one of the three categories being Corporate Social Responsibility. In Estonia, the 2010 CSR category was won by Sorainen, the law firm operating in all three Baltic countries and Belarus. We talked to Gea Kallas, business development and marketing manager from the Estonian office to learn more about their winning CSR program.
Winning the CSR category of the Swedish Business Awards in Estonia is ‘a nice recognition for the company,’ says Ms Kallas. ‘We do not have support from a global group or a long standing tradition like some, but we aim to give back and did not lower our efforts during the downturn while many companies did so. It is good to see that our small targeted efforts in various fields have been noticed.’
As in all three countries, the entries for Estonia were dominated by projects focusing on community impact. The CSR activities with which Sorainen entered the competition were no exception to that. Their application focused on their involvement with the Good Deed Foundation, or Heateo Sihtasutus in Estonian, and the two projects the Foundation started: SINA (Suured Ideed Noorte Algatusel or: Great Initiatives of Young People) and Youth to School (Noored Kooli in Estonian). “We support these projects with legal advice, knowledge and/or with monetary contributions,” says Ms Kallas. With these projects Sorainen aims to provide positive and practical educational and entrepreneurial experience to Estonian youth. In the SINA project, high school students all over Estonia start social good projects. The aim is to both get fresh ideas on improving society from them, and to give the students experience with social entrepreneurship. The program provides the participants training and advice, though otherwise the projects are fully managed by students. The Youth to School program aims to get recent university graduates to teach in schools. Teachers in Estonia are often relatively old, and getting young enthusiastic teachers is a valuable addition to the educational system. On the other hand, the graduates benefit from getting an excellent leadership experience. One particular issue that Sorainen focuses on in this project is to get graduates that speak both Russian and Estonian into Russian schools. The higher education system is only in Estonian, so Russian high school students can increase their chances in the higher education system if they are also taught in Estonian. Next to that, most jobs require fluent Estonian, which is why unemployment among Russians is significantly higher.
These projects were not the only activities Sorainen undertakes in their corporate responsibility program. Most important is the focus on being a good employer and taking care of employees. Sorainen was one of the few companies in Estonia that continued their internship program in the downturn and did not cut back on training for their employees. That, and the fact that employees are encouraged to share knowledge both internally and through legal blogs and other media, has resulted in a very small employee turnover for the law firm. Kallas: ‘The loyalty of our people helped our company through the downturn.’ According to her, the firm’s CSR efforts are certainly contributing to the loyalty of employees and a low turnover.
In light of the commitment to improve the local economic environment, Sorainen was also a co-founder of the Estonian Service Industry Association, which aims to promote competitiveness and transparency in Estonian business.
The law firm does not report on, or measure for managerial purposes, the impact of their CSR efforts. This does happen on a per-project-basis. For example the number of successful placements of Russian-Estonian speaking graduates in the Youth to School project. Next to that, Sorainen looks at employee satisfaction surveys and feedback from interns. Winning the 2009 most employee- and family-friendly company award and in 2010 the most family-friendly company award in Estonia, was well appreciated and might be indicative of the success of the CSR activities. The big challenge is, however, that most standards, and the Estonian CSR index, are ‘mainly aimed at larger and industrial companies. It’s hard for a smaller service company to apply that,’ says Kallas.