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Giving back the Aimia way to create real social value

More by Aimia - Back to the Summer 2016 issue

case study

A Data Philanthropy model pairs analytics experts with specific charities to drive greater social impact through new knowledge and insights. Tom Idle reports…
 
In 2014, more than $350 billion in charitable donations were given to non-profits, with around 15% of that money coming from company foundations and 5% direct from companies.
 
Of course, supporting the third sector is not all about offering up cash. Staff volunteering programs continue to be a popular choice for companies keen to foster better relationships with the communities in which they operate and attract talented new employees. According to Benevity, the number of companies providing skills-based and pro bono programs has increased 40% since 2012 in the US. A recent survey carried out by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says that 65% of people are more likely to work for an employer that encourages and promotes volunteering. 
 
The analysis also points to communication (66%), confidence (59%), mentoring (51%), resilience (51%) and teambuilding (40%) as the most popular skills and competencies people say volunteering has helped them to develop. Clearly, it is a strategy that works. 
 
But what if a company’s philanthropic efforts really played to its core business strengths and used the assets of its staff to create real social value, rather than offering up employee time just for the sake of it? That is what Aimia, a global data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company, has been doing with notable success.
 
With about 3,200 employees across 17 countries, Aimia partners with groups of companies (coalitions) and individual companies to help generate, collect and analyze customer data and build actionable insights, doing this through its own coalition loyalty programs such as Aeroplan in Canada, Nectar in the UK, and Air Miles Middle East, and through provision of loyalty strategy, program development, implementation and management services to clients worldwide.
 
Headquartered in Montreal, Aimia is engaged with a global movement toward corporate social investment. According to CECP’s “Giving Around the Globe 2015” Edition, 53% of European companies surveyed offer a pro bono program domestically and 33% offer it internationally, as well. In Asia, domestic pro bono programs are reported by 67% of companies surveyed, while 20% are international, 
 
As an evolving and growing company that has acquired many other businesses, each with their own CSR strategy, its approach to community giving had been ad hoc and somewhat disjointed. Staff were spending their time cleaning up parks, working in food banks and painting classrooms, with just 20% of the effort related to the competencies and skills of Aimia’s employees such as data analytics.
 
Keen to optimise the social and environmental value created as a business, the company made a commitment to reverse the trend within five years, so that 80% of its philanthropic endeavours would be skills based. 
 
And central to this would be a focus on using the core capabilities of its team of data analysts. In a society that generates 2.5 quintillion data bytes daily, Aimia says it can find information on almost anything and produce fresh perspectives for any organization – including charities.
 
So, it has developed a Data Philanthropy model which pairs Aimia analytics experts with specific charities during intensive events, and helps them to improve programmatic effectiveness and drive greater social impact through new knowledge and insights.
 
“Charities have a lot of data but it is not always easy for them to find insights because they often don’t have the skills, capabilities or bandwidth,” says Anne-Josée Laquerre, Aimia’s director of social purpose and corporate sustainability. “Our analysts can help them clean up their data and enhance the way they capture and sort it. We then offer guidance as to how they can improve their datasets and we bring in a broader set of data to help find invaluable insights.”
 
For example, Aimia has been working with a national art gallery in Ottawa, Canada to help optimise resource allocation. By looking at weather reports, roadworks, local festivals and gallery visitor data, it was able to predict by a 78% accuracy the number of people that would visit on any given day. “It’s the sort of decision-making tool we create for our clients. So, we’re using the same principles and applying it to a charity by doing what we do best,” says Laquerre.
 
Over the last five years, the company has supported more than 50 charities, including The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, in a similar way – helping budget-constrained organizations make sense of their data to find efficiencies that will enable them to work smarter.
 
And now it wants to go further in scaling up the initiative.
 
In May 2016, more than 150 Aimia employees around the world spent 2,000 hours analyzing more than 75 million rows of data as part of the company’s first ever Global Week of Data Philanthropy. In Canada, a team strengthened its relationship with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) by helping it to better measure the quality and outcomes of services to remote northern communities – something CAMH director Dr. Allison Crawford said would “ultimately strengthen the mental healthcare that patients receive”.
 
In the UK, Aimia’s analysts provided The Children’s, a national charity running local services to help young people when they are at their most vulnerable, with a better understanding of their target demographic profile – and helped find a correlation between the number of assessments completed by a young person and a case’s length and complexity.
 
As a founding member of the Montreal-based Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO), Aimia hopes to create a university hub for data philanthropy that leverages the skills of other companies too, creating more capability to support even more charities.
 
It is through the specific social value being created, and reported, by its charity partners that Aimia is able to judge the success and effectiveness of unleashing its talented pool of analysts on organizations across the world.
 
While the business now has a common social purpose roadmap that helps to coordinate the pro bono work of analysts across the planet to participate in the Data Philanthropy initiative, Laquerre says it is important for each region to apply their own models. “What works in Singapore might not work in London or Minneapolis so it’s important that our social purpose leaders make the program come to life for their own communities locally.”
 
And it is this focus on building stronger connections to communities that gives legitimacy to the program and ensures senior management support. “Aimia’s Senior Vice President, Strategic Development and Innovation believes that the best golfers are those that play on all different sorts of courses – from windy and mountainous, to flat and rainy and, what makes a great analyst is working with different datasets, clients, marketing issues and trying to find new insights,” says Laquerre. “Our work with charities’ data and social issues boosts the performance of our analysts.”
 
It is also important to Aimia’s staff that they work for a purposeful company, she adds. “It makes them proud that we have just made the Corporate Knights’ Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada list for the first time.
 
“The Data Philanthropy initiative is an expression of what our purpose is. By doing what we do best to create social value, we are reinforcing our presence in our ecosystem and the way in which we contribute to society.”
 

IBE comment

AIMIA

by Katherine Bradshaw, Head of Communications, Institute of Business Ethics

Corporate Social Responsibility programmes sometimes get a bad press as being meaningless philanthropy with little relationship to business strategy. Communicating your social purpose is all the more difficult if you are a ‘business to business’ technology company. When a company merges or acquires other businesses, each with their own CSR strategy, the challenge can be complicated.

So how does a growing data-driven analytics company like Aimia develop a meaningful corporate social responsibility programme?

By using the core skills of its employees, Aimia has found a way to help budget-constrained organizations while at the same time communicating the company’s core purpose. Aimia’s analysts use their skills to make sense of a charity’s data to find efficiencies that will enable them to work smarter.

Points to Note

* Using the core skills of Aimia’s analysts to help charities also gives them the opportunity to work with different datasets. This employee development offers a business case which gets senior management buy-in to volunteering.

* The commitment to make 80% of employee volunteering skills-based within five years shows the company’s commitment to the strategy.

* Scaling up the initiative to a Global Week of Data Philanthropy clearly communicates Aimia’s social purpose throughout the company.

 

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