Interview with Josef Beneš: Why are we helping over the long-term? Because we know that there is never enough help
25 May 2020
In his interview for Czech daily Pražský Deník, Josef Beneš, CEO of Generali Investments CEE, speaks about why he finds helping the community an essential part of the company’s mission. He explains: “We strive to get involved in community initiatives which benefit people in the long-term, and that have a real positive impact,” and starts telling a story that the public knows little about. The story of the aid provided to the non-profit sector by the world of finance.
To understand why Generali Group supports foundations, we must go back several years. “As early as in 2007 we got involved in the UN project to establish voluntary global networks for companies contributing to a healthy environment and to sustainable development,” explains Beneš, adding that not everything is about business. “As a renowned financial institution, we are obliged to participate in activities in the non-profit sector. It forms an inseparable part of our company, as well of our business and our employees.”
And that is also why Generali Investments CEE gradually decided to provide assistance through Výbor dobré vůle – Nadace Olgy Havlové (Committee of Good Will - Olga Havel Foundation), Denní stacionář AKORD (AKORD Day Care Centre), Nadace Leontinka (Leontinka Foundation), Dětské centrum Paprsek (Paprsek Children’s Centre) and Nadace Jakuba Voráčka (Foundation of Jakub Voráček). “And it is our intention to continue our assistance. We are pretty sure that cooperation with these organisations makes good sense and, in particular, that our assistance has a meaningful and positive impact, and it is essential for us,“ explains Beneš, a graduate of Columbia University in New York.
Beneš provides assistance to Výbor dobré vůle not only through his job but also with his experience – he is on the board of this Committee for the 15th year. “After such a time, I am also personally connected with the foundation. The time spent with the foundation has shown me that it is a high-quality, historically proven institution.”
Similar personal involvement also worked with other foundations. “This is no secret, we have no selection procedure applicable to this, and we perform no detective work to find out whether any particular foundation is good. We verify everything “on the fly”, in practice, and we can see for ourselves the positive impacts of relevant foundation activities. That is also why we seek long-term cooperation, and this cooperation has worked brilliantly for us so far,” explains Beneš with conviction.
The Human Safety Net, flagship to improve lives
Generali started this initiative in 2017 in Italy to protect and improve the lives of people in their everyday activities. It is focused on three major areas. The first is an effort to improve conditions in obstetrics. “We are trying to encourage activities to prevent the risk of asphyxia in newborns, as this disease, in Europe alone, affects more than 30,000 newborn babies each year. Unfortunately, each sixth child dies,” explains Beneš as the reason for the company’s involvement.
The second area is also connected with the fate of the youngest. “Our wish is to help families that come to the brink of poverty. We aim to provide children with fully-fledged conditions for education and improving their family background. After all, in Europe alone, more than 8 million children under the age of six are on the poverty line," points out Beneš, adding that it is scientifically proven that the very first six years are crucial to shaping human lives.
The third and last area of The Human Safety Net is providing help to refugees. Generali Group strives to help them integrate into the new social environment and start their own businesses. “All these areas reflect our basic idea of so-called “chain assistance”. The people who received assistance from us may one day help somebody else,” believes Josef Beneš, who also experienced working abroad, outside his home country, when he had a job with the World Bank during his mission in China.
“The people who received assistance from us may one day help somebody else.“
Responsible investing and protection of the environment
In 2014, Generali Investments CEE adopted a new Group policy for environment and climate. This policy replaced the original Environmental Policy of 2010, which was updated to reflect not only changes in the Group but also in society over the last few years. “The topics since then include the protection of environment, prevention of pollution, protection and conservation of biodiversity, and a suitable response to challenges brought by climate change,” describes Beneš.
And here we get back to the point about the responsibility Generali takes on its shoulders. “We realise that we should provide help whenever we can. It is all about the chain reaction. It works in a similar way as client relationships. These are long-term relationships, for better or worse. Clients are not just an object of profit for us, but also a partner. Thanks to this, the relationship is for a long time, however it is also mutually successful and beneficial,” says Beneš convincingly.
He applies in practice each of the ideas he has introduced to us. “For example, we care about sorting waste. As part of the Běhej lesy (Run through Forests) running series, in the background, we managed to sort 14 tonnes of waste and avoided the use of plastics. Within our company, we are working on a ZERO WASTE project, which will replace traditional waste baskets with containers for sorted waste. And there are more of those ideas with, most importantly, their realisation,” says Josef Beneš, ending this part of his story. He is himself a great advocate of a healthy lifestyle, a passionate cyclist and volleyball player.
“And finally, I have probably just one more idea, and it is a focus on hospitals and their employees, and I do not mean just doctors and nurses. In recent weeks, we have seen a huge amount of work done for all of us by hospitals. I hope this is not forgotten when the pandemic has subsided. We should remind ourselves of that and help the people who were behind this care," concludes Beneš.
Foundations, through which Generali Investments CEE helps
Výbor dobré vůle – Nadace Olgy Havlové (Committee of Good Will - Olga Havel Foundation)
Denní stacionář AKORD (AKORD Day Care Centre)
Nadace Leontinka (Leontinka Foundation)
Dětské centrum Paprsek (Paprsek Children’s Centre)
Nadace Jakuba Voráčka (Foundation of Jakub Voráček)
Who is Josef Beneš
A former Czech representative in beach volleyball who has been in the banking and financial world since the end of the last century. He graduated from Columbia University in New York, has experience from the World Bank on a mission to China, and worked in the City of London. At the moment, he is CEO of Generali Investments CEE.
(Source: daily Pražský deník, 25. 5. 2020)