Sarah Kreienbuehl, Sonova Group – “We have a deep commitment to sustainable success”

sonoSonova Holding AG, headquartered in Staefa, Switzerland, is the leading manufacturer of innovative hearing care solutions. Sonova offers its customers one of the most comprehensive product portfolios in the industry – from hearing aids to cochlear implants to wireless communication solutions. Founded in 1947, the group is currently present in over 90 countries across the globe and has a workforce of over 9,000 dedicated employees. By supporting the Hear the World Foundation, Sonova pursues its vision of a world where everyone enjoys the delight of hearing and therefore lives a life without limitations.

In order to find out more on the company’s CSR approach we have spoken with Sarah Kreienbuehl, GVP Corporate HRM and Communications Sonova Group and Board Member of the Hear the World Foundation.

Which are the main pillars of your social responsibility strategy?

As the world’s largest hearing care company, Sonova has a deep commitment to sustainable success. Our clearly defined business targets are well aligned with our broader social goals: a world where everyone enjoys the delight of hearing and therefore lives a life without limitations, while fully taking responsibility for our actions toward our employees, the environment, and future generations. An element of our social responsibility that is very dear to our heart is our engagement with our charitable Hear the World Foundation. The foundation is committed to improving the quality of life and promoting equal opportunities for people with hearing loss globally. The need is tremendous, 15% of the world’s adult population are affected by hearing loss, whereby around half the cases would be avoidable by prevention. Around 660,000 children are born with significant hearing loss annually. 80%of the people with hearing loss live in countries with limited access to audiological and medical care. Especially for children living in these regions with untreated hearing loss the chances are significantly reduced to receive education. As the world’s leading provider of hearing solutions, Sonova sees its social responsibility as the provision of support to needy people with hearing loss and its involvement in prevention.

Which are the current projects you are focusing on – brief overview, objectives, activities, beneficiaries, resources involved, etc?

Presently, the Hear the World Foundation supports 24 projects worldwide. The Foundation supports hearing healthcare services with a special focus on children, programs for parents and families, professional training and prevention of hearing loss. Key Projects that are supported on a multi-year basis are, amongst others in Armenia, Cambodia, Haiti, Kenia, Panama and Malawi. In all of these projects we support through financial support, the provision of hearing aids and other hearing related technology and through our expertise to ensure high-quality and sustainable hearing healthcare. Last year we could double the funding of the Hear the World foundation to the amount of 1.5 Mio CHF.

Are you involving employees in some of these projects? If yes, how?

Along with our celebrity ambassadors, Sonova employees all over the world actively support the Hear the World Foundation. Besides our technological and financial support, our employees make up an important third pillar of the foundation’s work. They apply their knowledge and experience directly to projects, playing a key role in training and developing our project partners. Their activities include training local clinic staff with the latest technological developments or providing assistance for hearing screenings. This kind of assistance is extremely important to build know-how locally and thus enhancing the projects’ effectiveness and sustainability. Another element is fundraising. Through their own initiatives, our employees across the world raise funds for the foundation and in doing so, directly support concrete projects of our foundation.

Which are the criteria for you to get involved in a project?

The aim of the Hear the World Foundation is to enable as many people as possible to enjoy better hearing. Quality and sustainability are absolutely essential to achieving this goal. Out of the large number of applications for support we receive every year, the following 4 guiding principles serve as essential criterion for selection: we promote projects with a lasting impact in order to ensure sustainability; we ensure professional follow-up care: Since the expertise required for this is rarely available in developing countries, the Hear the World Foundation organizes special training programs; we prioritize collaborations over several years in order to boost sustainable development even further; we provide free hearing aid batteries for every hearing system donated thanks to our partnership with VARTA Microbattery. To ensure quality, our project partners are required to report diligently about the use of funds and its impact on site.

Which are the main challenges when implementing a project?

A key challenge is the very limited professional know how available in countries with low to middle income. Thus, to be able to support with hearing technology, we first need to invest into professional training to build up the relevant know-how locally. This is again where our employees of Sonova group play a crucial role and contribute to sustainable engagement.

How do you see the evolution of the CSR field in Europe?

In Europe, CSR plays an increasing role in many organizations. This development is not only caused by the establishment and development of industry standards, regulatory frameworks and risk management considerations. Many companies in the meantime clearly position CSR as a strategic engagement in order to create added value and differentiation from their competitors. Still, we see potential for further development of CSR by for example integrating the entire supply chain. I personally expect a trend for more and more companies to increasingly integrate social and ecological engagement into their corporate activities. Also with Sonova we are committed to gradually further expand our CSR engagement and hence take our responsibility as global citizen.

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