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“The Foundation will refocus on helping young people find their place in society”

As the SNCF Foundation marks its 25th anniversary, it has adopted a new mission to meet the urgent challenges facing today’s society. Laëtitia Gourbeille, its new Managing Director, tells us more about the Foundation’s new focus.

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The SNCF Foundation has adopted a new mission for the period 2021-25. What can you tell us about it?

In 25 years of serving the public interest, we’ve built up equity by cultivating our network of 15 regional representatives and working intelligently with non-profits. But we’re opening a new chapter as we enter this five-year period. The Foundation is changing, with a new team and new governance. We want our social engagement work to be even more closely aligned with SNCF’s corporate strategy and values, and we want it to address the urgent issues that France faces today. That’s why our Foundation has refocused on helping young people find their place in society.

How will that work?

Our new mission is geared around two areas: “building a life” and “working for the environment in communities”. In “Building a life”, we’ll work with vulnerable young people ages 11-30 and help them map out a career path and find their place in society. Our goal is to help them gain more self-knowledge, become more self-confident, develop a wider network of relationships and learn to work together. We want to give them more agency in their own lives, and support their efforts to be engaged, responsible citizens—people who can meet the future head-on and take action for the environment. And that’s why we chose our second focus area: “Working for the environment in communities”. In short, we’re helping young people find their place in society so we can work with them to build a sustainable future for local communities.

Why have you made young people your priority?

Young people are central to some of France’s deepest concerns. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit them hardest, and we can’t build tomorrow’s world without them. Our mission reflects our confidence that they have the creativity and ingenuity it takes to move into the future. For the SNCF Foundation, that means backing projects that will give young people the resources they need to take their place in society and create value for their communities, especially by working for the environment.

We’re helping young people find their place in society so that we can work with them to build a sustainable future for local communities.

Laëtitia Gourbeille, Managing Director, SNCF Foundation

How does this new mission fit into SNCF Group’s values and CSE strategy?

The two focus areas we’ve defined are in tune with the Group’s four pillars. First, people have always been the heart of the Foundation’s work.  Then there’s our emphasis on regions. Our work benefits from the engagement of our regional representatives and the close ties they’ve forged, but also from energy of the many SNCF employees who participate in our skills-sharing programme and carry out volunteer assignments in non-profits throughout France.

Digital technology is the third pillar. It will be the medium for our work, for example by providing platforms that match the skills non-profits need with the ones our volunteers can offer. This also includes offering digital technology to young people who can’t get it on their own, and guiding them towards using it in healthy, effective ways. The fourth pillar is the environment. At SNCF Foundation, working for the planet doesn’t mean funding large, one-size-fits-all events. We’re backing simple, pragmatic projects—organized by and with young people—that will have real local impact.

How will you work with local communities?

In the past, our sponsorships have focused more on national projects than regional ones, but we’ve changed course. Our new budget gives the lion’s share to regions so that, through them, we can give even more support to local initiatives. For example, we plan to launch projects that will make a real difference for the circular economy and eco-friendly farming, but we’ll also support environmental education by organizing school visits to permaculture gardens and other places of interest.  And in 2021 we plan to continue Coups de Cœur Solidaires, an annual programme that channels Foundation funding to local non-profits where SNCF employees volunteer.

What about the Foundation’s skills-sharing programme?  

We’ll apply employee feedback and use our ties with non-profits to encourage more Group employees than ever to be part of this programme. Our aim is to have 10,000 employees working in the skills-sharing programme by 2025. We also want to expand the number of long-term skills-sharing assignments. 

We’ll issue calls for volunteers—we already have, in fact—to encourage SNCF Group employees to assist young people. For example, the Foundation is already working with non-profits that belong to the Collectif Mentorat, a skills-sharing collective created over the past few months with support from government officials and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Covid-19 has led to lockdowns and a surge in teleworking. How has that changed the way the Foundation works?

In some cases, the pandemic made it hard for our employees to provide long-term support. It’s been impossible to organize in-person mentoring or sponsorship meetings with young people or refugees, and our team-based volunteer programme for SNCF employees was also affected. But we and our non-profit partners have found creative ways to stay connected and continue to serve some groups. And we’re working closely with SNCF Group’s workplace safety team to determine when and how to resume our skills-sharing activities based on the changing public health situation.

Our aim is to have 10,000 employees working in the skills-sharing programme by 2025.

Laëtitia Gourbeille, Managing Director, SNCF Foundation

How does the Foundation plan to motivate SNCF Group employees to work for the environment?

We hope to organize a big environmental community service day this fall, to coincide with European Sustainable Development Week. We’d like for all interested employees to get involved through our skills-sharing programme, ideally volunteering in teams. There are many areas—recycling, for example, and cleaning up beaches and forests—where SNCF staff can support our partner non-profits as well as projects organized by and with young people. And this spring we’re issuing a call for local projects to identify environmental non-profits that can co-create new initiatives with us. We should also be able to set up skills-sharing projects with some of them, so they can benefit from the expertise of our employees across a wide range of areas.

What role will the new board of directors play?

We encourage our directors to play an active role in the programmes we’re planning to launch. The new Foundation has four issue-oriented committees that are responsible for mapping out a strategy and choosing our national partners for the next five years.  The four issues are: young people and the world of work; young people and the environment; international projects; and employee engagement.  We encourage these committees to take a fresh look at the way we support projects and, where appropriate, help us develop new ways of working with our stakeholders. This will include finding new ways to measure the impact of the projects we back, and making our metrics more transparent. Our board members will also take part in this review, staying receptive to the ideas of our partners and young people.

Are you planning any international projects?

We’ve now reached the end of all of the partnerships the Foundation formed during the last five years. The task of the international projects committee is to determine what kinds of projects we want to do in our new focus areas with input from SNCF SA and its subsidiaries. We’ve got the budget, but we’re still thinking through our strategy, which will rely on local SNCF Group teams doing projects with non-profit partners in their own ecosystems.