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Celebrating Bata’s Founder’s Day: An Interview with Monica Pignal Bata

Ms. Monica Pignal Bata, Chairman of the Bata Shoe Foundation, recently visited Dhaka, Bangladesh, on September 21 on Bata’s Founder’s Day.

Ms. Monica Pignal Bata is an active owner in her family’s footwear business, Bata, founded by her grandfather in 1894, operating today in over 70 countries and employing more than 30,000 people. On the occasion, Ms. Pignal talked with Bangladesh Brand Forum about Bata’s Founder’s Day and the aspirations and objectives behind Bata Children’s Program (BCP).

BBF: Can you provide more details about the history and significance of Bata’s Founder’s Day?
Founder’s Day is an event that occurs in all the Bata companies worldwide. It is a special day for us, where we bring together our employees, customers, and communities. We share a little bit of our family’s values and, therefore, the importance of our shoe company. Our relationship with Bangladesh has always been very close. We have been here for 61 years. But the relationship is so strong that it feels like we have been here for 100 years.

BBF: Could you kindly share more regarding the objectives and accomplishments of the Bata Children’s Program (BCP)?
I think the Bata Children’s Programme represents the values of the Bata family very well. Those values are developed to improve the lives of our employees first of all and then the communities where we operate. The Bata Children’s Programme is unique because it is an employee-based volunteering system where we have a Bata Children’s Programme committee. The committee comprises people from the office, the shops, and the Bata factories, who get together and decide on some projects and then they volunteer for it. So, they are directly helping their communities.

BBF: What inspired Bata Children’s Program to partner with SOS Children’s Villages for this campaign, and how does it align with the company’s values and mission?
I think the SOS Children’s Villages corresponds well to our value of empowering children. Again, mentoring is one of the important things we can do as a company. Therefore, we are making a programme called YouthCan! This programme is developed to help children with disadvantaged backgrounds attend schools. This initiative will mentor and give them the tools and advice they need to enter into a professional career.

BBF: Which other Countries are involved in this partnership Between BCP and SOS Children’s Villages?
Within Asia, we are involved with Thailand. But we are also involved in other parts of the world. We have six countries in total. These countries are Colombia, Peru, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and Thailand. But worldwide, through the Bata Children’s Programme, we impact about 400,000 children. So it is a huge programme that we are running.

BBF: Can you elaborate on the specific goals and objectives of the YouthCan! Program within the partnership with SOS Children’s Villages?
So, SOS is only a part of an initiative we started this year. But the Bata Children’s Programme has been around for quite some time. Several schools in Bangladesh are under the Bata Children’s Programme. We are continuously trying to improve the schools’ infrastructure. We are working to improve the skillsets of the teachers as well. The teachers undergo special training so that they can also give back to the students. And that is where we can make a difference. For example, this morning, we visited a school very close to the Bata factory where our employees volunteered to teach the children IT and accounting, and help the teachers. It is a wonderful fit when you have a company and next door you have a school. We can send our employees, or the school can ask us to go over there and share knowledge. It is so easy. There is a classroom with 15 children, someone in our IT department working with them, and 15 big smiles. The biggest smile was from the IT employee of Bata because he was having the best time with everyone.

BBF: What are the ultimate goals and aspirations that Bata and SOS Children’s Villages have for the impact of this partnership, both in the short term and in the long time?
Well, In Bangladesh, we brought BCP to develop the infrastructure. Infrastructure means when we invest, it is an investment in the school’s infrastructural development. As I said before, we also work on developing teachers’ quality. So, in the long run, we want to see the impact of the schools. Additionally, we don’t only work with the schools; we work for the impact. The results showcase our efforts. The dropout rate comes down by 5%. The GPA rating in that school is significantly high. 100% of students passed the SSC exam. It is creating an impact on society. We are helping the schools, students, and community. There are a lot of children of our staff and employees in that school. So, we are focused on the development of the school in terms of infrastructure, education, and quality of life.
Wherever we are working as Bata, we are engaged with the BCP. In particular, in Bangladesh, the BCP is helping the community school develop. Many good students from other institutions are joining as the school’s result is good. The education quality has grown. If the curriculum is good, people will come.

In our current school under BCP, most students doing well are girls. It has a big impact on the community. That means a lot of girls are feeling comfortable coming to the school. Because when you develop the infrastructure, it involves a lot of things. Besides classrooms, we work on sanitisation, washrooms, and pure drinking water. So, all of these have an impact. This just goes on to show that girls are doing better and there is improvement. This eventually impacts the community, so we work towards women’s empowerment. We currently have one school but plan to have more schools under this programme. So, bigger plans exist to expand BCP in Bangladesh and worldwide wherever Bata is present.

We improve people’s lives with input metrics like training, mentoring, volunteering, and infrastructure. The output metric is education. A higher level of education makes people feel more empowered, which ultimately leads to employment. So,  if you look at how it all comes together, from our side, we mentor and volunteer. We also impart education and build infrastructure. Eventually, this education will lead to empowerment and employability. That is how it all comes together. That is the framework we are seeking to achieve.

BBF: How did Bata engage its global workforce in volunteering activities during September?

There were many actions taken all around the world. We are engaging in many activities to help the children and the communities. It could be mentoring, doing some work in the school, and many other things. But we are engaging around the month to support children worldwide.  Wherever we operate, we have a month-wise calendar. We follow the calendar based on our activities. So, it is not only September; something happens every month, every week.

For Bata, another thing is that we do the work. Maybe we don’t always flash because we believe in the work. The BCP does a lot of work all around the world all through the year. We always have something or other going on. A Special focus is on September. People from all around the world working in Bata engage in some sort of activity. They physically attend those programmes, whether painting the schools or helping our special children with special needs. They are hands-on with these activities.

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