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“We focus on entrepreneurial solutions”

July 12, 2017

Dirk Voeste, Vice President Sustainability Strategy at BASF.

Living space, healthy nutrition, sanitary and medical care – all over the world people are striving to improve their living conditions. The key to improvement is often education and a job to ensure a secure livelihood and prosperity. Companies offer opportunities for both: availability of jobs around the world, as well as access to affordable products and services to improve the quality of life. In doing so, new markets and partnerships open up. Since 2016, the BASF program Starting Ventures has supported projects which link these advantages. Dr. Dirk Voeste, Vice President Sustainability Strategy, talks in an interview about the program, its successes and challenges.

What is the idea behind Starting Ventures and what is the difference between it and other social projects by BASF?

Dirk Voeste: “Starting Ventures” stands for “innovative business promoting activities”. It is based on one of the two pillars of our Social Engagement Strategy. Unlike in non-profit activities, such as donations or social engagement of BASF employees, Starting Ventures focus on entrepreneurial solutions. It supports projects that give people with a low income the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives themselves. At the same time, it is intended to open up new markets and partnerships in the medium to long-term future.

What kind of projects are these?

Dirk Voeste: At the moment, we support eight projects from various business areas, customer industries and regions. They all contribute to the Sustainability Development Goals of the United Nations (SDGs), particularly in the target areas of nutrition, health, poverty and education. One of the projects in Africa, for example, aims at improving the supply of staple foods and the quality of the local food. By enriching flour with a specific food additive, toxic fungal spores are absorbed in a way that significantly reduces health risks for the people. In order to bring these benefits to the people dependent on affected foods, BASF accesses its established network with local mills, non-profit organizations and authorities.

Teenagers during their training to become automotive spray painters in Chile.

In South America, an automotive industry project aims particularly at improved education on the job. Local body shops, who are customers of numerous BASF products such as refinish paints, experience a lack of qualified employees. BASF supports unemployed teenagers in their training to become automotive spray painters. After finishing their education program, they are recommended to our customers for hire. With a secure income, these young people can pay their own way while also expanding the market for BASF products.

Is it always that easy to help people in different regions and at the same time generate economic value for BASF?

Dirk Voeste: Many of the projects supported so far have become very successful. However, “venture” also means risk and that in turn can mean that not all projects are likely to be economically successful in the long run. Nevertheless, it is important for us to make a social impact.

In order for a project to become successful, it is important to look at different cultural and social factors in the given setting. That means we need to talk to local people and potential partners. One example is a project we wanted to conduct in India last year. During this first local analyzing phase, it quickly became obvious that our planned approach did not match the demands in this specific local setting. Therefore, we decided to discontinue this project for the time being – which does not mean that we will not address the subject again – perhaps with a completely new approach. At Starting Ventures, we want to support innovative business models and approaches in particular.

Find out more about Starting Ventures in this video  

Birgit Hellmann
Global Sustainability Communications