How and Why Playtech Started Investing Strategically into the Local Community

13 October 2020
By Egle Merbach, Head of the Local Community Investments Committee
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Egle Merbach

Some people still think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a nice-to-have direction for wealthy corporations that do not have enough work on their hands to keep them busy or just have plenty of extra money to play around with. Others associate corporate charity projects with the need to atone for past irresponsibility or damage a company is somehow responsible for.

At Playtech, we prioritise making a positive effect on the local communities where we live and work at. We strongly feel it is our responsibility to share our success with the community. However, this is something a company cannot achieve alone as employee engagement plays a key role in making a difference.

For us, it is vital that our investments to the community are meaningful to our own employees. Our aim to make them feel proud about our charity projects as well as willing to get involved in providing a helping hand or going volunteering together.

Company-wide Community Investments Program

Two and a half years ago, Playtech initiated a group-wide Community Investment Program to support its employees in collectively making a difference to our local communities through contributions of our time, skills and money. So far, we have been involved in a lot of ad hoc charity projects in different countries, but to make the greatest impact, our CSR activities needed to be more coordinated and focused.

Initiating the program empowered each Playtech location to establish their own Local Community Investments Committee to come up with the best charity projects for the local communities. It also guaranteed a yearly budget for tailoring the program towards delivering social good locally.

How do you start a committee and program from scratch? We addressed this with a call-to-action for all employees to voluntarily sign up if they are interested in having a say in our charitable footprint. We had about ten employees from different units willing to get involved, so we formed the committee from them, plus our Director, HR Director and me, Brand & Communications Manager.

Forming a Local CSR Strategy

In the following months, we sat down once a month with the committee to discuss all the charity proposals we had received. We soon understood that every meeting we were we talking about a wide range of topics starting from walking homeless animals, buying medical supplies for nursing homes, paying for a robotics class mentor and going garbage-collecting in the forest. The scope of project themes was tremendous and we lacked consensus on what should we focus our charitable efforts on.

What we needed was a strategy to guide us. No matter how almighty you might feel, you soon realize that you are never able to make a difference in all areas of life you would like to help out. But we could definitely make a difference in the strategic areas we chose to focus on.

To form a strategic view, we again decided to engage all employees – for us, employee involvement is everything. We carried out a survey to ask what causes our employees actually care about and feel Playtech should support. Supporting animals, empowering children in IT activities, environmental causes, health and active lifestyle, and encouraging more women to enter IT sector were brought out by our people.

From the company perspective, we also added our own strategic aims and bottlenecks – for example, we are witnessing a serious shortage of teachers for sciences in Estonian schools that could also jeopardize the amount of youth choosing career paths in tech industry. Also, as technology is our playground, who else would be better motivated to support ‘technology and innovation for good’ initiatives than us? This way, we settled with four main focus areas.

#1: Diversity 

Firstly, we chose to focus on bringing more diversity to the IT sector job market as well as promoting diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities in general. This includes, but is not limited to, promoting gender balance, supporting adult career changes, fostering new talent among female communities and people with physical disabilities.

To foster diversity, we have been participating in the “Vali IT” program for the past four years, cooperating with TechSisters to encourage the rise of new female talents and we’ve also been giving inspirational talks at schools via the “ICT is Everywhere” project to inspire high school students to follow an IT-related career path.

TechSisters community event at our Tartu office in 2019

#2 Teachers & Education

Did you know that in Estonia, the average age of a teacher is the highest in Europe with two thirds of teachers in their 60's? It is estimated that by 2025, we are in need of 3000 new teachers, especially in mathematics and sciences. Hence, we have made it our mission to support university students training to become teachers as well as working teachers and mentors.

Over the last few years, we have provided scholarships to teacher training students and served as the main supporter of the project "Kogenud kooli" initiated by University of Tartu Institute of Education to alleviate the lack of math teachers. We have supported MTÜ Robootika's mission to find new robotics mentors all over Estonia. During the outbreak of Covid-19, we proudly donated 67 laptops to large or low income families for home-schooling that earned a lot of acknowledgement internally.

Our Director handing over the "Kogenud kooli" program scholarship voucher

However, not all of our contributions can be counted by money invested. We are also involved in providing input to set the quality standards for IT professionals as well as IT education in Estonia. For instance, our ambassadors are part of the program boards of several IT curriculums at University of Tartu, TalTech, IT College and Tartu Vocational Education Centre.

#3 Environment

As an international company with over 6000 employees in 19 countries, we definitely have a profound ecological footprint. So, it is our responsibility to make every effort to balance our environmental impact and reduce our carbon footprint.

As we all know, charity begins at home. As our first steps, we only started to use reusable tableware at our offices and are also constantly improving our waste sorting system. Other than being as efficient as we can ourselves, we are collectively volunteering at the Let’s Do It collective clean-up days and we’ve been cooperating with the World Cleanup Day. As Playtech is a part of Let’s Donate Time program, each of our employee is entitled to one day off work per year to volunteer. For example, this September we went tree-planting with Foundation Koosloodus.

#4 Health

When analysing what causes our employees care about, health clearly stood out. Good health and active lifestyle is both important for us as the employer as well as highly cherished by our employees, so it made a perfect fourth area for us to focus on.

A concept typical of Playtech is organising ‘sports for good’ and fundraising events within our company. Over the last four years, we have organised sports events and challenges for our employees with the principle that the bigger the participation rate or higher the performance of participants, the more Playtech donates on behalf of our employees. That way, we’ve raised money for numerous Estonian health and sports associations to support different causes from awareness campaigns and trainings for the physically disabled to physiotherapists’ home visits and hydrotherapy rehabilitation.

This year, we’ve been especially proud of two special health-related projects – to promote active lifestyle, we set up a ping pong table for public usage at the Uueturu park next to our Tartu office as a gift to Tartu and its residents. And in August, Playtech matched each personal donation made by our employees to support the traditional charity duck race Pardiralli. Together with our kind employees, we managed to donate as much as 3716€ to Estonian Association of Parents of Children with Cancer!

Motivation for Doing Good

Why are we doing all this CSR stuff, investing so much time and effort into charity? Think about all the charity causes and organisations mentioned that we have managed to provide our helping hand to in only a few years. Would you feel proud working for a company that cared so much of the local community? As an employee, would you feel happy to provide a helping hand in them yourself?

Our motivation does not lie in slack resources or counterbalancing any harm done by us. Rather, we see our community investments as an intrinsic part of our organisational culture and way of thinking that, as a bonus, reaps an increase in employee engagement.

In 2018, 94% of our employees said they would recommend their employer to a friend and by today, this number has risen to 97%. We’d like to think that our corporate charitable activities and employee involvement in bringing them to life also make up a part of that achievement. The greater meaningfulness and values congruence employees find at work, the more dedicated, engaged and happy they are in their everyday job.

Let's Do It 2019 - out team helping out at Tartu Animal Shelter
" We strongly feel it is our responsibility to share our success with the community. However, this is something a company cannot achieve alone as employee engagement plays a key role in making a difference."