Nicole Voillat

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

NV: I lead the sustainability program globally for The Bata Shoe Organization, a family business established in 1894. In my role I am in charge of making sure that we produce and dispose shoes in respect of people and planet in our own factories, as well as in the facilities of our suppliers. In our efforts to lighten our ‘shoeprint’, this year we have carried out our first Life Cycle Assessment of 4 types of shoes we produce and introduced energy saving compressors as well as translucent sheetings on the roofs of our factories helping us to save more than 6500 tons of CO2, among other initiatives.

I am also in charge of our community projects like the Bata Children’s Program, a Bata employees volunteer-led program focused on helping disadvantaged children in 26 countries where Bata operates. We also have a number of social enterprises, for example the Rural Sales Program in Bangladesh, where in partnership with Care we empower more than 2400 former destitute women in selling affordable shoes to the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) customers since 2005, and two gumboots /plastic shoes recycling programs run in partnership with local entrepreneurs in Africa.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

NV: I actually like everything I do, from encountering the workers in our factories around the world to tackling challenging sustainability issues, experimenting in new areas. I like everything that allows me to plant seeds that will allow my company to become an even better citizen in the future.

BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?

NV: My greatest challenge is dealing with people within the company whose vision is only directed to the bottom line and the short term.

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What advice would you give to others?

NV: Nearly all of us feel at odds with the organizations we work for at one time or another. I believe that to be successful, live your values and principle at work and move as much as possible the sustainability agenda within the corporate world, you need to be a so called “tempered radical”. These are people that successfully walk the tightrope between corporate conformity and activism driving their agendas towards transformational ends with incremental means. Passion, conviction, patience and courage is probably the magic blend.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

NV: Focus on your vision and never give up. Meet people working in CSR and sustainability, read books and magazines on the theme, engage in an executive MSc in Sustainability and Responsibility (Ashridge University, UK) or short courses (Schumacher College,UK) for example. Work in profit and non-profit, work in the field, get your hands ‘dirty’, discover the world, its multiple cultures and languages (I learned more than 8 and lived in 10 different countries around the world…)

BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?

NV: Get inspired by other initiatives and people’s experience in fighting poverty through the power of business and private-public partnerships.

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Nicole Voillat for taking the time to do this interview.

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