13 Dec 2018

 

The Estrel Berlin Tackles Big CSR Initiatives With a Big Heart  

Hunger and homelessness, universal education access, refugee integration – there is no social issue or topic that the Estrel Berlin shys away from.

As Europe’s largest hotel conference and entertainment center they provide professional leadership but they also go “big” on CSR – having created a legacy of doing good long before it became a meetings industry trend.

We recently spoke with Diane Pentaleri-Otto, Director of International Sales at the Estrel to soak in some inspiration and get some advice to share with planners and organizers who are considering starting or pumping up their CSR efforts.  Here’s what she had to share:

How would you sum up the Estrel’s commitment to CSR and where does your dedication come from?

At the Estrel, CSR is  part of our DNA as an organization and culture – not a box to be ticked off, or a nice to have. We are deeply dedicated to promoting equal opportunity, inclusion and social justice.

This commitment stems from our founder Ekkehard Streletski’s dedication to giving back at the Estrel. This started with him providing a place for 40 aspiring Russian artists to share their work publicly when our hotel opened in 1994, and for helping to fund their art school costs. As an inspiring role model, he’s always set the positive tone for the Estrel as an organization that cares. We’ve been doing just that in various ways for almost two decades now with ideas increasingly springing up from all levels within our team.

What are some of the specific CSR programs you do?

We drive several CSR initiatives throughout the year, but there are three particularly noteworthy ones.
 
The first is the annual refugee job fair that we host each winter.  In 2015 when refugees started arriving in Germany we wanted to do something meaningful to help so instead of  hosting a fancy gala for the opening of our new convention hall we launched the fair.  Exhibiting was complimentary for Berlin employers that first year and the event now draws up to four  thousand job seekers and 100 companies to participate,  as well as the Berlin Employment office who helps with services like resume writing.
 
The second is the holiday event for the homeless of Berlin each December just days before Christmas. In partnership with the beloved German singer and performer Frank Zander, we welcome 2,400 people for a sit down traditional goose feast in one of the congress halls (complete with red cabbage and potato dumplings a.k.a. Kartoffel Kloesse). Top notch entertainment is provided by Frank Zander, and there are free haircutting services and pet food supplies offered adding to this heartwarming evening of hospitality, goodwill, caring and respect for all that join in.

Third, biennially we provide funding and Estrel employees travel to work with BuildOn.org in constructing schools where they are needed most. In 2014 we went to Malawi, 2016 Senegal and this year Nepal. It’s incredible to be a part of something like this so far from home.
 
Also, ensuring equal opportunities within our own team we are pleased to employee co-workers from over 50 countries around the world and to be a member of the Diversity Charter of Germany which supports inclusion of people of all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, sexual preferences and more.   

Jobfair
Jobfair
Jobfair
Holiday event for the homeless of Berlin
Holiday event for the homeless of Berlin

What advice would you give a hotel, or anyone in the meetings industry, on where to start with CSR?

I would say a few things here. Most importantly it’s important for planners to realize that they have the power to make a difference in supporting CSR and sustainability programs. We’re increasingly seeing CSR efforts as an RFP requirement. Organizers want to work with venues and service providers that are creating some kind of social value. By making CSR one of the criteria for an RFP, planners can help make an impact with their recommendations and choices. 

Also don’t be afraid as a host, planner or provider to make CSR a priority for your organization, and for the teammates you work with. Making this commitment gets the ball rolling and starts to open doors you might not even know exist. 

Lastly, realize it doesn’t always have to start big or be costly. It can begin by just giving time or effort to initiatives that already exist and fit with your values.  You can also partner with others for more power and reach which also distributes the investment as you ramp up or expand. 

Here’s more inspiration and information on how the Estrel gives back.