The pick-up in Ireland’s economy since the global financial crisis – when it suffered perhaps more than any other EU country – has been quite remarkable and not least because of investment from America.
Ireland’s position as a gateway to Europe for US business is well established, with recent figures from the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland showing that more than 155,000 people are in direct employment of American companies, and more than 100,000 others are in positions that are indirectly supported by US firms.
Along with jobs, many US corporations also bring a social and cultural investment to Ireland, with the same American Chamber report showing that 69 per cent of US companies have formal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes in place, and 66 per cent have dedicated budgets for this area.
Vice-president, Global Strategic Relations at Salesforce.org, Charlotte Finn said: “We want to highlight to organisations that CSR is no longer just a tick on an annual report but that it is meaningful, and that it is creating impact and improving the state of the world.”
Salesforce, which provides the world’s leading CRM software, was one of the first US digital firms to adopt an EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) base in Ireland, when it set up its Irish office in Sandiford, Dublin, in 2000.
With many of the American technology firms, a key focus in CSR is education and workforce development.“We have a global programme called Circle the Schools, whose whole ethos is to promote equal access to education,” says Finn.
In 2016, St Peter’s Primary School in Bray, Co Wicklow, received a grant from Salesforce for $100,000 (92,000 euros) as part of the programme, which allowed the school to build a new computer lab and update its library.
Finn says: “We also built a sensory reception area for them because there is a high number of children at school with autism and learning difficulties and they needed a safe place to be creative.”
But financial support is not the only way corporations are reaching out to the larger community — volunteering and direct employee engagement with social projects is showing as another trend.
Most US firms in Ireland now have a system that supports employee volunteering, as well as having connected charity partners.
“St Peter’s is not far from our office in Dublin and every person in Salesforce gets seven days to spend volunteering. We are finding so many of our employees get passionate about working in a school environment and giving young people an opportunity,” Finn said.
Adding: “They have done things like helping the school get redecorated, they do reading with the children, they do math support with children, they work on the playground, and they’ve done school trips with them.
That one-on-one focus from adults that really believe in children is just as game- changing for the school, if not more, than financial support.
Put those two things together and it completely changes what the school can achieve.”
Beyond education and volunteering, many leading US corporations have moved to lead by example in areas of social inclusion and diversity.
Google’s Dublin offices are an example of this, according to Shane Nolan, director, New Business Sales.“Diversity and inclusion are values critical to our success and future innovation and we believe challenging bias – inside and outside our company – is the right thing to do.
This something that is a priority for us in our EMEA site because we have an incredibly diverse office.
Our employees come from over 60 nationalities and speak over 69 languages.”
Nolan says: “We are somewhat different to our peers in that we have many women in leadership roles in our EMEA headquarters.” He acknowledges that attracting women to tech remains an issue in Ireland and elsewhere.
Seeing this trend, the company has started several global initiatives in an attempt to encourage diversity.
“Initiatives like these are pivotal in supporting our female employees as they progress their careers, while our participation in external groups such as the 30 per cent Club and Women in Technology ensures we actively support the diversity agenda within our sector but also within wider society,” he adds.
As CSR continues to become a more robust part of international business, responsibility is falling on large corporations to make change happen.