Barbara Blaser

Corporate Partnerships Marketing Manager SOS Children's Villages in Germany
photo: © 2018 Stefan Lechner Photography

Business works best based on trust. From a corporate donor trip to a warm-hearted SOS friendship

I do vividly remember a moment when I felt the flow. This was in 2015 on my first intercontinental SOS trip. At the time I was working as the Corporate Partnerships Marketing Manager at SOS Children’s Villages in Germany. My boss called me during my Easter holidays and asked if I was prepared to accompany one of our major corporate donors on a trip to Ghana. I was extremely excited, but also a little nervous. There were only five weeks for preparation. I had not been to Ghana nor to any other Western African country before, nor did I know the donor or any member of the delegation who was travelling. But I decided spontaneously that this was a great chance and that I could make a real difference.

The beginning of the trip: A new adventure
I started my research on Ghana straight away in order to be well prepared for the first phone call with the donor. My excitement rose when I found out that the consulate for Ghana was right in my little town just outside of Munich, and I could walk there in order to get my visa. That was the first moment which made me feel: This trip is meant to happen! My boss was wonderful; she trusted me fully, gave me hardly any instructions and just supported me whenever I had questions. One African colleague in our office supplied me with all her insights both on the SOS-programs and the Ghanaian culture and with the right contacts in the country. I realized I just had to ask and would get the help I needed.

The initial communication with the donor wasn’t all that easy. Neither of us were quite sure what to expect. A seven-day-trip with five of us in the group (a diverse mixture: two women, three men, four representatives of the corporate donor and me, one Ghanaian and four Germans) could truly be a challenge. How would our personalities work together, do our interests go along well, will we get tired, ill or just sick of each other? We all know an intercontinental trip can be a challenge, even amongst best friends. There was of course also a risk, but I wanted to turn our trip into a success and an ever-lasting memory. When it comes to a challenge like this I tend to be a perfectionist. I put a lot of energy into it and felt a first glimpse of flow happening.

I knew that the communication with my colleagues in Ghana would work best if there was trust. I also knew that the visit with a group of corporate donors could put the SOS team in Ghana under some pressure. I was very appreciative of the fact that they were now facing a lot of extra work on top of running the entire children’s programs. I wanted to show the donor a lot more than the children’s village itself and got into contact with the national director and village director. Due to the limited time for preparation it was best to speak directly to them on the phone. And besides some communication hurdles like phone lines dropping out and completely new accents I trusted in our organization: Things will turn out to the best interest of everyone.

Working for Trust
I met the group at Frankfurt airport. Everyone was polite and focusing on doing the right thing. We arrived in the capital Accra in the evening. There were taxi-drivers fighting for us, and it was very hot. It felt just like having arrived in an unknown adventure. We checked in at the hotel and had our first dinner together. The next morning we flew to our final destination. I hadn’t received a confirmation from the SOS Children’s Village that we would be picked up, but I promised our donor that everything will be fine. Walking out of the airport of our final destination, I was overwhelmed to see that the village director himself had personally taken the time to come and meet us. There was a warm welcome at the Children’s Village, an air-conditioned Meeting Room ready for us and nice, healthy food and drinks. We knew we were looked after.

For the following days we had meetings about SOS Ghana and the local programs, and a presentation from the corporate donor himself. There were a lot of interests to cover and quite some expectations to be met. The exchange was very fruitful. However, we were still business partners slowly getting to know each other in a cool meeting room of an enclosed SOS Children’s Village.

This changed instantly the moment we got into our shuttle bus to leave the SOS Children’s Village and visit the local social centre and some family strengthening programmes (FSP). After a warm welcome by the passionate FSP leader and her team we started driving to some wells that SOS had built for the local community. At the first spot there was a serious talk given about the impact the wells make especially for the girls and women in the community. The girls can go to school rather than having to walk for kilometres to carry fresh water home for their families. And the women who run the fountains generate an income for themselves and their families.

At the second day well we had an experience that changed the whole dynamics of our group and the trip itself. It really connected the donor with the beneficiaries and showed in a wonderful way the impact of SOS Children’s Villages on a community like the one we were visiting: The woman who was running the fountain was the centre of attention and full of smiles. Other women came to get their water and all of a sudden hundreds of children started showing up from every corner of the community. They were laughing, running, jumping and dancing. There was pure joy on all sides: the donor’s, the beneficiaries’ and the SOS co-workers’. From that moment onwards, there was a real flow. We started travelling like a team. Everyone trusted in the success of our trip itself, in the SOS organization and the corporate donor. A long-lasting friendship amongst all of us developed.

The Effect of Personal Moments on a Business Partnership
Our journey now felt like a breeze. Everybody had smiles on their faces and trust was established. We visited many more local programs together and were greatly inspired by the diversity and great impact of the SOS work. Ever since then we have been good personal friends. The business relationship is built on trust and flows easily. There is an ongoing commitment by the donor for the SOS programs. Communication happens easily and everyone works in the best interest of the children.

To me, there are a few messages in this story: I find business works best if it is based on trust, and in order to establish trust, you need to share personal moments. For SOS I think it is fundamental to bring our donors as closely as possible to our programs, make them see and feel the dedication and the input of the SOS-workers which goes beyond the ordinary.

Whenever I have a dull moment at my desk and need inspiration, I recall the moments in Ghana. And whenever there is a challenge I take it on, because I know that good things always develop if we face them with a positive and brave mind-set. 

Barbara Blaser,

Corporate Partnerships Marketing Manager at Hermann Gmeiner Fonds Germany e.V.

Barbara is in charge of marketing activities for corporate donors at the Hermann Gmeiner Fonds Germany. She loves the mixture of organizing and being creative. Barbara gets inspired by listening to the fascinating story of SOS colleagues from all over the world, as she sometimes misses the close contact with the programmes.

Barbara grew up in a family that almost felt like an SOS Children village. She grew up with a lot of aunts, uncle and cousins around. She keeps close bonds with her extended and her direct family, most of all with her two sons and two step-sons.

In her leisure Barbara enjoys reading and traveling. She also likes going to exhibitions or the opera. Barbara feels blessed to live in Germany, a country with a rich culture and history, that also encourages talking about the dark part of the history. Germany has a well-functioning democracy and she is proud of what Germans give back in terms of diplomacy and donations.

Video Harvesting Workshop 2018