Magic Boxes: CSR in the Dominican Republic

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Magic Boxes CSR in the Dominican Republic

On the Dominican Republic’s north coast, Cabarete is the adventure sports capital of the Caribbean, with myriad teambuilding experiences in the rugged mountain ranges. It’s also home to The DREAM Project—a non-profit that builds and manages regional schools. During a tour of a new school, director Jon Wunderlich explains that visiting groups donate everything from Spanish children’s books to computers.

“These kids go nuts when they first use a computer,” he says. “They think it’s a magic box.”

Group members also donate time in a computer lab teaching children how to start a computer or build an Excel spreadsheet. They might teach rudimentary English or help overwhelmed teachers with rambunctious pre-K kids.

“We just had a Wall Street firm down who helped paint a school,” says Wunderlich. “It’s kind of a triple threat. You can still come down here and eat the yummy food, play in the water and lie on a Caribbean beach all day. But you can also build morale and provide philanthropy in the world’s greatest teambuilding environment. Plus you get this very popular public exposure, and a lot of companies need that right now.”

Is it difficult to convince some executives of the personal rewards and unique group teambuilding benefits of CSR?

“Sure, some people think it’s cheesy,” says Wunderlich. “But I just had a guy tell me, ‘You know, we see so many bad things on TV every night. It’s so pure and gratifying to paint a school. There’s no ambiguity. No gray area. There’s direct benefit and I made some great friends’.” Wunderlich likes to hear that. “That’s sort of the essence of what we do.”

PUNTA CANA

Over in Punta Cana, Connect Travel Services offers a Discovery Quest CSR opportunity. Groups are divided into teams and paired with a local guide to venture into the countryside in search of pieces of a treasure map.

Driving aboard all-terrain trucks, the group visits a coffee plantation to share a cup of morning java with men harvesting the beans. They rumble up to a mountain ranch for lunch with local farmers, and visit tri-generation families living in thatch houses. At each stop, members discover parts of the map.

Lastly, the group drives to the spot marked by the “X” on the completed map, which turns out to be a school, orphanage or clinic. Dominican children are always ecstatic when they meet foreigners, and the group is often overwhelmed by the show of energetic appreciation.

“Slowly it dawns on the group that these children are the treasure,” says Les Pye, vp of operations. “The kids are absolutely fascinated by meeting people from out of the country, some who’ve never seen a foreign face before.” The children proffer baked goods, they read poems, sing songs and try their best to communicate.

After that, the company provides the pre-arranged donation. This comes in the form of working on the school to help install new plumbing, for example. Or rebuilding roofs, painting or planting trees. Pye recalls a computer company with 200 attendees unloading dozens of new computers to give a local college.

“In the end, the group feels they have an insight into the culture they would never have on a vacation,” says Pye. “And people do get worked up obviously, when they look into the children’s faces. It’s an emotional time for both parties.”

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