Alain has been CEO of GrandVision France, Generale d’Optique, GrandOptical and Solaris since November 2015. After graduating in Agriculture, he spent two years with Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) in Uganda to set up an AIDS prevention mission and a rural local hospital, with an extension in agricultural teaching.
Alain, what gave you the idea to join Doctors of the World in Africa?
At that time in France, people coming out of studies had to spend one year in military service. Depending on your graduation, you also had the opportunity to join a program abroad instead, and do something more useful. So I decided to join the NGO Médecins du Monde as humanitarian action always appealed to me.
What did you learn from this experience?
I learnt that what ‘developed countries’ supposedly know about what is good for others is a big mistake. After spending time with Ugandan people, listening to them and understanding their needs, I saw that it was necessary to change my views and to adapt to the local reality. We arrived with the mission of creating awareness about AIDS through training and teaching. After a while we realized we couldn’t stop AIDS propagation through these methods because the main preoccupation of the local youngsters was to learn how to grow maize and to eat and drink properly. They kept asking us “why do you speak about AIDS all the time? Most of the deaths around us are due to Malaria, and Gangrene.”
How do you implement these lessons in your everyday life at GrandVision France?
Well, in some way we face the same issue in everyday business, with customers, employees, partners. We come with our priorities and action plans, bringing forward our way of thinking, but we often forget to make sure we are aligned before acting…listening, understanding and adapting to the situation are the keys to success.
“Becoming a CSR leader and providing staff with a great place to work” are among the strategic pillars of GrandVision France. Why is this important to you and how do you plan to achieve it?
My interest in CSR began with my experience in Uganda where I learned how to help people by teaching, instead of donating. In a company these actions generally start with an audit and then regulations to move people in the right direction. I wanted these actions to be local as well, so we can start by making a difference in our own country.
We decided to join a small local NGO called ‘Solidev’ to partner with them on providing eye health to underprivileged people. We don't do direct money donations – just products, material support and staff involvement. It is 100% voluntary and we already had 62 GrandVision people involved.
The second part of our plan is to help prevent eye conditions among young children at school, to make sure they can detect any troubles before they occur and impact their learning and education.
A third element is to liaise with France’s road safety authorities, to prevent accidents by helping them address bad eye sight among drivers.
Thanks for your time, Alain! Good luck with your CSR mission!