In South Africa, Dow employees are partnering with a non-profit to exchange plastic bottle caps for wheelchairs – giving people in need the chance at mobility and independence.
The initiative is one of several community programs being funded through Dow’s newly launched ALL IN ERG Fund, part of Dow’s Engaging for Impact sustainability goal. The fund provides up to $200,000 in seed grants annually to support inclusion programming initiated by our employee resource groups (ERGs). In 2019, grants of $5,000 to $25,000 were awarded to selected projects championed by employees participating in Dow ERGs.
Within Dow, our 10 ERGs are working as a catalyst to advance our business success while also championing a more inclusive culture. With 42% of employees participating in ERGs, company leadership recognized the potential power of ERGs to also help advance inclusion in the communities where our people work and live. In 2019, the ALL IN ERG Fund was launched to help ERGs support projects that address community issues that advance inclusion and sustainability.
“When everyone has the chance to grow and prosper, our communities become better, healthier places in which to live and work,” said Karen S. Carter, Dow’s chief human resources officer and the chief inclusion officer. “By generating awareness of diversity-related challenges and supporting organizations that respect unique differences and perspectives, our ERGs can help cultivate inclusion in our communities.”
In its first year, the ALL IN ERG Fund generated more than 140 grant requests from ERG participants across the globe. Twelve community projects were chosen as finalists. These projects help address critical global needs in inclusion, entrepreneurship, STEM learning and sustainability.
Take the Plastics for Recycling wheelchair project in South Africa, for example. Each year, thousands of South Africans with disabilities remain bedridden or must rely on others for transport. Because they lack access and funds to buy wheelchairs, others turn to makeshift, unsafe homemade alternatives.
Sharon Singh, an employee with Dow’s Disability Employee Network ERG chapter in South Africa, submitted the Sweethearts Foundation’s Tops & Tags Initiative for grant money through the All IN ERG Fund. The non-profit works with corporations, schools and volunteers to salvage the plastic of bottle tops and bread tags. Once collected, these recycled items are taken to plastic converters, which provide either wheelchairs or money to purchase wheelchairs in exchange for the recycled plastic.
“Plastic is a valuable resource, and if leveraged correctly, can become a useful commodity and currency in our community, just by sorting and recycling,” said Singh, a Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics customer manager. “The project enables a circular economy, because the bottle tops and bread tags are collected by the communities, then recycled by a convertor into seedling trays, frames, biscuit trays and other products. In exchange for the material, a wheelchair is handed over to a person in need.”
Since the Tops & Tags initiative launched in 2009, 49.2 tons of plastic have been recycled, resulting in 294 wheelchairs given to those who need them the most.
“Advancing a circular economy while changing lives is a win-win,” Singh said. “The simple act of obtaining a wheelchair represents freedom and opportunity. With a wheelchair, beneficiaries have been able to get an education, gain employment and be less reliant on others. It makes me proud to work for a company that care about uplifting our communities.”
Read about other projects selected for support through our All IN ERG Fund in the Global Citizenship section of our 2019 Sustainability Report.