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Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

Believing in the future

Interview

  • Sustainability
  • Company


The Vaillant Group and “SOS Children’s Villages worldwide” have an international partnership. Since 2013, the family-owned company has been supporting the children’s rights organisation in more than 20 countries with modern, energy-saving heating technology and creative social projects. Barbara Gruner, Executive Board Member SOS Children's Villages worldwide, and Norbert Schiedeck, CEO of the Vaillant Group, discuss what makes the cooperation so special for both partners, how children and families in Ukraine are being supported, and where the shared path will lead over the next few years.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

Ms Gruner, Mr Schiedeck, ten years ago you signed a global partnership agreement. What makes the cooperation between “SOS Children’s Villages worldwide” and the Vaillant Group what it is for you?

Barbara Gruner: The cooperation with the Vaillant Group holds a special significance for us. It is not the norm for corporate partnerships to last so long and with such intensity. The two organisations have grown close together over the last ten years. Employees on both sides work on a shared mission with a lot of commitment and great mutual respect.

Norbert Schiedeck: As a family-owned company, we primarily want to support disadvantaged children and families. “SOS Children’s Villages worldwide” is an ideal partner for us to make a social contribution with our core business. The cooperation is extremely professional, creative and effective. Over the last decade, we have been able to use our products and expertise to help children and families find a warm and cosy home. Supporting 76 SOS Children’s Villages in 24 countries with heating technology and social projects, we have achieved great results so far.


What factors are behind the success of such a long-term partnership?

Gruner: There are many elements that have to fit together. A shared understanding of the aims of the cooperation, regular, open and mutually appreciative interaction, trust in the strengths of the respective partner, and a focus on their needs.

Schiedeck: It is very important that we can contribute our core competence. That our employees put their heart and soul into driving the partnership forward, resulting in a variety of initiatives in many countries. Our partners, the installers, who professionally install the heating technology donated by us are a major pillar of the cooperation. Without their involvement, the partnership would simply not be possible.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

SOS Children’s Villages worldwide and the Vaillant Group have grown close together over the last ten years.

Barbara Gruner

Executive Board Member SOS Children's Villages worldwide

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

76 SOS Children’s Villages in 24 countries. Which projects particularly stick in the mind?

Schiedeck: It’s difficult to pick favourites from among so many projects. I think a large newbuild in France that we have equipped with heat pumps is just as important as the replacement of individual appliances in an existing building in Portugal. They all show that Vaillant is committed to ensuring that every child has a warm and cosy home in many countries.

Gruner: In addition to the donation of heating technology, the many social projects also stick in my mind. Your donation of salary cent remainders in Germany, the fundraising regatta in France and the Christmas campaigns in Spain, for example.

The support for SOS Children’s Villages since the outbreak of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine combines those two areas. Can you tell us more about that?

Schiedeck: Our Ukrainian sales company has been active in the local SOS Children’s Villages organisation for many years. We donated modern heating technology and arranged internships and summer jobs for young people. Shortly before the outbreak of war, our colleagues financed health insurance for 75 children living in the care of SOS Children’s Villages. With the war, the situation for local children and families has unfortunately become significantly more dramatic.

How did you react to that?

Schiedeck: We felt it was important to provide rapid and comprehensive support to the SOS Children’s Villages’ humanitarian aid. As soon as war broke out, we launched a global employee fundraising campaign. The company doubled all the donations received, increasing them to a total of 255,000 euros.

Gruner: That employee fundraising campaign is a very good illustration of what is special about our cooperation. As a long-standing partner, the Vaillant Group precisely understands our specific needs and manages to develop methods that provide quick and effective help.

Schiedeck: That goes both ways. In the case of Ukraine, we immediately decided to help. Thanks to SOS Children’s Villages, we are able to provide targeted support to children and families in the war zone.

Gruner: Help in a war zone is a good way to sum it up. We were particularly impressed by the second part of your emergency aid to Ukraine.

Schiedeck: That is very kind of you to say, and I will gladly pass on your compliments to the employees who made that help possible. What I find impressive is your work on the ground for the people in need. We help as much as we can within our means. The Ukrainian staff of SOS Children’s Villages approached us with a request to support the reconstruction of the SOS Children’s Village in Brovary, near Kiev. We were very happy to provide a comprehensive package of heat pumps, gas-fired condensing boilers and hot-water storages. Delivering to a war zone was challenging, but a cross-departmental team pulled it off.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group
© SOS-Kinderdörfer Ukraine/Oleksandra Zborovska

Gruner: To what extent did you consider the fact that the delivery of valuable heating technology to a war zone involved a risk for you?

Schiedeck: The decision to donate heating technology for the reconstruction of the Brovary Children’s Village was very easy for us, especially now, in times of war. We stand with the children and families of Ukraine. We believe in their future. If we can contribute to bringing those people some kind of normality with our core business, we are happy to do so.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

We donated heating technology for the reconstruction of the SOS Children’s Village Brovary because we believe in the future of Ukraine’s children and families.

Dr.-Ing. Norbert Schiedeck

Vaillant Group Chief Executive Officer

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

Ms Gruner, you have just come from Ukraine yourself. You had the opportunity to visit the SOS Children’s Village Brovary while you were there. What did you think of it?

Gruner: I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects and seen a lot during my work in humanitarian aid. But the visit to Ukraine was something new for me. The immediacy of the suffering of children and families, the mercilessness of the everyday military threat, the trepidation that reigns in a country at war – all those feelings were very intense. The other special thing in this case is that rather than the usual order of emergency aid followed by rehabilitation and infrastructure projects, in this crisis all the priorities are equal and being handled simultaneously. We are providing emergency assistance and social work for children. At the same time we are repairing the homes for displaced families and having new heating technology installed in Brovary.

What exactly is the situation for the children and young people helped by your programmes?

Gruner: The situation people are living in is strongly dependent on where they are located. The further east you are, closer to the front, the more hostile the conditions. In the west of the country, the situation is much safer, but the burden of war can also be felt there. There are a large number of displaced persons who have had to flee the embattled eastern territories. That, in turn, puts pressure on the provision of emergency accommodation, aid supplies and education for children whose everyday schooling has been interrupted. In our social centres, we try to provide children and families with a reliable offering even under these circumstances.

Have you been able to talk to people who have had to leave their homes in eastern Ukraine?

Gruner: I had many conversations, some of which were very moving for me personally. One of them will stay with me forever. Valentyna is a mother of three foster children who wanted to flee from her village in eastern Ukraine to escape the approaching Russian forces. Her husband was against it. One night, she summoned up all her courage and left the familiar surroundings of the village with her children – for the first time in her life. Valentyna made her way to the train station under very difficult and frightening conditions and got on a train that brought her and thousands of other displaced persons to Kiev. She was met there by an employee of the UNHCR, who informed our staff at SOS Children’s Village Brovary. However, Valentyna hid for several nights from the village driver who wanted to pick her up from the train station because he was wearing the same black jacket as a group of men who had threatened her and her children at the station. When she finally came forward, the driver took her to the SOS Children’s Village Brovary. To safety.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group
© SOS-Kinderdörfer Ukraine/Oleksandra Zborovska

How is Valentyna doing now?

Gruner: I have the impression she has settled in. She takes loving care of her three foster children, two of whom have a mild intellectual disability. She has even welcomed two more children who were without parental care into her small family recently. When we talk about our help going further, we have people like Valentyna in mind. They help if you help them. The Vaillant Group’s donation of heating technology can be viewed the same way. Valentyna and her children are among the first to feel the Vaillant warmth in Brovary.

Schiedeck: That is a story that gives reason for hope. The situation is also an enormous burden for our employees. We call our colleagues on the ground on a weekly basis to see how we can support them and their families in everyday life. I really appreciate the team supporting our Country Manager Alexander Rohn, who continue their work with great passion despite all the adversity.

What challenges do you face as a children’s rights organisation in Ukraine?

Gruner: Immediately after the outbreak of war, we launched a comprehensive aid programme. Affected children and families are receiving assistance with evacuation and accommodation. We provide them with food, hygiene products, blankets and medicines, as well as supporting parentless children and families in particular need, providing immediate psychological help and trauma treatment, and offering educational support for children who are safe. Despite all the successes, it is unfortunately clear that children in particular suffer from the trials and tribulations of war. For example, Ukrainian children are systematically abducted from their homeland and taken to Russia. According to the official figures, there are believed to be 20,000 such children now living in Russia. In recent months, our Ukrainian team has been able to bring the first children back and reunite them with their families. That is just the beginning, of course. In the end, it all comes down to the well-being of each individual child.

Schiedeck: Child protection violations that were even able to take place under the umbrella of SOS Children’s Villages show how little respect is shown for the internationally guaranteed rights of children and young people in many parts of the world today. We as a company are aware of the difficult social and political conditions under which SOS Children’s Villages operates. At the same time, we emphasised the importance of complete transparency in the processing of cases.

Gruner: As a globally active children’s rights organisation, we take this responsibility very seriously. As a member of the executive board, I personally advocate for a path of transparency and consistency. We have a clear zero-tolerance policy on child protection violations within our organisation. One case is one too many. We have been working for many years on strengthening child protection. To this end, we have trained all employees and managers on the topic of child protection and further developed and refined our child protection guidelines, as well as our visitor guidelines. We firmly believe in the mission of SOS Children’s Villages and will do everything we can to ensure watertight child protection.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

Let’s look to the future together. With that in mind, a final question: where do you see the partnership going in the next ten years?

Schiedeck: Ten years is a comparatively short time for a family business that thinks in terms of generations. We would like to intensify the breadth and depth of cooperation. Equip more SOS Children’s Villages in even more countries with modern heating technology. Implement further creative social projects and integrate our partners, the installers, even more closely into the cooperation. At the same time, I think it would be exciting if, in the longer term, we could add a third pillar to the two existing ones of heating technology and social projects. We think the “Youth Employability” focus topic of the SOS Children’s Villages is very worthy of support.

Gruner: I don’t have much to add to that. We want to continue the existing cooperation with the Vaillant Group at its already very high level and, where possible, expand it further. We would like to put the understanding that both organisations have for the work of their respective partner to use in new fields. I look forward to our next steps together.

Vaillant Group
Vaillant Group

Ten years – ten stories

We provide insights into the international cooperation with “SOS Children’s Villages worldwide” through numerous exciting stories. We will add more stories on a regular basis.

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