BMW-Unicef Partnership Launches Amid Carmaker's Drive to be 'Responsible Corporate Citizen'

BMW-Unicef Partnership Launches Amid Carmaker's Drive to be 'Responsible Corporate Citizen'
Journalists visited BMW's Midrand Campus, its head office near Pretoria, as part of the three-day tour. Notice the BMW 2000 SA and 2004 SA made exclusively for the South African market. Photo via Pioneers Post

Pretoria, South Africa - BMW Group, renowned for its commitment to building "more than just cars," hosted a three-day press trip in South Africa to mark its 50th anniversary of manufacturing in the country while emphasizing its efforts to be a "responsible corporate citizen." Pioneers Post was among the privileged 33 media outlets invited to witness BMW's dedication to sustainability and its new partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).

BMW Group, a multinational corporation that also manufactures Mini, Rolls Royce, and Motorrad brands, boasts a global workforce of 150,000 and reported a net profit of €18.6 billion in 2022.

While the press trip was initially intended to celebrate BMW's five decades of manufacturing in South Africa, it also aligned with the growing corporate trend of prioritizing purposeful business practices. BMW's top brass emphasized that companies today are measured not solely by their profits but by the value they contribute to society.

Amid the backdrop of increased scrutiny of the automotive industry, BMW's initiatives in South Africa took center stage. One of the standout initiatives was the announcement of a new partnership with Unicef, slated to run from 2023 to 2030. The partnership aims to assist 10 million children and young people in South Africa, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Thailand in accessing high-quality education and vocational training. BMW will donate €2 million annually to support this program, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and aims to bridge the gap between learning and earning.

The launch of this program is particularly crucial in South Africa, where unemployment rates are staggeringly high, with 33% overall and a staggering 61% among 15-24-year-olds. Reporters were given the opportunity to visit Lethabong Secondary School in Soshanguve township, where BMW's support is empowering both the school and its students. The school will undergo refurbishment funded by BMW and will be renamed 'Lethabong Maths, Science, and ICT School of Specialization, with a Focus on Automotive.' Furthermore, 18 more schools in South Africa will receive support in the form of new equipment, competitions, career guidance, and mentoring as part of Unicef's broader efforts to revamp the education system.

In addition to its education initiatives, BMW showcased its commitment to clean energy by refurbishing Ntšha-Peu Primary School. The school now benefits from a clean and steady power supply generated by a combination of solar panels and recycled Lithium-Ion car batteries. This innovative system powers computers, lights, and a water pump while also deterring burglars during the night. BMW plans to expand this sustainable energy solution to more schools and areas in the future.

BMW Group has a long history of corporate social responsibility dating back to 1976, with a strong focus on environmental action. However, the company acknowledges that corporate expectations have evolved. Ilka Horstmeier, Labor Relations Director at BMW Group, emphasized that companies are now judged by the added value they bring to society, alongside economic success.

BMW Group invested €38.7 million in corporate citizenship initiatives worldwide in 2022, with around €350,000 allocated annually to South African education initiatives. While specific budget figures were not disclosed, BMW places great importance on its long-term approach and its commitment to being directly involved in these projects.

Apart from its educational endeavors, BMW has partnered with youth employment accelerator Harambee to provide IT job opportunities for graduates and with Envirolite to repurpose polystyrene waste into affordable housing. Furthermore, the company is ahead of its target to have 50% of new sales consist of all-electric vehicles by 2030. It is also investing heavily in the electrification of its Pretoria plant, where the X3 model will be produced as a plug-in hybrid.

Despite these laudable efforts, BMW faces criticism for its lobbying record concerning climate regulations. However, the company maintains its commitment to the Paris Agreement and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. BMW's Alexander Bilgeri emphasized that the company's sustainability initiatives are not mere marketing tactics and do not come with disclaimers, emphasizing that making electric cars is not always the most environmentally friendly option, as it depends on the entire supply chain.

BMW acknowledges the complexities of the world and the challenges ahead but remains resolute in its mission to combine economic success with environmental and social responsibility. As Ilka Horstmeier aptly puts it, "It's very, very clear that we are on that path because we truly believe that this [ecological and social concern] is part of our business."