The story of….
CEMEX Team-Building Activity in Leona Vicario,
I’ve thought a lot about the true meaning of social responsibility and whether we just talk about it or whether we actually do it. So I want to share a story of how it applied to re-building a school in Leona Vicario outside of Cancun to create the CEMEX team-building event. It was an event that succeeded so well that lives were changed forever. I want to believe that changing lives is something for which we all strive, and so I encourage all readers to copy, steal, modify … but do it. Let me tell you what we did, why we did it, and how.
It's a long story, so let me say that if you don’t want to read the specifics, know these things and then skip to the end…
*Believe that you can make a difference and then figure out a way to do so.
*Don’t give up when challenges arise.
*Legacies have to start somewhere. Start one.
*Find a purpose and then find a way to connect your audience to it that is unique to them.
Our legacy creation started with a client who wanted to do a team building activity. We were at a beach resort, so building a cardboard boat sounded fun to them. But I thought differently. Part of the objective was to unify two disparate companies that did not see eye-to-eye. CEMEX had purchased an Australian company… wing tip shoes vs. shrimp on the Barbie was a good description. I thought that by having both companies do something for the greater good would be far more bonding. It took a bit of convincing, but in the end it accomplished just that.
After much looking around Cancun, we found a school in Leona Vicatio, about 45 minutes outside of the main town. The school was in heartbreaking condition when we first saw it. After weeks of site inspections at the school, meetings with contractors and suppliers of building products and internal CEMEX personnel, we began three months of hard work prior to the conference. The objective was to start to turn the school into a place of pride for the children and their town.
At first, the requirements to start this project seemed insurmountable, since everything had to be accomplished while school was in session. For every item completed, 10 more appeared. The job required 36 truckloads of cement, 122 gallons of paint and 700 yards of grass sod not to mention plumbing, electrical, landscape, mortar and a variety of other elements.
Our first major obstacle was the fact that, as with many small communities and their leaders, the school was very proud and the administration slow to respond to the offer of charity, worried that it would acknowledge they needed help. Discussions were handled with respect for the administration’s concerns, and it was finally determined that the community and school leaders would take part in, and take credit for, arranging the event. Once this was agreed, we were able to move forward, now with the local police (for crowd control and safety) and the school’s grounds managers fully on board.
It quickly became clear that not only was additional building necessary but the existing rooms and facilities also needed to be upgraded to accommodate the number of children attending the school.
For 90 days prior to the conference, CEMEX and its partners did everything. Contractors poured cement, restructured plumbing, installed electrical, refurbished bathrooms, rebuilt the school cafeteria and began to construct a small library.
We immediately began by clearing the school grounds of trash, dismantling a dilapidated structure and then grading tons of dirt to accommodate a proposed new building and playground. As with most remodeling, it was easier to start from scratch rather than add to an existing substandard substructure. Because of this, when remodeling and adding multiple boys’ and girls’ toilets and stalls, all existing plumbing feeder-pipes needed to be ripped out and replaced, as well as electrical sub panels to accommodate the additional donated computer stations and Internet connections.
Because the school had no trash disposal service or facilities, all trash and waste had been burned in the play yard and behind the cafeteria. As a result, rats and vermin were attracted to the areas where the children ate and played. To resolve this challenge, CEMEX and Extraordinary Events built two enclosed areas to store new trash cans that CEMEX donated.
Access to the school for construction was another challenge. Because the town was very small and not built to any standard city codes, many of the electrical poles and power lines were mounted to large posts and, in some cases, large tree branches buried into the ground. This made access for our cement trucks and large buses used to transport the multiple CEMEX executives impossible.
To make access possible, we raised all power lines of the surrounding city block and all lines leading up to the school site from the main access road. Needless to say, this was not a simple task.
It was also very hard to judge how many supplies would be needed. The solution was having plenty of runners onsite. The overall productivity during the re-building was better than anticipated, and our runners had to sprint out for more plants, more paint … all in a town where none of those things existed. Ah, the beauty of cell phones. Call
Cancun and rush those things
Another issue was making the project relevant to the executives at the conference. This was the first time CEMEX had ever initiated such a complex, lengthy community service activity. In order to understand what they would have to accomplish, the CEMEX executives needed to see the “before” pictures of the school. Because there were three months between the initiation of the construction and when executives would actually see and become part of its completion, a documentary film was created every step of the way, both for archival purposes and also to be shown at the conference. The objective was to bring attendees up to speed while tapping into their emotions. If they saw where the process started, and also where it ended, they would know what they achieved. Interviews with the town mayor as well as the school officials were ongoing as construction progressed.
The work we began was completed by the 300 executives during our event. Now don’t think that means 300 executives did a tiny bit of hammering and called it a day. They worked their butts off. Let me give you a glimpse of their day.
After a morning of intense business sessions, the executives were shown the documentary video taken of the school over those past 90 days. The first shots showed the school before CEMEX took hold. The horrible conditions of the classrooms, the kitchen and the playgrounds and the lack of athletic equipment, books and proper kitchen facilities were all visible. Then the video commemorated the activities leading up to this day with CEMEX trucks and contractors visibly laying the groundwork for it.
At the end of this presentation the executives were more than ready to pitch in. They were assigned to their team (electrical, landscaping, plumbing, carpentry, mortar, etc., all based on their defined skill set, a combination of EE’s careful investigation and forms we had them complete). In teams they boarded buses to the school.
During the trip to the school, several planned activities were implemented. All were designed to create a spirit of “team.” First they were given detailed printed instructions as to exactly what they had to do once onsite. They were told what equipment they would have and the task they would have to accomplish. Then they were told more about the school.
One man asked, “Couldn’t you find a school that was closer?”
The guide’s response set the tone. Here’s the conversation…
Guide: “Who would send his child to a school without toilets?”
(No hands went up.)
Guide: “Who would send his child to a school with rats running through his food?”
(No hands went up.)
Guide:“Who would send his child to a school that had no playground, no desks, no library and no books?”
(Again, no hands went up.)
Guide: “So, who would rather stay close to Cancun and paint a blue classroom yellow? Or would you rather ride an hour and change the lives of hundreds of children forever?
The group started cheering and applauding.
Once at the site, each of the 35 group leaders took their teams to preset tables holding all the tools, supplies and safety equipment they would need. Each team was then joined by one of the school’s students and a parent. Together they painted, laid sod, planted flowers and trees, poured concrete, applied stucco, plumbed, finished electrical work and constructed the walls and roof of a new library, the first the school had ever enjoyed. To make the connection between CEMEX and the school rock-solid, CEMEX products were used. The sight of so many active CEMEX cement trucks was awesome to many of the executives who rarely had the opportunity to see their products in action, much less personally put to use in the field.
EE suggested one final innovation quickly adopted by CEMEX. We asked each and every executive to bring a favorite book from his or her childhood to share with the children on the day of the event and then to leave behind as the first contribution to the new library they had built that afternoon.
In a touching display, each CEMEX executive did share his or her own special childhood book with a student from Leona Vicario. These books, inscribed in more than 38 languages, were the very beginning of the new library. The emotional connection as grown men sat with small children on their laps telling them why this particular book had been so special was palpable. One man brought a book in Polish that he had translated by hand into Spanish. Another had done hand drawings of Black Beauty with an inscription to the children.
An official dedication ceremony ended the event, consisting of a speech by the Vice President of CEMEX, “Thank Yous” by school representatives and the parents of the students, and a song performed by the children for the CEMEX executives. Additionally, gifts were exchanged between the school, the community and the executives.
At the end of the day, the executives had figuratively and literally influenced, if not entirely changed, the lives and education of more than 600 children and families as they experienced first-hand the core business of CEMEX. It was a lesson in the importance of their product. Plus, they had learned a valuable team-building lesson as they worked with one another across cultural and language barriers to achieve a common goal, one that was lofty and inspiring and immensely satisfying, while changing the lives of an entire community.
Community service events are not out of the norm but usually consist of a bit of hammering and perhaps some superficial painting. This project was entirely different.
From its inception to its execution to the lasting effect it left on all participants, this event was a powerful experiential manifestation of the message that the client wished to send. Not only did the community service activity serve as a team-building lesson, it also gave attendees first-hand knowledge of the company’s product and illustrated its corporate culture to newcomers joining the company as a result of the recent acquisition. It also did something not every team-building activity does – it created a legacy for CEMEX.
The school’s new buildings, library and grounds will be used for generations of children to come. The books that the executives left will be read by the children and grandchildren of those kids enjoying them today. And, best of all, the event launched a series of future events like it that CEMEX and EE will produce throughout the world.
Can an event’s success be measured in emotion? Return on emotion might be a measurement for the future. We know that ROT (return on time) is now highly prioritized. I watched as 300 tired executives, hands filthy, splattered with paint and cement, sweaty and grimy, smiling, crying and laughing shared stories of what each of them did and what a difference it made. Carefully manicured fingernails were history; blisters were sources of pride. This was a true team of happy people who had bonded for a cause, one much bigger than themselves.
Without exception, every executive was engaged with the other executives and with the children. Because of their product, a world had changed. Together, they really did build the future, and, together my team and I did too.
Taking on projects that make a difference in the world is close to my heart, as it should be to us all. If each of us can leave even small legacies to others, we can change the world.
If You Have Jumped Ahead to the End…and You Want to Create a Legacy:
It does not matter what business you are in, you can do this either internally or externally.
Do you produce a festival? Find a way to include benefits to your community through activities that better it.
Are you planning a corporate event? Find a way that every event has purpose within it and is branded to the client, annually.
Fundraiser? Involve the recipients of the funds in the event so people know where their money is being spent. Engage the actual people into the event instead of letting them be photos on a large screen.
Within EE we have committed ourselves to supporting Dining for Women and will have monthly fundraisers to support their initiatives. We invite you to read up on it at DiningforWomen.com
Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is an in-demand speaker and author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. To contact Andrea, email email@example.com.