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A Look Into John Deere’s Partnership In Europe & Middle East: An Interview With Vanessa Buttignon

John Deere and the John Deere Foundation partners with United Way in several countries across Europe and the Middle East in a long-term community development program focused on food security, education and mentorship for underserved children and youth.

In the following interview, Vanessa Buttignon, EU Public Affairs and Citizenship Manager at John Deere, took a moment to discuss the way the organization began their partnership with United Way Europe & Middle East, and how this strategic partnership enables John Deere to leverage their corporate values. 

  • Tell us about John Deere’s community engagement and how it became part of its culture. How has it evolved in the past years?

Since our very beginning in 1837, John Deere has been giving back to the communities in which we live and work. Over the years, as our footprint has grown to having offices in more than 30 countries around the world, so has our CSR. Our John Deere Foundation was founded in 1948 on John Deere‘s legacy of philanthropy and to date has awarded over $340 million in grants. Our senior leadership team serves with sincerity and makes giving back a part of our culture. Simply put, it’s a part of who we are. Our employees’ passion is as audacious as the loyalty it inspires. We want to make a powerful impact within our communities and around the world.

In Europe, our citizenship journey started in 2015. In the beginning, there were lots of questions about why the company was facilitating volunteering in the communities. Most of the European units had very few employees involved with citizenship and they knew very little about United Way.

During this same time, the so-called refugee crisis had a tremendous mobilizing effect in Germany where thousands of ordinary people spontaneously welcomed refugees and provided them with emergency front-line humanitarian assistance, including food, clothing and shelter. Many of our employees can recall that their engagement started then. 

After 6 years, we see that the Day of Caring has become recurring and more units want to join the volunteering programs. Even during the past 18 months when most of volunteering opportunities were moved online, we had a great participation, especially from Millennials and Gen Z employees that are eager to help improve the lives of others in their communities.

  • When and how did you first hear about United Way in Europe and Middle East?

It was at the annual United Way Worldwide conference. We were looking for a likeminded organization to expand the activities of the John Deere Foundation in Europe and during the meeting we learnt that United Way was going through a similar journey.  It felt like a natural choice after 40+ years of working together successfully in other parts of the world. We know that United Way supports youth and families to ensure their inclusive and equitable access to resources and educational opportunities critical for human dignity and self-sufficiency. And these are the people whom we wish to serve, and we began exploring ways to do just that, through United Way.

  • What are the key areas/ topics that Deere address through the collaboration with United Way?  How would you describe the contributions made by Deere to United Way?  

Last year, John Deere went through a fairly significant reinvention of the company and at the same time the John Deere Foundation looked for ways to amplify its ongoing journey to make an even greater difference on the lives of those we choose to serve. We are committed, now more than ever, to have an even greater impact on farmers around the world, youth and families in our home communities, and our employees.

We also wish to unlock the greatest value for our non-profit partners, like United Way, to build their capacity and use their expertise to deliver critical needs where they best see fit. That is why we have gone to capacity-building and operational grants to offer our partners the greatest flexibility to expand their reach and impact, which is more vital than ever before in light of COVID.  

A core competency of United Way’s is the breadth of their relationship partners that can make the largest impacts. We believe in the power of the network and are very proud of the work we are partnering with UW Europe on through the “Knowledge Lab.” We are able to share best practices with other local UWs and NGOs to leverage our skills and lessons learned to expand our impacts broader and faster. I look forward to the publication of the guide on corporate volunteering and on youth in Europe.

The John Deere Foundation’s new 10-year commitment aligns to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the Foundation will track and report investments against relevant targets and indicators, specifically No Poverty, Zero Hunger, and Quality Education.  We will continue partnering with United Way to help us gather our collective impact by increasing the detail of our social impact reporting.

  • Many John Deere employees have volunteered for United Way, offering more than 10,000 volunteering hours to date. What do you think was the main driver for their engagement? What do you hear from them; how do they feel about their involvement with United Way?

The feedback from employees is overwhelming. They see in giving back to the society new perspectives and values for themselves and their families and it is tying them closer to the company. When you participate in Day of Caring, or a presentation from Joblinge, or FIRST one can see and feel how proud employees are to work for a company that cares for these causes.

The volunteer numbers in the region continue to grow year after year. Employees in the region continue to express interest in doing more to give back. Not only we have seen increases in the Day of Caring participants, but we have also seen increases in volunteerism and mentoring with programs like Joblinge and FIRST. In 2020, 26 employees volunteered as mentors for Joblinge!

Our employee engagement in citizenship is very important to our success. We have a goal to reach 100% commitment of our employees over the next 10 years to ensure that ALL employees have the opportunity to support their community.

  • What do you appreciate most about the collaboration with United Way? How our partnership helps you achieve your CSR goals?

United Way has a unique capability to identify the most pressing needs in a community and then mobilize the resources to meet them in a pragmatic way. Through our partnership with United Way, employees are empowered to make a difference in their communities both in terms of their volunteerism and their personal philosophy.

  • Your company is and has been involved in the community for many years. What are Deere’s CSR plans for the future?

As part of our new strategy and our new 10-year commitment, the Foundation will invest:

$100 million in the families and youth who live, work, and learn in John Deere’s home communities to ensure their inclusive and equitable access to resources and educational opportunities critical for human dignity and self-sufficiency. Annual investments of $2 million in food banks will provide the equivalent of 100 million meals over the next decade, and investments in youth education will reach at least one million underserved and underrepresented youth.

$50 million in farmers throughout the world to bolster their capacity to make a living, feed a growing global population, reduce inequality, and protect the world around us. Through its work with a range of global partners that serve smallholder and resource-constrained family farmers, the Foundation will help 15 million farmers unlock their enormous potential.

$50 million in John Deere’s extraordinary workforce — our greatest asset — to further mobilize and build on their enormous volunteer talents and generosity to strengthen their communities and improve lives around the world. Our employee giving program is part of this commitment and we are working to include employees in Germany and France in FY2022.  Eligible employees can get up to $3,500 per year in rewards for volunteerism or matching donations. Employees who volunteer and record their can earn $20 per hour, and can apply that to the nonprofit or school they volunteer for, or any other match eligible nonprofit of their choice.


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