Celebrating Women in CSR – Sarah Banda-Ortiz

As part of International Women’s Month to celebrate the achievements of women, we continue our series to appreciate Women in CSR with another interview of Sarah Banda-Ortiz, the Corporte Affiars and Communications Manager at Lafarge Zambia Plc:


Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and the number of years you have been a CSR practitioner.

My role is to ensure that we (Lafarge Zambia) have shared value with our communities and partners across the plants in which we operate. It is also important that the Company be a good corporate citizen in the community, I have been in the CSR/CSI space for over 3 years now.


Tell us about someone or something (mentor, friend, hero, incident) who or that affected or influenced your CSR journey, and how.

My grandmother influenced my CSR journey. From the time I can remember she has always quoted the following “If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way”. This quote speaks volumes to me and affects what I do on a daily basis with regards to CSR, it is not about the big things but rather the small things that make an impact.


How has CSR/CSI evolved in your organization?

It has evolved in the sense that we have a symbiotic relationship with our communities. We are partners in this journey of CSR, gone are the days when it was just about giving and receiving, my organization is about uplifting our communities and empowering them with the necessary tools that will last a lifetime.

A great example of this is the UNZA ventilator project that we are supporting in partnership with Zambian Breweries. A huge part of the project is being managed by students at the School of Engineering who are putting together the first ventilator made in Zambia for Zambians. How rewarding will it be, when we will look back and see that as a nation we came up with local solutions to a local problem? This excites me.


Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

I am very proud of the work that we did in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit the country. Our CSR was mainly community-centric and was centered on spreading the right information to our communities about the pandemic. We noticed very early on that our communities were not too cognizant of the virus we thus went into markets, schools, and open areas to educate them on the virus. This led to an award that we received from the CSR network, for the company’s communications strategies within our communities.


If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be, in line with CSR?

At Lafarge Zambia, we have a CSR graduate trainee program called Step Up. The main aim of Step Up is to build a strong talent pipeline for key roles in the business. Even though this program has been extremely successful with an 85% success rate, there is one thing that I would change and it would be to have more women graduates applying to more technical roles. Our industry is predominantly male as there are few women in such technical and industrial positions in the Company. As our industry is becoming more eco-friendly and low carbon emission focused, I feel as though women are needed to drive this ambition and initiative globally. I was reading an article from the World Economic Forum titled “building a more sustainable world will need more women engineers” It went on to say that attracting and supporting more women in engineering benefits everyone by increasing the potential to develop inclusive, innovative solutions for the complex problems the world is facing. We need women on the negotiating table not just for inclusion and diversity purposes but also for innovative and effective solutions.


What is the best advice you have ever received in your career?

Never take no for an answer and always be yourself.


How can CSR activities be used to empower women?

They can be used to empower women with the necessary skills needed to make an impact in their homes and society. As mentioned earlier, we need to start engaging in more CSR initiatives that teach people how to be independent and less dependent. In my view, an initiative that teaches someone to fish is more impactful compared to one that just hands out the fish. As the effects of that initiative will be felt from generation to generation.


Describe your perfect day.

My perfect day is one where I feel like I have added some sort of value to my organization and community.