Javier Benavente Barrón is the European regional honoree for the 2021 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.
As a serial entrepreneur, Javier Benavente Barrón has always understood that the key to success is simply listening to people’s needs — not to yield a profit but to solve real problems. In fact, the core mission of the company he has led for more than 25 years, Alares, offers innovative services to care for people and their families to make life easier.
Before the world was ravaged by COVID-19, he, as director, had already envisioned the idea for a corporate social responsibility program started through one of his NGOs, the Alares Foundation. It was designed to provide companionship to older adults in solitary situations.
Originally, the initiative, which was called Brighten a Life, was fundamentally in person: a pair of volunteers would visit the homes of the participants to keep them company. When the pandemic put this population in a high-risk category, Benavente Barrón did not hesitate to adapt the program and relaunch it as a telephone service, a free hotline that would be answered 24/7.
“We made a free telephone line available to the public so that anybody who felt lonely could call and share their feelings, thoughts and worries with the social team, volunteers and psychologists,” says Benavente Barrón.
This expansion of the program through the free hotline launched 10 March 2020, just a few hours after quarantine began in Spain. It involved more than 150 staffers from Alares and 500 volunteers from other private sector companies in Spain.
An existing problem
In Spain, the loneliness epidemic among the elderly is a pressing issue: 49% of people who are 85 or older are visited only once or not at all per month and more than 5 million people live alone — an extremely high percentage for a country of 47 million. This situation results in extreme loneliness, emotional instability, cognitive deterioration, and puts more and more people at risk of losing their independence in all demographics.
Naturally, the coronavirus pandemic sharply aggravated the problem as the elderly community were unable to leave their homes, increasing levels of fear and anxiety.
In the first three weeks of launching the hotline, 500 volunteers helped more than 10,000 people.
“Something that really surprised us was that between March and October of 2020, the average age of our callers was 52,” Benavente Barrón says. He adds, “This reveals that loneliness was truly affecting much more than just the elderly population. And the calls revealed wide-ranging case studies: from individuals who just wanted someone with whom to talk, to much more complicated situations, where someone was thinking of doing something drastic, because their ‘life wasn’t worth anything.’ In fact, some of those more complicated cases moved us to deploy some in-person services, obviously helping to care for individuals by any means necessary.”
Calls are completely anonymous. The service has become so essential that many people call a few times a week. “When we’re talking about a complicated risk or a problem, we’ll make sure to reach out to the individual in question from our end, making sure that there is a hands-on approach and that they’re able to speak to the same person in order to build a vehicle of trust,” says Benavente Barrón.
The European Parliament, headquartered in Spain, chose this initiative as one of the projects with the biggest impact in the country as well as throughout Europe. And, given the grave situation of loneliness that exists in Europe and the level of intervention that the program achieved, it will continue as a phone service as well as in person when possible again.
Part of its DNA
“Loneliness in the Spanish society has surpassed many milestones, and by offering relief we’ve helped to avoid a real health crisis,” Benavente Barrón says proudly. He adds, “Companies of all sizes – Telefonica, Banco Santander and Mapfre and others – put their entire workforce at our disposal to collaborate as volunteers. And other organizations, like beverage giant Campofrio, donated to support and maintain the program.”
Benavente Barrón also donated all the proceeds of his book, ¡Quédate Conmigo! 20 Claves para Enamorar a Tus Clientes … ¡y Que se Queden Contigo! (Stay with Me! 20 Ways to Make Your Clients Fall in Love … and Stay with You!), to help fund the project. He, his wife, and their sons are personally involved in Brighten a Life − even answering calls from older adults.
“This type of initiative is in our DNA at Alares and in mine, as an individual,” he explains. “I believe in people, and I think that private enterprises hold the key to transforming the world. If we want a better world, it is the social responsibility of our enterprises to achieve it.” He adds, “In all the companies I’ve been in, I’ve always asked myself, ‘how can I change and better my own environment with the capabilities I have?’ And when my colleagues and peers from other organizations ask me what they can do to help, I tell them that within their capabilities, they should find how to help people who are really in need. Do the work, talk about it, so that others can copy your good work. That’s how we’re going to change the world.”
As an executive, Benavente Barrón understands that what you put into your community, you get back double. “Today, the consumer is much more emotional. They are concerned with the planet and social well-being. And when a company puts a focus on those issues, the consumer will notice and respond in kind.”
Benavente Barrón indicates that to carry out Brighten a Life, he did not feel like he was facing any roadblocks. “We did what we knew how to do: we had the capacity to organize, to launch and the technological capabilities to carry it out.”
During the pandemic, Alares carried out other parallel initiatives. “One of those was doing the shopping for the elderly who could not leave their homes,” he says. “That was communicated over many different channels. Immediately, a Spanish bank called to ask that we offer this service to the 1.5 million clients older than 65 years of age. That entity (the bank) paid for this project. Not all the clients used the program, but it was appreciated. I believe those people will not be looking to change banks anytime soon.”
Another related project was a partnership with the automaker Volvo. They provided the cars; Alares the personnel; and together they get doctors from hospitals to homes to care for children. “For me, social responsibility means uniting the business capabilities with the needs of the client or society,” Benavente Barrón emphasizes.
I believe in people, and I think that private enterprises hold the key to transforming the world. If we want a better world, it is the social responsibility of our enterprises to achieve it. ”
— Javier Benavente Barrón, President of the Alares Foundation share
This executive explains, “politicians need to create stable conditions. But we impresarios are the ones who have the power to change society. How? By simply responding to the need that is already there. By working with your organization to change the world around you, you learn. It is really exciting. You are building something without thinking about the profit. But, interestingly, the market will notice. And then, you will earn more. What you give, you get back in multiples.”
And the numbers do not lie. In 2020, amid a crisis, “Alares grew approximately 15%, which is much more than in years prior, and very different than what was happening in other sectors,” Benavente Barrón explains.
He adds, “For the most part, this is a direct result of the social well-being projects that we started that had a large impact. That’s why I tell the directors of companies: ‘Work to better for society. This is the way to differentiate yourselves today. Sparking positivity by doing the things that you know how to do, with an ear well-attuned to the market to find out what people need. But always from the heart and without ego.”