Hervé Gouyet, President of Electriciens sans frontières

Creating the link between employees and NGOs is a key factor of attractiveness and retention of talents

Meeting with Hervé Gouyet, President of Electriciens sans frontières

Electriciens sans frontières is a non-governmental organization (NGO) of international solidarity recognized by public utility that works with the poorest populations to improve their living conditions through actions of access to electricity and water. Created in 1986 on the initiative of a dozen employees of the French company EDF, the association has always relied on a network of volunteers present in all regions of France. It is thanks to this organization, whose volunteer work represents 63% of resources, that Electriciens sans frontières has become an essential player in electrification worldwide. Meeting with Hervé Gouyet, its President.

What is the mode of operation of your NGO?

Electriciens sans frontières is a network of just over 1,300 volunteers whose number is constantly increasing. In 2018 we counted more than 25,000 volunteer days! For a field mission day we have 4 days of preparation and restitution to which we add so-called “governance days” dedicated to the animation of the network: training, meetings, monitoring partnerships both technically and financially. We also have a team at the national level whose main mission is to ensure the networking of regional delegations. These are employees of Electriciens sans frontières but also employees of other companies in skills sponsorship.

Who are these volunteers?

They are women and men of all ages and profiles who wish to get involved in international solidarity actions. There are about 55% of people in activity against 45% of retirees. Half of the volunteers come from the EDF company, but we also have craftsmen, teachers, employees from local communities or other companies like Schneider Electric, Legrand, Engie, etc. I want to point out that there are more and more young people and non-technical profiles joining us, which is a very good thing for us. Our network is organized at regional level in 14 delegations. This is where the teams of volunteers, who can work on development projects such as the electrification of common structures in villages, as well as support projects and expertise with other NGOs such as Médecins sans frontières, to secure their facilities around the world. They can also intervene, and unfortunately more and more often, following natural disasters as it was the case for Hurricanes Irma in Saint-Martin and Maria in Dominica in 2017 or the tsunami and the earthquake in Indonesia in 2018.

What is the link between the professions of volunteers and the actions of Electriciens sans frontières?

One of the specificities of Electriciens sans frontières is to have particularly tangible results. Bring the light is visible. Volunteers put their “business skills” at the service of these projects; it is therefore a “voluntary declination” of what they do professionally every day. This link with their profession in favor of international solidarity projects is something that is motivating and particularly concrete: lighting a light is illuminating a face.

What skills are you looking for?

For a project to be successful, it requires a lot of upstream preparation and coordination of skills. For the project of electrification of 500 schools that we are currently conducting in Haiti, we needed technicians to do design studies, lawyers to examine contracts with the World Bank and the Haitian Ministry, logisticians to send solar panels, handlers to fill containers, electricians to receive work, accountants to make budgets, communicators to highlight the project and make it known or trainers to raise awareness of electrical hazards. It is therefore a wide range of skills that is necessary to ensure the different stages of a project.

Companies want more and more skills sponsorship, what do you think?

I feel that there is still a big gap between the ambitions of companies to highlight their sustainable development policy and the reality. I see two main obstacles to this: the first is related to the constraints of the first line manager who can not reconcile the objectives set by the company and the absence time for employees of his team who would engage in a program of skills sponsorship. The second is that of insurance. This same manager does not want to take the responsibility to send his collaborators in insecure countries, in Africa in particular. It’s something that I also live as the President of Electriciens sans frontières. Yet I am convinced of the importance of this meeting between companies and the civic engagement of their employees to the profits of NGOs. This solidarity commitment allows employees to give meaning to their job. For companies, supporting and encouraging this commitment is a factor of attractiveness and retention of talent.

How do you motivate your volunteers?

I tell them two things: the first is that with nearly 1 billion people without access to electricity the task is huge and therefore, we need everyone, permanently, because 10% of our volunteers change every year. The second is that investing in Electriciens sans frontières actions is demanding in time, energy, and patience because there is much to do: preliminary studies, reporting, etc. The on-site mission, the one that is the most visible and the most rewarding, is both the culmination of the project but also the beginning of the operation of the electrical installations that will have to be exploited and maintained. That being so, we must always look at its purpose: to allow a child to be born, not in the light of a candle but in good conditions, including security, with a lamp powered by a photovoltaic system, it’s worth all the rewards of the world.

French version / version française