Robert Scott, Starwood's vice-president general counsel

26 October 2006
Robert Scott, Starwood's vice-president general counsel

Starwood's vice-president general counsel Robert Scott launched the Check Out For Children initiative a decade ago. Having raised more than £7.5m, it is now an integral part of the company's corporate social responsibility policy. He talks to Emily Manson

What inspired you to set up Check Out For Children?

I was working on the Sheraton in Addis Ababa when I saw a documentary about poverty there and it just blew me away. I began thinking about the contrast between this amazing hotel and the poverty outside our gates. It started me churning inside. I wanted to find a painless and very simple way to engage people to help, so we asked guests to add $1 (54p) to their bill, and that goes straight to Unicef.

What has the scheme achieved since it started in 1995?

It's been remarkable. I wanted Unicef to use the money for a specific purpose, as we wanted to do something tangible, so we fund children's immunisation, as 30,000 a day die from preventable diseases. It takes only $17 (£9.10) to immunise one child against six major killer diseases, and we have now immunised 900,000 children through guest contributions.

Did you ever think it would be this successful?

I knew in my bones it could be really, really big, so long as we handled it well, with integrity and had the right spirit behind it.

How do you encourage employees to participate in the scheme?

The staff like being involved and are responsible for keeping it vital and alive after 10 years. It's become part of our culture and values now, and associates come up with extra ideas to raise money. Recently, one organised a bike ride from Amsterdam to Brussels, and 400 associates took part in the 360km, 24-hour ride, raising €250,000 (£168,000).

How can you improve on what you're doing?

We can get more people to participate by rolling the scheme out to more hotels and getting more guests to donate.

Why is it important for large companies to be socially responsible?

Because they have access to customers and have the organisational sophistication and strength to organise something like this. For Starwood, it reinforces the values of what we are as a company.

What's next?

Our virtual Ride For Life and reaching the $17m (£9m) mark for Check Out For Children soon, meaning we will have inoculated one million children, which is quite a landmark.

And finally, Madonna - is she buying a baby or saving a child?

I've been to Africa many times and visited the orphanages there. There's a huge need, and it breaks your heart to see them. Although I don't know what's in her heart, I applaud anyone who draws attention to their plight.

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