Four years ago, Plasencia Cigars opened a preschool across the road from its factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. It was the beginning of a series of steps taken by the company to ensure the mental and physical and well-being of its employees as well as their families and the communities in which it is active. Today, Plasencia runs two preschools, gives scholarships to the best students, and offers seminars that encourage employees to develop their own skills.
The company built a church and restored an elementary school in the area outside Estelí, where its farms are located. Their facilities have a full-time doctor, nurse, and a part-time psychologist, and the company also donated trash cans to the city to encourage recycling.
“We focus on three different areas: education, health, and environment,” says Rosa María Vivas Moncada, manager of social responsibility. Rosa is the first of her kind in the cigar business and has worked at Plasencia since the summer of 2014.
She stresses the importance of listening to the staff. “We started the preschool because that’s what our employees wanted at the time. We conducted a survey and most of them wanted their children to have better opportunities in life. People have left their jobs because they had to take care of their kids. So now we have a preschool in Estelí and one at our other factory in Ocotal.”
Of the children attending the school, 80 percent are from the employees and the rest are from the surrounding community. When the children finish preschool they also have a chance at getting a full scholarship for elementary school and high school, if they get good grades. On occasion, students have even received scholarships for college and university.
The company wants to eke out new engineers for the future and generally promote talent. This is also why Plasencia arranges workshops on leadership, teamwork, and offers their workers scholarships to English courses. To a great extent, this has been done with the help of an American global consultancy called Pacific Institute. Plasencia Cigars wants to help people develop their own skills and also their inner power. “That’s how change happens,” says Rosa. “Sixty percent of our employees only have a basic education and sometimes they’re just not confident enough to present ideas to a manager, but we’ve seen a big difference. People are talking, discussing and trying to solve problems themselves now. And if they’re happy at work, that affects a lot of other areas around them as well, like in the home. It was a huge investment, but definitely worth it.”
In light of the employees wanting to be happy, they also began asking for a psychologist. “We’ve had a clinic for a year now, but sometimes people also have issues in life that stress them out. So recently, we started having a psychologist come in once a week. She’s also available for the children at the preschool.” And mental health and well-being come in many forms.
Some employees that work on Plasencia’s fields live outside Estelí, where the farms are located. Not long ago, a few people from that community asked Plasencia for land so they could build a church. The company took it one step further and built the church for the community. It is a special project of the owner, Nestor Plasencia Sr. The place of worship is dedicated to La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre [the Lady of Charity of El Cobre], patron saint of Cuba, the homeland of the patriarch. It is open to everyone, but is especially important to the Cuban community.
Next to the church is Las Limas, what used to be a run-down elementary school, which Placencia Cigars restored last year. Serving four communities in the area, it is a very important school. It had no water, no seats, and the garden was as dry as a desert.
Last but not least, is the company’s concern with the environment. Since 2004, Plasencia has been producing the Reserva Orgánica, a completely organically grown cigar. Now they are trying out the new form of irrigation system, which Cigar Journal wrote about in the 2015 winter issue.
A lot of water is saved using this new irrigation system. Last year, the company also planted 3,000 trees by the river to improve the environment. It has also donated trash cans to the new central park, and these are also used at the preschool.
“In the factory we try to not use too much electricity and paper,” explains Rosa. “It’s not just about saving money, it’s social responsibility. That’s what it’s really about.”
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2016. Read more