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Greek Pharmacist Sets Example of CSR for Russia
St. Petersburg01.02.2012

Ask Russian top managers and company owners what it takes to succeed in business, and the stories they tell you will generally have little to do with being humane, helping others and caring for the environment. However, this is exactly what George Korres, one of Greece’s leading businessmen and the founder of the internationally recognized Korres cosmetics brand, is most proud of when he talks about his company’s achievements.

The history of Korres dates back to 1996, when it emerged from Athens’ first ever homeopathic pharmacy — with one single product in its portfolio.

Some 15 years on, the company boasts more than 400 natural or certified organic products and is present in over 30 markets.

Korres stores can be found in New York, Paris, Madrid, Beijing and Dubai. Its products are also for sale in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Milan, Berlin, Sydney, Hong Kong and, of course, in more than 5,500 pharmacies in Greece.

In August last year, St. Petersburg welcomed Korres’s first store in Russia. This year will see further expansion, with at least two more stores slated to open in town.

“When we first started, we didn’t have an international customer in mind,” Korres told The St. Petersburg Times in an interview this month. “However, eventually we felt that our core principles, which remain the same as they did in our pharmacy days, have a global appeal. The brand’s simple philosophy is rooted in the use of natural and certified organic ingredients and an attitude that aims to inspire people and make them happy.”

Korres is a company that is quintessentially Greek.

“Greece is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet; Greek flora has an immense variety with more than 6,500 plants, growing on the Aegean islands, on the country’s high mountains like Olympus, Parnassus and Taeyetos, the drought-prone southern land and including over 1,200 plants that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, “ Korres said.

“Having finished my studies in pharmacology, I started working at Athens’ first ever homeopathic pharmacy, where I was exposed to the power and appeal of herbs. At the beginning, I was quite skeptical about homeopathic remedies and the medical use of herbs. However, day after day, I witnessed the efficacy of herbal preparations and developed both a respect and a passion for them. Now we work with over 3,000 herbal remedies to create our products.”

The company created an independent scientific board, consisting of top-flight scientists in the fields of biochemistry, pharmacognosy, and clinical dermatology. The researchers investigate the clinical benefits of natural ingredients in relation to skin biochemistry. For Quercetin & Oak, the brand’s latest anti-ageing line launched in 2009, the Korres Lab in cooperation with the National Hellenic Research Foundation has studied anti-ageing at a cellular level through proteasome and natural means of boosting age-defense mechanisms — a five year primary research program following the Nobel-awarded discovery of the ubiquitin-proteasome system in 2004. The results of the study underwent high-scrutiny, independent testing including blind trials and crash-tests against the market’s best anti-ageing products.

In Greece, Korres has earned a reputation for its support of socially vulnerable groups through providing jobs for them. In some jobs, Korres employs mentally handicapped employees and prisoners.

At present, the company works closely with three social institutions, including Tyrintha & Agia prison farms and the Kethea-Ithaki non-governmental organization in Thessaloniki that helps rehabilitate people with mental disorders.

“We teach inmates the essentials of organic farming and how to cultivate herbs, which apart from being a future professional development opportunity, also supports them financially during their detention period,” Korres said.

Kethea is a non-profit organization that has been operating since 1983, when Ithaki, the first Greek therapeutic community for substance-dependent patients was established. It offers alternative educational and training programs through its various production units, with one of them being a farm of over a hundred acres of fully certified organic field crops. As part of the NGO’s cooperation with Korres, the patients are involved in the cultivation of the Achillea plant.

Korres works with micro-farmers and agricultural unions, as well as educational and social institutions. The company teaches its partners the art of organic farming and sustainable agricultural systems, helping them throughout all stages of cultivation and harvesting in association with the Agricultural University of Athens, and supporting them financially through purchasing their produce to be used in making Korres cosmetics. This scheme extends to prisoners and many other socially sensitive groups including people going through rehabilitation.

Korres demonstrates an attitude that is more or less unheard of in Russia, where employers tend to promptly get rid of those who suffer from depression or any other mental illnesses. When a Russian attempts suicide, one of the first things they usually learn when they regain consciousness is that they have been fired from their job.
Likewise, former prisoners have virtually no chance of getting a job unless they personally know an employer.

The incomes of Russia’s richest 10 percent are nearly 18 times those of its poorest 10 percent. As many as 20 million people live below the poverty line, and there is little political will among the country’s richest to change that.

The Kremlin believes that the problem is a lack of corporate social responsibility. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin first voiced this thought in early 2004 in a speech urging major Russian businesses to open their eyes to the needs of the rest of society. The companies have shown no great rush to do so.

Korres, by contrast, developed his company’s ethical code without having to receive a hint from the Greek government. Instead, the businessman himself created a model that others can follow.

“This continuous effort is part of an overall ethical focus that also includes a network of suppliers consisting of people with special needs,” Korres explained. “This network caters for a percentage of our promotional materials including printing and sewing productions. We all ought to be giving back to the community to the extent that we can.”

Korres does not limit itself to ingredients grown exclusively in Greece. George Korres admits he is thinking of expanding the brand’s range of products by perhaps adding a line made with herbs or plants grown in Russia.

“Our greatest company mission is the ongoing investment in research regarding new technologies and ingredients, and world ingredients have always been an inspiration to the brand,” Korres said. “A great example of this is the extract of the desert plant Imperata cylindrical, contained in Korres Wild Rose 24-hour moisturizing cream. Imperata cylindrical extract ensures 24-hour moisturizing by continually regulating the cellular water equilibrium. We are currently leading a study in over 3,600 herbs along with eight other research partners as part of the AGROCOS project (From Biodiversity to Chemodiversity: Novel Plant Produced Compounds with Agrochemical and Cosmetic Interest). I very much hope that some Russian plants will make this list!”

Caption: George Korres, founder of Greek cosmetics brand Korres, is thinking of adding a line of products made with Russian plants.

Source: Galina Stolyarova, The St. Petersburg Times

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Hellenes Abroad / Greece

Voices & visions Melbourne, 09.02.2012