Alain André is human resources director with responsibility for the social contract for the Orange Group. For several years he has also been the chairman of the "Volunteers for people with Autism" association, which we support. He tells us about his involvement.
How did you become chairman of Volunteers for people with Autism?
Mireille Le Van (General Secretary of the Orange Foundation until 2014), who I had already worked with, suggested it 6 years ago. She knew about my commitment to social issues; it’s something I have always been involved in. I used to be with the Marseille ASPTT sports association, I set up a staff association at the start of my career with Orange, and ensured an association was approved when the Works Councils (Comités d’Entreprise - CE) were created.
Did you accept straight away?
Of course; partly because it was Mireille, and partly because I was also interested in the Foundation’s activities.
My awareness of autism came from the sort of films everybody might know, like Rain Man for example. That was what autism was for me, and for the general public. It took a visit with a group of volunteers in Béthune, coordinated by the late Michèle Gruson, to whose memory I’d like to pay tribute, to change my outlook. Together with Sophie Kiszko, the association’s psychologist, we met with families, volunteers and people with autism, mostly children and adolescents. It was a shock for me, and I will always remember those first meetings.
"I’ll always remember the first time I met people with autism"
Everyone was very warm, simple and happy to be getting together. There was a young girl in particular, non-verbal, who stayed close to us for the whole morning, smiling. I felt an immediate connection.
What are your responsibilities as chairman of the association?
I take my chairman role very seriously. I try always to be available to provide support. We’re a small, close-knit team, and it’s important that we can always communicate with each other to sort out every day issues. Otherwise, like any chairman, I make sure the association runs smoothly, that we keep to budget, fairly distributing the donations, and so on.
We are very lucky to have a solid board. Pascal, our treasurer, is a rock, Sophie, our psychologist, Brigitte our secretary and Cathy; they all give without holding anything back, as do our regional delegates and hundred or so volunteers.
I also try to raise the external profile of autism. I was recently able to organise for Josef Schovanec to speak at another association for three hours. Everyone was very interested and they wouldn’t let him leave. I was lucky to have a very interesting exchange with him myself, which went beyond the issue of autism.
Where is the association headed?
Volunteers for people with Autism is a small association and will stay a small association. For it to develop further would need more extensive financial provision, as well as increased staff. Our vocation is to continue to
Volunteering is changing shape. The longest serving people have sometimes been volunteering for the association since it was founded 25 years ago.
We need to think about how to change the way volunteering works. There will always be direct support for families in the long term, but other patterns are possible.
The association is also continuing to work on helping to fund holidays for people who are in difficulty. That’s another way for Orange staff to support our activities and get involved. Contributions mean families can be helped to part fund holidays away.
"We need to think about how to change the way volunteering works"
What ties are there between the association and the Orange Foundation?
We are amazingly lucky to have had the unswerving support of the Foundation from the outset. We are based at their premises, we receive financial support and there is constant dialogue with the Foundation team; I have Pascale Paturle (head of health sponsorship) in mind, and of course Brigitte Audy (General Secretary of the Foundation). It’s also thanks to their support that our association is able to continue. If we had to be always looking for funding, our only option would be perhaps to merge with a bigger association. But then we wouldn’t have this close relationship with Orange any more.