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International Corporate Volunteering: A Powerful Weapon In The Battle For New Recruits

After the harsh lessons of the financial crisis of 2008, during which many people reassessed their priorities and their standards of living, a lot has been said about employees placing greater emphasis on job satisfaction. In fact, it goes deeper than mere satisfaction; it goes into difficult-to-quantify areas like personal fulfilment, flexibility and personal growth. As millennials start to take over the employment market, those three factors become even more important. After all, Gen Y is almost notorious for refusing previously accepted standards of happiness, and they’re said to be particularly difficult to satisfy with a mere pay cheque.

To win over the upcoming generation and to retain Gen X employees (who are also prone to pursuits of meaning), employers have had to think beyond the company bottom-line. They’ve had to step outside of the profit-box and start thinking altruistically. And that has given rise to the growing trend of international corporate volunteerism (ICV).

International corporate volunteering – a business perspective

In April 2013, Deborah Holmes, Americas Director of Corporate Responsibility for Ernst & Young, wrote an article on the growth of ICV programmes, which included benefits for business. In the article she cites various studies which demonstrate the value these programmes have for companies, employees and, of course, the local communities in which they are implemented. For instance, CDC Development Solutions (CDS), a company that specialises in designing and implementing ICV programmes, says that in 2012 approximately 22 major U.S. companies dispatched over 2100 employee volunteers around the world. According to CDS, in return the companies benefit from increased leadership development and staff retention.

In addition, a study by researchers at George Washington University found that companies with ICV programmes believe that they stimulate new insights and learning in ways that traditional leadership development programmes can’t provide. In fact, the study found that when it comes to cost and diversity of learning, ICV programmes outperforms business school leadership programmes.

Obviously, Holmes makes specific reference to Ernst & Young’s ICV programme, which is part of its Americas Corporate Responsibility Fellows programme and which is offered in partnership with an anti-poverty not-for-profit organisation called Endeavor. According to Holmes, the benefits of the ICV programme include the development of a global mindset, development of leadership, communication and relationship building skills, inclusive thinking, which embraces newness, diversity and challenges, and the expansion of business prospects.

The difference is tangible

Unlike standard international volunteering (or local volunteering, for that matter), ICV programmes don’t require employees to give up their salaries. It’s the company that voluntarily gives up profits to allow staff members to use their professional and technical skills to aid communities and organisations in need.

Now, it is possible for companies to plan and implement ICV programmes all on their own, but the undertaking is enormous and not without challenges and risks. For this reason, the vast majority of companies that engage in corporate volunteering partner with dedicated corporate volunteer organisations, like CDS. CDS is not the only organisation that helps companies make a positive change around the world. Others include: Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism (CEIV), PYXERA Global, United Planet, World Vision and Emerging World.

Companies that make a difference

Several major multinational companies have established their ICV credentials, including:

  • IBM, which works with small businesses, NGOs and local governments in Ghana and Nigeria to improve the supply of goods and services, as well as improve the healthcare system by helping computerise records and create databases.
  • HSBC, which works in partnership with the Climate Group, Earthwatch Institute, Smithsonian Institution and World Wildlife Fund to combat the effects of climate change. Staff members receive special training and get stuck in with scientific research.
  • Pfizer which works with the Global Health Fellows Program to place volunteers in programmes in 45 countries around the world, where they work to improve healthcare education and supply chains.

You don’t need to be a major international corporation to participate in ICV programmes, however. Any company with a conscience can take part. In fact, as the battle to attract (and retain) millennial employees is joined, it’s recommended that companies do everything they can to make their workplace a personally rewarding place to be. And that includes giving employees the chance to gain experience working overseas, which is, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, one of the things that millennials rate highly in future employees.

While employers aren’t clamouring at her door, Jemima Winslow, who is on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y, can testify to the importance of corporate social responsibility initiatives, like ICV programmes, when it comes to attracting new talent. After all, personal fulfilment matters just as much financial incentives in the new employment market.