Wednesday, 2 September 2009

CSR in the developing world - Volunteering

What's the most precious thing in the world ? Depending on the context and the person, you can get hundreds of answers. If I ask the question in the context of Corporate Social Responsibility - What is the most precious thing a company can give to the community?, an expected answer would be money. It would not be mine. Mine would be time.

My eyes were opened on how organised volunteering has become in some parts of the world from Chris Jarvis' excellent blog - Realizing Your Worth. Chris is a practitioner; that's his business and you can see from his posts, how much can, and ought to, be done.

What social organisations often lack are some specific skills and numbers of committed workers. They have passion in plenty. They are committed to causes in ways I can only marvel. They usually feel they are short of just money. No; they are often short of organisational and management skills and of specific technical skills. Very often such organisations have grown from a small group of extremely committed individuals who built an operation through sheer passion. Now its become a largish organisation. It needs support. Step forward corporate volunteers.

The best a company can do, is to encourage its employees to give their time to causes and organisations it supports. For you and me, it can be the way to a very fulfilling experience. How many times have we felt we wanted to do something to help somebody less privileged, but haven't got around to doing it meaningfully. Sometimes we write a cheque. Sometimes we do some bits and pieces. But in a sustained and effective manner - only a committed few. But for all of us, it can give meaning to the work we do. We use our skills and knowledge, not just for business, but also for the community around us. A company can give the framework and the means to make it happen. It will be rewarded in employees who will affiliate to the business with more than a contractual relationship.

Nowhere is this truer than in the developing world. Volunteering is at its infancy, at best. Its where the need is highest and where the maximum difference can be made. So companies - establish a formal volunteering programme. Let it be run by your employees. Run this like any other business initiative - in the most efficient manner possible. Give a little time off for your employees to participate in the programme. It can be the best activity in the CSR space you could do.

I know its not easy for us to volunteer out time. After all, in our parts of the world, the working day is usually 12 hours at the office. And then the 2 hour commute back home. But ..... Take a deep breath. Enrol as a volunteer. It may change our lives.


A journey called Life said...

Commitment to volunteering is a very tough decision to make, given all the work life imbalance. But then once in, it can be extremely gratifying..(personal experience).. how about building some extra brownie points during appraisal for consistent efforts in this direction? (this thought won't find any takers I know)

PS: im reading the rest of ur CSR posts this weekend..

Deepa said...

Your post just reminded me of the 'Teach for India' endeavor. Well, its not on the lines of the blog that you have written, but maybe your corporate model of volunteering could be similar! What TFI does is, it picks up fresh graduates (with good academic performance mind you) to serve as teachers in rural schools or slums in urban areas for 2 years, after which the students go ahead with their chosen career paths! One may look at it as a detour in your life to do something for personal gratification, but students who have volunteered say, its been the most crucial pit stop!! Having volunteered to teach during my school days, I know it must be the most fulfilling experience one can ever dream of!

Here's the link

Anonymous said...

A nice topic you have chosen to write about!Volunteering might look difficult at the outset, but at the end, it is we who would be benefitted more in terms of energy and experience.

mahesh said...

This reminds me of an article I read a few days ago in TOI about people taking breaks from their careers right now due to slowdown in the economy and doing Volunteer work in rural India. They also lamented at the lack of support from organisations as compared to the west where people take sabbaticals and come back 6 months to a year later and get back to work.

If companies do support this option where people take time off and can join 3 - 6 months later I am sure there might be a lot of volunteers. I am sure companies can support this as their CSR.

Syed Aleem said...

CSR lies with each individual & not only with the company. We should try to do something for our future i.e.,Children. I have planted many trees before joining in a company in my native place. I visited the site after a long time & found that my work has not gone waste. Most of these saplings are huge trees now & I felt really satisfied that my efforts has not gone waste even though success rate is just 50%. I am trying to repeat in Mumbai as well & shall get in touch with you once again after 12 years.

Srivats said...

I agree volunteering is the most satisfying/fulfilling ramesh but I want to do it as individual contributor and not as employee of organisation, I dont like the pictures posters and big hopla of small thing that we suppose to do
:( in th first place.

Reflections said...

I think this concept is more popular in the west but now India is also waking up to it.
I knw this organisation called Janaagraha in Bangalore which is run by Ramesh Ramanathan for the benefit of the state. Anybody from a CEO to a blue collar worker can be found there doing voluntary work for free. I think their site is called Mr Ramanathan himself is fine example of this topic:-)).

Preeti Shenoy said...

Volunteering is very hard. I did it for two years with an NGO. I worked with street children.
You have to have passion for the cause--it is not everybody's cup of tea. That too after working a 12 hour day, last thing one would want is to break their heads against someone who wont even listen to what you are saying.
What you say about lacking managerial skills is completely true.I was very frustrated and disappointed at the end of two years because so much MORE could be done.Thing is volunteers remain outsiders. The Insiders make the rules. Often they are crazy and impractical. No wonder this particular NGO is now struggling to get volunteers.I wonder if this is the case with most organisations like these.

kiwibloke said...

Volunteering? Have another set of options.
1- Pay all your taxes -do not evade
2- Respect the law (especially on the Road)
3- Get into a queue where needed
4- Do'nt spit / mess up public areas (2 3 and 4 specifically for India)
5- Perform atleast one act of random kindness every day.
6- Refuse to bribe/grease palms
If most of us do most/all of these we do not need to get into CSR. Let companies do what they are best at - increasing shareholder wealth. This is actually a working model (dreamed of by Arthur C Clarke in Thalassa and actually put to work by New Zealanders)
(I have a simplistic black/white view of the world!)

Anonymous said...

Corporate volunteering sounds just like what the NGOs need - organized time, money and resource management.

Mr Jarvis' explanation of how intrinsic motivation sustains the volunteering behaviour is bang on!

PS: Thanks for pointing out to yet another awesome site!

Ramesh said...

@ AJCL - Yes its tought and a big commitement - that's why the plea that corporates allow some time off to do this.

@Deepa - Very nice initiative I did not know about. Thanks for the link. Somehow can't picture you as a teacher !

@Savitha - Thanks. Yes it can be immensely uplifting

@mahesh - yes good idea and not only in times of recession. Company support can both be as sabbaticals and also 2 hours a week off.

Ramesh said...

@srivats - Yes, I know its better to do quietly and without hoopla, but I am arguing for companies to give some time off for employees to do this to resolve preeti's very valid point.

@Reflections - Yes janaagraha is a very good example. Ramesh Ramanathan is a different example altogether - he gave up his corporate career, which is something very special.

@Preeti - Completely agree. To do this on top of a full day is impossible - hence my pitch for corporates to give time off for employees to volunteer. My own experience with many NGOs is the same - the thing they really lack is experience in running organisations. Very often they have no clue and do the sort of things you have described.

@kiwi - Time for me to sprout some jargon at you. All of what you have said is necessary, but not sufficient for a corporate to be truly responsible. Milto Freidman was right in a number of things, but on this, my humble view is that he was dead wrong.

@thoughtful trian - Yeah; very impressed by Chris' business. He runs it as a business, which is great.

Ramesh said...

@Aleem - Completely agree, but the context of this post was corporate - what should corporates do and I'm pitching for supporting volunteering heavily.

Will come and see your trees in 12 years !

Srivats said...

Comment ellam balama erukku :P add me in chat man

Ramesh said...

@srivats - balam indeed. Yessir !

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