Wednesday, September 2, 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.