Volunteering: A corporate talent development program that is socially responsible


Corporate Volunteerism

I have been a keen observer of the recent discussion threads on the Harvard Business Review  Linked Group on the impact of volunteering on individuals from the corporate sector, Reminiscing the experience of working with volunteers in over 20 countries across Asia/ Pacific, I would like to share three key benefits that I see emerging.

1. Business leaders learn ‘Frugal Innovation’ , the ability to generate considerably more business and social value while significantly reducing the use of scarce resources. As American inventor Charles Kettering said, “Inventing is the combination of brain and material. The more brain you use the less material you will need”.

Working with the non-profit sector, which works in a resource strapped environment, we learn to use our brains more to find solutions to challenges in a frugal and innovative ways.

2. When we look at global trends over the past 40 years, many of the government owned public services have shifted into the private sector through privatization of the postal, transportation, telecommunication, utilities, banking, and medical services among others. Likewise, the next wave will see many of the services that are provided by the current profit driven corporate sector, being delivered by community interest groups using open-source models and through collaborative consumption.

Business professionals, who are now exposed to the various non-profit models through their volunteering, will be well placed in the new order of the near future, where ‘not-for -profit enterprises’ will become conventional business.

3. Volunteering is just good Karma! More individuals are realising that selflessness and not selfishness, is the path to finding real purpose in our lives. Research psychologists have established that leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a ‘giver’. Meaning in one’s life is enduring. While on the other hand, happiness which is an emotion felt in the here and now, ultimately fades away. Thus, people who have found meaning in their life are noted to be more resilient, even in the toughest of situation.

Being able to last is a valuable competency in the corporate environment and in life itself.

Some interesting input from others in the group included:

• ‘Leaders know the value of influence and trust. Volunteering helps build these skills that will separate you from the rest of the pack’.
• ‘Too many “leaders” think more about themselves and less about others. Volunteering will help keep leadership in perspective.’
• ‘When corporate leaders don’t have the power of their title and direct authority when working on their volunteer assignments, it tests their leadership skills in new situations.’
• Leaders in the corporate sector are moving away from the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) to WITTW (What It Takes To Win) and hence are willing to collaborate and look for mutual benefits. It is reflected in their choice of words too. From the patronising ‘how can I help?’ to a collaborative ‘how may I assist?’
• ‘Volunteering helps corporate leaders and decision makers to get closer to the pulse of the community and gain valuable insights from people they may normally not interact.’

I sign off with an excerpt from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

What is success?
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
That is to have succeeded.”

Happy volunteering!


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