More and more, I'm seeing “volunteerism” that looks like “skills development” or “team-building.” Sometimes I get the feeling people may think there's something inauthentic about “volunteerism” that creates business benefit, too. But that's the most sustainable kind of volunteerism there is!
When we tap into our professional skills and capabilities, volunteers can contribute more meaningfully to our communities. And greater community impact, in turn, strengthens the business context for all employers. This shared value among an employer, employee volunteer and community generates gains for all involved.
International Corporate Volunteerism
One form of volunteerism that benefits business, especially global organizations like Ernst & Young, IBM, PepsiCo and Pfizer, is international corporate volunteerism (ICV) programs. These companies send top employees to emerging markets for multi-week assignments where they leverage their skills such as finance, marketing, human resources, and IT to help local not-for-profit organizations or businesses.
Recent research shows ICV programs gaining popularity because they are increasingly viewed as bringing valuable benefits to the volunteers and the local communities alike. Consider the following:
CDC Development Solutions (CDS) estimated that 22 major U.S. companies sent nearly 2,183 employee volunteers abroad in 2012, up from six companies that sent just 280 workers to four countries in 2006. CDS says the primary benefit to companies is leadership development for employees and increasing retention.
The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) recently released its Giving in Numbers 2012 Edition report, which found that 85 percent of the employers surveyed had a formal domestic employee volunteer program in 2011 and 47 percent had a formal international volunteer program. The data showed there has “been an increase in new international employee-volunteer programs across the board” when looking at a matched set of companies between 2009 and 2011. (See pages 29-30 of the report.)
A recent George Washington University study found that “many companies believe that the ICV experience can stimulate new insights and learning for their top employees in a way that traditional leadership development programs cannot.” It concludes that ICV programs are a better investment than businesses school leadership programs, both in terms of cost and diversity of learning.
For the past eight years, Ernst & Young has sent high-performing employees to emerging economies in Latin America as part of our Americas Corporate Responsibility Fellows program to support high-impact entrepreneurs for seven weeks, free of charge.
We team with the not-for-profit Endeavor, hailed by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as “the best anti-poverty program of all,” to deliver the program. Endeavor is leading the global movement to catalyze long-term economic growth by selecting, mentoring, and accelerating the best high-impact entrepreneursaround the world.
The support a company receives as an Endeavor entrepreneur also contributes to its success: a 59 percent average growth rate in the first two years.
Our CR Fellows program has organically developed into much more than a volunteer program. In addition to “doing good,” we are experiencing significant benefits to our employees, our business and of course, the entrepreneurs we assist. The benefits include:
Developing a global mindset - Being a CR Fellow provides a short, sharp global mobility experience for professionals relatively early in their careers and helps them work autonomously while abroad.
Providing a stretch assignment – The growth of an employee’s leadership, communication and relationship building skills can move an already dynamic career into high gear.
Enhancing inclusive thinking – When employees travel beyond the confines of their home office to live and work in an emerging market, they get a real sense of what it is like to work closely with someone in a different culture.
Building business – Endeavor identifies entrepreneurs who are well positioned to become leaders in their markets, and our CR Fellows program is situated in companies where entrepreneurs are the drivers of growth. (For example, in Brazil, small- and medium sized businesses account for 99 percent of companies and create 66 percent of the country’s jobs.) CR Fellows who help our local teams forge new connections and create the foundation for future business opportunities. Some entrepreneurs ultimately become clients.
How To Establish a Good ICV Program
Companies currently exploring an ICV program should consider the following:
Focus on issues tied to your core business - ICV programs are most effective when they leverage the strengths of the core business. For us, entrepreneurship is a key focus area since our Strategic Growth Markets (SGM) practice has 30 years of experience helping high-growth companies to become market leaders.
Find the right partner - Collaboration is key to the success of the CR Fellows program. Endeavor’s rigorous selection process identifies high-growth entrepreneurs who have the potential to create jobs and contribute to the local economy and who are most likely to benefit from the services of the firm.
Select emerging markets carefully – To get the most of an ICV program, choose markets that are receptive to change and where the business is prepared to make a long-term commitment. We recently began sending CR Fellows to Brazil and Mexico because they are important markets for our business.
Seek to transform people and organizations - The best programs are those that have a significant impact on employees and the organizations they help. Endeavor works to make sure that the projects assigned to our CR Fellows will be beneficial to the entrepreneurs and the CR Fellows alike. The CR Fellows program is very competitive and open only to top performers who are at a point in their career where this international stretch assignment allows them to return home with a broadened skill set and increased self-confidence.
About the Author:
Deborah K. Holmesis Americas Director of Corporate Responsibility for the Ernst & Young organization. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and a World Economic Forum Global Leader of Tomorrow, she developed the organization’s corporate responsibility strategy, which is focused on the “3Es” (entrepreneurship, education, and environment).
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Ernst & Young or any of its member firms.