Employee Volunteering is a strategy within CSR and not CSR Strategy 01 Jun 2020

Employee Volunteering is a strategy within CSR and not CSR Strategy

The Covid-19 crisis is a test of human endurance, as also a massive test for humanity at multiple levels. It is remarkable to witness how India Inc. has risen to the occasion. With stories of CSR and individual contributions pouring in from across the country it is remarkable to see a parallel war waged to reach support and provisions to the teeming millions isolated by a virus. This article talks about how to make CSR strategies in organizations reach deeper and to engage its human capital more meaningfully. That way organizations have a more lasting impact in social development that is visible within, around and outside the organization.

The concept of CSR stems from the belief that companies and businesses should conduct business responsibly using ethical and environment friendly practices. To mandate contributions back to the society formally, The Government of India in the Companies Act of 2013 made it mandatory for profit making ventures of a certain size to spend a small fraction towards social impact in areas of their choice. The mandates are only guidelines to bring some order where it was lacking. However, there are many benevolent organizations who have been spending resources beyond what is asked in the bill and have been creating positive impact through the decades. While, there are also those organizations for whom compliance is where it starts and ends.

Employee volunteering is a key component to sustain a long term CSR strategy in any organization. But organizations are still a long way away from making volunteering a serious, intentional and a meaningful practice. A typical long-term CSR strategy looks at impact areas, goals, beneficiary communities, partner agencies (Non Profits) and implementing agencies, whenever it embarks upon a social event or project. Employees are then motivated to participate in these events. These events are sometimes the logical need of the projects undertaken or at times curated by CSR Leads & HR Leads to drive employee engagement. What doesn’t work right is that with most organizations, volunteering is traded as an employee engagement lever and not necessarily to create a lasting impact on the ground or to turnaround employee mindset. Logging volunteering hours becomes a sole metric. Very few organizations today have employee-volunteering as a core strategy within CSR to “convert” employees into being socially responsible citizens. Though employers benefit when the Employee Volunteering Program (EVP) is seen strategically, the overheads of planning, executing and assimilating information remains a big deterrent.

Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) is an integral part of CSR, stems not just from having individual employees to volunteer but by empowering the volunteering journey towards community service. ISR can be a game changer when individuals are accountable for their action as well as inaction both within the organization and beyond. But this accountability can set in only with ‘true’ volunteerism, akin to saying, ‘go where the calling lies’. This requires creating a plethora of options for employees to choose from, as also providing with appropriate mentoring support as and when required. This also implies recognizing and leveraging the inherent goodness of employees by assessing each employee’s interests and abilities. Thereafter, strategically attaching them to projects as per their interests and aptitude at various CSR levels.

This extension of CSR is laden with some inherent bottlenecks that negatively impacts the employee turn out levels at the volunteering events. Let’s look at a few:

  • The impact areas chosen as a part of the CSR strategy many not match with the majority of the workforce preferences.
  • The geographic spread of the organization may leave out some offices from the CSR projects’ umbrella.
  • With massive execution efforts around drives and events, these may get limited to once or twice-a-year mega events.
  • Instead of genuine volunteering, the expectation from employees becomes misplaced and limited to mere event participation. The involvement largely remains passive as the ownership lies with the non- profit organisations and all other associations connected with the cause. The engagement ends up being just a day long initiative as painting school walls, coordinating for medical camps, planting trees in areas where employees will never go again and such other one-time activities.

The profit driven culture in most organizations overlooks voluntary individual-social-engagements. The key reason being that professional duties is the only perceived association between the employees and organization. Bringing employee led social projects under the mentorship umbrella of organizations can be a win-win for all: the organization, the employees and the communities. Relevant social projects can get a fresh breathe of life with better organizational support, as in funding, support from stakeholder communities, expert associations and other initiatives. Organizations can benefit by identifying and supporting individual/ group driven socially relevant projects and supporting groups of engaged employees who associate at a deep level. This way the organizations gets a wider social impact spread (actual impact and spread of projects) with little or no investments. There is also better connect with communities at large.

In today’s era of connectedness, digital interventions can enable the ISR mandates and can help in harnessing the human capital effectively thereby delivering on Corporate Citizenship. There are a number of Employee Volunteering platforms in India to choose from which curate a variety of NGO events for employees. Goodera, CSR Box and Giving Force are to name a few. Some of the big NGOs like United Way, Team Everest also offer variety through their partnered NGOs.

The Giving Circle is a digital platform which works to identify and empower individuals driven social projects. The platform also attempts to provide desired aid to the institutions for taking accountability of Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) with the intention to standardize yet retain the flexibility in volunteerism.

1 Comment(s)
  • Aradhana Kulkarni says:

    03 Jun 2020 18:53 Well said.

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