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How can companies foster volunteer action for development in the SADC region?
Corporate support for volunteering has the potential to create a significant positive impact for the business itself, its employees and the communities they serve. External research studies and company evaluations of CSR programmes and volunteering, predominantly conducted in the US and Europe, have documented the benefits. These are briefly summarised below. Benefits in the SADC region are expected to be very similar.
How can companies benefit?
Some of the recorded benefits to the company include human resource development (increased teamwork, employee wellness, leadership, staff morale, skills training, flexibility, staff satisfaction, retention, productivity and work performance); improved community profile and image (including awareness and acceptance), hence enhanced company reputation, credibility and brand health; as well as improved relationships with stakeholders (e.g. local community, consumers, and employees).
Relationships improve as local strategic partners are more likely to welcome these companies to their area, existing partners want to work with them, consumers feel good about buying from them, potential investors want to invest in them, employees are proud to work for them and are more likely to recommend them, and potential employees want to join them. Overall, it is considered to be a high impact way to invest in a healthier company, community and trading environment – making companies stronger and more competitive.
How can employees benefit?
There are several advantages for employees involved in employer supported volunteer programmes. Benefits to individual employees generally entail skills development (e.g. enhanced communication, coaching, teamwork, presentation, and time management skills – which might also help overcome individual insecurities and build confidence in the workplace); opportunities to work in new environments and contribute to issues that they really care about; and exposure to a wide range of tasks and communities, peers, and colleagues from other departments (which might help to combat social exclusion). Volunteering England evaluations suggest that volunteer activities provide “an extra dimension to life by providing new experiences outside the usual work and social environment”, resulting in attitudinal changes and increased satisfaction. A 2011 Deloitte (US) IMPACT survey reveals that employees who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are “far more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied employees compared to those who rarely or never volunteer”. In the SADC context, however, employees deal with a different set of circumstances (e.g. high levels of inequality and poverty, which are in many cases historically and structurally determined) than their peers in the US or UK, so benefits are likely to vary. Benefits related to personal skills (e.g. caring, listening), as well as attitudinal changes related to increased social contact, awareness, interest, as well as a sense of community and social obligations might, collectively, also contribute to empathy in a wider social context beyond individual benefits, and have the potential to enhance social cohesion.
How can the community benefit?
Corporate involvement in communities can help NGOs and the wider community in various ways and beyond the intended aim of community welfare and development. Successful implementation of corporate support for volunteering has the potential to promote understanding and public awareness; enhance social cohesion and participation; and increase access to resources, including financial resources, ‘new’ volunteers, and (business) skills (e.g. fundraising, developing a business plan for NGOs, public relations and marketing, strategy consulting, information technology training). Volunteer action can also lead to further partnerships, which might help NGOs to extend their services and take on new projects. In this way, companies become a vital component in broader programmes and contribute to a wider network of development practitioners.