EVEN: Corporate Volunteering

By Lana Zekovic Mellé, traduction française Auxane Oget, traducción española Andrea González Álvarez
09 May 2013

The need for public and private organizations to act socially responsible has embedded itself in the consciousness of the European society – we now live in the post-ISO 26000 era. Though in many aspects still controversial, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been slowly but steadily growing its roots and cutting through the noise of conflicting interests and stakeholders. While the scale of actual adherence to the values behind an organization's CSR policy varies from one organization to another, the minimum consensus is that no entity can afford to ignore it's CSR image.

Having merely created this non-regulated space for private-NGO partnerships, questions have arisen as to how to best utilize it. Employee volunteering programs seek to fill this gap and bridge the private-public-NGO triangle. Delivering high quality opportunities for employee volunteering was the main theme of the capacity building conference titled “Making Things EVEN”, which took place in Dublin from 18 to 19 April 2013. 

Organized by the European Volunteer Centre (CEV) in association with Volunteer Ireland, the conference gathered more than 100 participants from Europe and North America, looking to increase the number of volunteer-involving organizations and employers who have the capacity and willingness to implement quality employee volunteering. Over the course of two days, experts from 13 countries presented parallel sessions of beginners and intermediate levels, and trained participants from various sectors on how to effectively organize employee volunteering programs (EVP).

Given that EVPs rely on the existence of collaborative cross-sector partnerships, their planing, preparation and execution is more often than not strained by expectations and differences in ways of doing business by profit and non-profit organizations. To paint the picture more vivid, in her session on how to adapt your usual volunteer opportunities to an EVP, Angela Parker from Realized Worth played a video depicting a typical scenario of trying to set up an EVP and poking the notion that "volunteers are not free".

So how do we overcome these differences and make them work on our behalf? How to cultivate the commitments of employee volunteers? How to maximize the impact of EVPs for both NGOs and companies? Can we develop professional skills through EVPs, and can we measure their impact? These are only some of the topics covered by the sessions among which Lana Zekovic Mellé from ICVolunteers and IBM's Deidre Kennedy took the stand to present how using information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social media plays an important role in setting up EVPs, and what  the potential risks of doing so are – from the point of view of a corporation on the one hand, and of an NGO on the other.

The IBM's community engagement programs focus on specific societal issues where its technology and expertise can be applied to solve problems, and ICVolunteers' office in Brazil has had a pleasant experience in collaborating with IBM at the Week of Solidarity in 2008. As an early adopter, the question for ICVolunteers has never been why to use ICTs and social media, but more how to integrate it with our projects around the world, where partners and beneficiaries lack the technical possibilities and ICT literacy. This dichotomy of being stationed in Europe but working in world-wide distributed teams, where ICTs play an indispensable role in facilitation of every day activities, yet poses various challenges and risk in doing so, is what grabbed the audience's attention and introduced an interesting discussion.

The conference was also the launching event for the Employee Volunteering European Network (EVEN) and hence the strategic title “Making Things EVEN”. Launched with the support of its founding members Intel, FASVOL, “La Caixa” and Fundacion Telefonica, the network is now live and only open to those organizations and companies that have taken part in the training. EVEN membership and skills gained during the event will increase the capacity of volunteer-involving organizations to access funding from a wider variety of sources than they might currently have. No doubt that in times of limited possibility for state funding, organizations need to gain capacity to obtain support from other sectors, and participating in employee volunteering schemes such as EVEN is a good way to start.

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