The Next Big Thing in Corporate Citizenship

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The Next Big Thing in Corporate Citizenship

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International Employee Volunteering is about to become the next hot topic in CSR. Don't be confused, however; international and global volunteering are 2 entirely different things. Here are the differences - plus, who's ahead of the game and why it's important. 


Sunday, August 14, 2011 - 2:24pm
What is it?
The next big development in corporate social responsibility (CSR) is quite possibly the impending explosion of international employee volunteering programs. All of this language can be a bit confusing so it’s important to be clear: an international employee volunteering program is not the same thing as a global employee volunteering program.
The Difference
A global employee volunteering program is a corporate citizenship strategy that seeks to implement opportunities and support for employee volunteering in countries, societies or markets in which the corporation operates. Obviously, only large multinational companies have these types of programs. A key objective is to offer volunteer opportunities to employees around the world that have similar supports and brand alignment yet retain a uniquely indigenous quality that makes them relevant within the context of the employee’s social setting.
International employee volunteering is when companies send employees from one country to work in another. This corporate citizenship strategy may be an aspect of a company’s global volunteering program in that employees from one region or market travel internationally to volunteer alongside employees in another region or market. Since companies of any size are able to send employees to work in other countries, this employee volunteer strategy is not exclusive to large, multinational companies.
Who’s doing it?
Currently, only a few companies have employee volunteer programs that include opportunities to go abroad. The recent report “Global Companies Volunteering Globally” noted five large multinational firms that have publicly committed to expanding their international employee volunteer programs; BD, Dow, GSK, IBM and Pfizer. Besides the five noted in the report, a number of other companies are currently investigating or enlarging their international employee volunteering programs. For example KPMG Canada launched an innovative program in partnership with Free The Children just last Fall (watch our interview with Tania M. Carnegie, the Executive Director and Community Leadership at KPMG). 
This trend has been growing over the past few years. At the moment, the most notable international corporate volunteering program is IBM’s Corporate Service Corps. We met with the Canadian manager of the program, Dave Robitaille, when the program was launched in 2008 to discuss the potential for both IBM and the communities in which they would be working. Even at that early stage of the program, the goals were clear. Dave shared that the program had three objectives in mobilizing IBM employees to volunteer internationally:

a) build local infrastructure and strengthen communities around the world,
b) develop the technical and leadership skills of their employees, and
c) create a new generation of global leadership within IBM
(read more here).

This past February (2011) IBM crossed an impressive milestone in just three years: a total of 100 teams sent to 20 countries around the world. These teams were made up of 1000 employees from 50 countries in which IBM works. Stanley Litow, the VP of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs views these ‘citizen-diplomats’ as something more than a means to making IBM more productive and profitable. These programs work towards a more civil society on a global scale, to the benefit of all (you can follow @citizenIBM on twitter and read the Citizen IBM Blog here).

What’s next?
There is growing interest in improving the practice and support for international employee volunteering. Nations and multinational corporations are eager to access the potential resource and energy employees represent. Here are three examples of new initiatives to expand the practice and understanding of international employee volunteering:
The United States Agency for International Development USAID, in cooperation with IBM and CDC Development Solutions (an NGO), recently announced a public/private partnership that will provide a Virtual Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism. The goal is to provide practical tools to help companies, NGOs and governments coordinate effective implementation.
Another recent American initiative is Service World. This joint venture between Building Bridges Coalition, Civic Enterprises, Global Peace Service Alliance, International Volunteering Project at the Brookings Institution, the National Peace Corps, the Points of Light Institute, and ServiceNation intends to “reform, strengthen and leverage existing programs and infrastructure, and launch new initiatives to create more opportunities for Americans to work alongside volunteers from other countries.” The coalition hopes “to ignite a campaign in support of this agenda linked to events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the United Nation’s International Year of Volunteers and the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.”
The Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC, is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wing focused on promoting corporate citizenship) has recently launched the International Business Corps. This program is part of BCLC’s Global Corporate Citizenship initiative and is funded by a number of member companies. The focus of the program is to provide a “platform for companies to engage in long-term, skills-based volunteering with vetted NGOs in developing countries.” For more information you can watch this Rainmakers TV video featuring BCLC's Taryn Bird describing the program.

Why is it important?
Employee volunteering provides an effective strategy with which to address often negative or at best suspicious relationships that exists between business and society (find the article here). This potential becomes even more profound on the international stage given the backdrop of weakened nation states and globalized societies (read the PDF).
Mobilizing employees as volunteers in local and international communities for the benefit of the company, the community and the employee is a powerful idea. Employee volunteering goes beyond the efforts of CSR strategies in it’s unique utilization of social capital.

Corporate volunteering programs enable employees to mobilize their personal resources for broad social benefits. The employees not only leverage the assets of the business, but combine these assets across broader social networks utilizing trust and localized norms of cooperation (read the PDF).

These actions are akin to social movements which are “a purposive and collective attempt of a number of people to change individuals or societal institutions and structures” (read the PDF). In order to effect social movements necessary to address many of the massive social issues of today, mobilizing resources of people, money and most importantly legitimacy are essential (read the PDF). By organizing employees and mobilizing numerous types of resources, companies are positioned to play a key role in broadly addressing contemporary global concerns.
Going forward
Although much has yet to be discovered and understood about international employee volunteering, there are some obvious areas demanding immediate attention:
1. The creation of a common methodology and understanding for evaluating the outcomes and long term impacts of various international employee volunteering. This methodology must be able to account for  the diversity of industry and cultural contexts in which the volunteering will occur.
2. A mechanism that can leverage the numerous regional and national initiatives (such as Service World and the European Year of Volunteering 2011) in order to raise awareness, create stronger networks, and work together for greater impacts than are achievable by one company or nationality alone. 
3. The possibility of fiscal incentives (such as tax incentives and grants) for companies to support international employee volunteering given the large investment required by these programs.
4. Potentially creating a level of international recognition for employees who participate in longer term international volunteering. Similar to the ‘citizen-diplomats’ described by Stanley Litow of IBM, but through an international body and with an international (versus merely American) perspective. This type of recognition would encourage both companies and their employees to create new opportunities to volunteer abroad. It would also increase the potential for multinational corporations to foster global bonds of peace and prosperity.
The business benefits of employee volunteering:
At Realized Worth, we help companies design and implement effective and sustainable corporate volunteering programs. Give us a call or email to talk about what we can do for you: or or 317.371.4435.


Angela Parker
Realized Worth
Keywords: Diversity & Inclusion | Corporate Social Responsibility | Dow | IBM | KPMG | Pfizer | corporate volunteering | international development | mission BD | volunteer | volunteer managment