Corporate Social Responsibility GYAN skill-based volunteering Volunteering in India

Increased role for CSR would instantly transfer into increased engagement of employees

Shalabh Sahai (SS), Co-Founder & Director, iVolunteer is an alumnus of the prestigious Rural Management programme at IRMA.

Dismayed at how oblivious skilled professionals were to the languishing social sector, iVolunteer came into being and made professional, skill-based volunteering a reality in India. The first and perhaps only one of its kind, iVolunteer is a social enterprise that brings volunteers and organisations together to share Time, Skills and Passion to promote India’s social development.
Shalabh has also Co-Founded JobsForGood which offers Recruitment and HR Advisory services so social enterprises are able to leverage human capital towards achieving their mission.
Below interview was taken by the management of CSR Resources (CR)

CR: Could you give us a brief overview of your personal journey and the different experiences that have led you to found iVolunteer?

SS: Growing up I came across two vastly different views of India. At home, my upbringing was a little conservative in a typical middle-class family. But as I stepped outside I was beginning to see what the economic liberalisation was challenging some age-old norms of society and economy. I went on to do my post graduation in management from an institute reputed for bringing management approach to development organisations. Coming face to face with challenges of development organisations in India, I realised that one of the biggest problems was that the development sector worked in silo and Indians at large were not engaged in their work. This realisation and the vision of engaging more Indians towards an equitable society led to the genesis of iVolunteer.


CR: How many organisations and volunteers were you able to mobilise so far? Are you directing those programmes towards specific social areas? 

SS: iVolunteer works with a network of 350+ credible NGO partners and engages more than 2000 volunteers each year. The focus in last two years has been on deepening the engagement and the resulting impact of each volunteering project. iVolunteer enables people to volunteer in a social development area of their choice. Thus we work across a wide variety of social themes.

CR: How do you define corporate volunteering, and what role can companies play in the development sector leveraging their employees’ skills? 

SS: Corporate Employee Volunteering is about businesses encouraging and supporting their employees’ involvement with the community – for mutual benefit. In my view, development sector organisations face some of the most formidable challenges. And yet, do not have access to the best professionals in the field. This is where corporates serious about leveraging employee skills for social causes can make a huge difference. Imagine what an NGO working to dispel millennia old biases against girl child can do with the support of the best minds from a leading creative agency.

CR: What benefits companies can expect in engaging their employees in a social cause?

SS: Sometimes, we tend to take a very myopic view of corporate volunteering, expecting it to be gainful only for NGOs. But employees volunteering gain immensely on soft skills while honing their technical skills in an unfamiliar environment. Volunteering is also a proven stress-buster and is being used to build cross-function team. In an era where jumping jobs are almost becoming a norm, employee volunteering is also known to enhance employee loyalty. Moreover, a whole lot of external stakeholders – customers, communities, administration and potential employees start taking a more positive view on a company known for serious community initiatives engaging employees.


CR: What is the advantage of going through a middleman like iVolunteer to set up a volunteer programme with a non-profit? 

SS: iVolunteers aligns employee volunteering interests to community needs and corporate goals to achieve maximum impact. We help strategize and execute volunteering programmes. The values we bring to the table is the ability to engage employees across issues, geographies, skill sets and time availability. Building and managing volunteering programs is as much a specialised function as any other business or development function. iVolunteer has developed niche expertise through more than a decade of pioneering engagement of professionals as volunteers in India. Costs of operations and thereby service are much lower compared to what a business might have to incur to set up & manage a team to engage employee volunteers. And if I can say so, we bring the cutting edge in the latest in employee volunteering!

CR: Could you give us some examples of the different schemes under which companies can engage in corporate volunteering? 

SS: There are broadly 4 kinds of employee volunteering that companies can engage in. First and most popular today are one-time engagements that taken an event format and bring together a large number of employees on a single (or periodic) days of service. This is mostly the first step to introduce the concept. Second are sustained volunteering programs, where companies and/or individual employees choose sustained engagement with the community. This requires detailed planning and support through enabling policies and facilitation by internal ‘Employee Volunteering Manager’ or external facilitators like iVolunteer. Third are long term service engagements – secondments and fellowships – that enable a few and mostly select employees to take on full-time engagements with non-profits. These have some of the most far-reaching impact on both the community and the participating employee. Fourth is senior management engagement at strategic levels for non-profit organisations. This is engagement at the highest level and helps in growing a promising charity to its full potential in service of people. Though nascent in India, it is fast gaining popularity through programs like ‘Whiteboard’ by iVolunteer.

CR: How do you measure the impact of a programme on the ground? 

SS: Impact of volunteering can be measured in economic and social value. However, its early days. The measurements presently in use is economic in terms of volunteer hours. Increasingly the economic value committed (opportunity cost) by companies and that delivered to the recipient NGOs (market value of service received). The social value is mostly anecdotal and sometimes estimated with the help of the partner NGO or community. There is a lot of scopes for someone to volunteer in helping establish ‘Measurement & Evaluation’ practices!

CR: What trends do you see in corporate volunteering since the adoption of the new companies’ bill, mandating companies to invest 2% of their profits in CSR activities?

SS: With increased stakes, I expect increased stakeholder interest in CSR activities. With steady dedicated funds, CSR will finally come on its own as a support function for any company. In the long run, it would result into well thought through policies, practices and partnerships. An increased role for CSR would instantly transfer into increased engagement of employees in ‘Sustainability’ practices which would evidently spell growth for corporate volunteering. I envision that in a few years, we would be going much deeper into issues within corporate volunteering and establishing it as a management practice – to be researched, developed and included in curricula and business practice.

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