The needs of vulnerable people in Singapore are increasing amid a pandemic that seems to never end.
But how, in this time of social distancing, can corporate volunteering programs continue to give?
Like many other aspects of our lives, they have changed online. Businesses and their employees are seizing the opportunities of virtual and skills-based volunteering to support charities struggling with shrinking volunteer numbers and declining donations.
“With the profound social and economic consequences of the pandemic further exacerbating existing inequalities identified in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” IMPACT2030 co-founder Sue Stephenson said in a September report, “the need for the private sector responding with human capital and financial resources have never been more important.
IMPACT2030 is a business-led coalition that partners with the United Nations to advance its SDGs through employee volunteerism.
Virtual volunteering extends the reach
The pandemic has made it harder to do good. At UOB, for example, employees contributed 60,000 volunteer hours in 2019. This figure has dropped sharply to 19,000 volunteer hours in 2020, as social distancing and safe management measures have resulted in many activities being shut down. regular face to face.
But it has also changed the way volunteer work is done. “We have found innovative ways to stay in virtual contact with our beneficiaries. We have now moved most of our volunteering activities to a virtual format, ”said Ms. Lilian Chong, Head of Brand and CSR, Strategic Communications and Group Branding, UOB.
These include online art workshops and weekly reading sessions for disadvantaged students.
As part of the UOB Heartbeat Eco-Excursions program, the bank also organized virtual excursions on environmental protection.
Its flagship UOB Heartbeat Run / Walk event, which raises funds for various causes supported by the bank’s UOB Heartbeat CSR program, was also held virtually last year in all 18 markets in which it operates.
Programs to better equip employee volunteers have also evolved online. UOB has hosted webinars on topics ranging from how to interact with people with disabilities and basic sign language, to tackling cyberbullying in children.
As in other economic sectors, the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the rate at which the social sector is going digital.
“Technology adoption has always been something the industry needed, but had neither the time nor the resources to do it,” says Ms. Parnita Rane, Senior Consultant, Corporate Partnerships at Empact. Singapore-based social enterprise aims to build the capacity of social organizations in Asia.
The push to innovate to protect themselves and their beneficiaries from the impact of Covid-19 has also enabled some to fulfill their social missions on a much larger scale.
Ms Rane cites examples such as SDI Academy, which has created a mobile app to further reach its community, and Pope Jai’s e-commerce site, PJ Produce.
Putting skills to work
Along with the online transition, interest in skills-based volunteering has grown, says Ms. Rane.
“With social distancing and remote working arrangements, corporate volunteering has become online and skills-based volunteering has become one of the preferred ways to contribute to the social sector.”
This has led to new opportunities for greater and more targeted impact.
For example, a pre-Covid training session on cash management and projection organized by Empact would have been conducted face-to-face, with participation capped at 10 beneficiary organizations.
However, when such training sessions were put online, companies with multiple locations were able to mobilize regional volunteers to serve social organizations from as far away as Mongolia, Nepal and the United States. A webinar can now benefit more than 70 social organizations, says Ms. Rane.
Empact has also facilitated more one-on-one Zoom pro bono workshops, which pair qualified volunteers from multinational companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with charities or social enterprises in need of specific guidance.
Areas where volunteer skills were in demand included sales and marketing, supply chain management, cash flow management, brand communications, human resources and technology.
These correspond to the conclusions of surveys carried out by the National Council of Social Services in 2020: the biggest challenges for social service agencies lie in the areas of digitization, fundraising, workforce management. workers and volunteers, and the conduct of their staff during the pandemic.
The public sector has also encouraged skills-based volunteering this year, with the Singapore Cares Office partnering with professional bodies in the legal, accounting and medical sectors, and most recently in October, with the Singapore Nurses Association and the Chartered Secretaries Institute of Singapore.
“Skills-based volunteering has very tangible and intangible benefits,” Culture, Community and Youth Minister Edwin Tong said in October, “not only for those who enjoy the benefits of volunteering, but also for those who give.
“This approach helps to expand beyond one’s usual business-centric goals to encompass a larger goal in society.”
Impactful corporate volunteering could also be as simple as providing the goods and services it sells for free to charities in need of those resources.
The two SME winners of this year’s Presidential Awards for Volunteerism and Philanthropy are just such examples.
Speco Singapore, a cleaning technology company, has provided free disinfection services to charities unable to afford disinfection of premises amid the ongoing pandemic.
Food retailer FoodXervices, which established the nonprofit Food Bank Singapore (FBSG) in 2012 to tackle food insecurity and food waste, has provided pro bono support to FBSG. Its staff and delivery vehicles also deliver free meals to FBSG beneficiaries.
Why invest in corporate volunteering?
Businesses large and small are starting to realize the impact they can have – and the benefits they can reap – by investing in volunteering.
Ms Lilian Chong, Head of Brand and CSR, Group Strategic Communication and UOB Brand, said: “Staying on course is deeply rooted in our organizational culture. If corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the soul of the organization, then volunteering is our heart.
She says the bank has implemented various ways for employees to give back to the community, including three days of paid volunteer leave each year.
Employees are free to create their own volunteer programs as long as they follow the bank’s CSR guidelines and correspond to the bank’s focus areas of art, children, education and protection of the environment.
“Community stewardship is more sustainable when it is carried out from the bottom up through individual actions, rather than being solely led by companies,” says Ms. Chong.
“Volunteers often inspire others to take action; Overcoming inertia to take action is what we need to forge a sustainable future for the present and future generation, ”she adds.
Businesses also gain. A 2017 survey of U.S. workers by U.S. professional services firm Deloitte, for example, found that a culture of volunteerism in the workplace boosts morale, the workplace atmosphere, and the perception of the brand.
In Singapore, the government announced in February an extension of the Enterprise and IPC partnership program until December 2023. The program, launched in 2016 to boost corporate volunteering, was due to end this year.
It gives businesses a 250 percent tax deduction on salaries and related expenses when their employees volunteer with registered charities.
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