VIPs to Volunteers

By - Dinesh Gurnasinghani

Corporates have been rewriting their social responsibility curricula to allow their employees to pitch in with their own philanthropy. Instead of conveniently outsourcing altruism to sponsored non-profits, companies are getting into the very act via the workforce. And they've found the returns coming home to roost.

Merely writing a cheque doesn't embed you with the non-profit organization. It has to be accompanied by volunteering efforts,'' says Linus Chettiar, VP, Communications & CSR for Deutsche Bank, India, "Volunteering helps us understand the needs of the non-profit much better and enables a corporate to structure its support in a cohesive way. So it's clearly a win-win situation for both. One of our key criteria for supporting an NGO is that it should have avenues for employee volunteering.

Of Deutsche Bank's 5-point global CSR agenda, corporate volunteering is a plank actively promoted in India. It's what pushed Deutsche Bank to create a new title: DB Champion. Unlike most corporate titles that are rungs in the hierarchy, this one is a leveler. All employees are invited to be DB Champions. A Champion allies with any one of the bank's non-profits and plays a decisive role in plotting its path of action, social drill for the year, as well as influencing the outlay for that NGO. By endowing employees with the onus of social change, the method effectively ups their self-esteem and makes them more socially committed citizens.

Sanika Shidhaye is a DB Champion, who has been spending her Saturday mornings for the last two years with Sujaya Foundation, a non-profit in the area of education. She teaches underprivileged children English and maths at a centre in Goregaon along with a few colleagues, who volunteer on rotation. Sanika attributes the spike in employee social voluntarism to the fact that most workplaces, like Deutsche Bank, have a patently young workforce. "Many employees live in this city alone, away from families. They have the whole weekend to themselves, and are open to devoting half a Saturday to social work,'' says Sanika. And for those who want their weekends intact, Deutsche arranges to bring children to their Fort office on a Friday evening, where willing employees stay back a few hours to teach them.