VSO launches new global facility for corporate volunteering

Lisolette Vassen, a Dutch VSO volunteer in Kenya in May 2014, supports a women's beading project among Masai women's groups. The organization will launch a new corporate volunteering hub early next year. Photo by: VSO

Partnerships between nongovernment organizations and the private sector are nothing new, but both sides sometimes struggle to find the right match.

To address that challenge, VSO International announced Friday it will be launching a new corporate volunteering hub in early 2015. The platform that would link businesses, NGOs and other organizations like government ministries seeking to harness each sector’s strengths — companies looking for volunteering placements for its employees and NGOs and other players needing specific skills set widely available in the corporate world.

The idea came about after the U.K.-based volunteering organization and its corporate partner Accenture realized the growing “appetite and need for business skills in development programs,” Michael Mapstone, head of corporate partnerships at VSO, told Devex.

“Companies are gaining a lot of appetite seeing more of their staff being used on skills-based volunteering programs, not only as part of CSRs but also understanding employee volunteering can contribute to organizational and professional development,” he said.

Initially, the hub will be engaging with its existing pool of corporate partners, like IBM and multinational recruiting firm Randstad, but the plan is to get more businesses — both global and local, like those in the Philippines or Kenya where the organization is already actively working with the private sector — and NGOs on board in the next few months, align differing objectives to strike up partnerships and identify the right placements.

These will be crucial to get the program up and running properly, Mapstone said, but not the only priority.

“The important part is making sure it’s all demand-led, creating placement in development programs, first of all, that respond to a need, and in terms of implementation, what capacity is required in development programs, and then going out to the relevant businesses to ensure we hit the right match,” he explained.

VSO has already identified a few countries to pilot the hub, such as Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, India and Bangladesh, all chosen based on existing needs and corporate priorities, the latter being mostly around emerging countries and middle-income markets. As the facility grows, more nations will be added to the list.

Placement periods will differ from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the task at hand. For example, based on VSO’s own corporate volunteering programs, it can take from four to six weeks to set up a database system for a local NGO partner or government ministry, while for instance a market assessment to help a farmer identify new business opportunities can usually be finished in two to three months.

Mapstone said the design of the program and placements within the program are key to making sure the identified time frame is met.

“Quite often the model that we run [at VSO] is where we’ll have our long-term volunteers serving for two years on a program, and then they will identify specific tasks or specific activities where our corporate volunteer can come in and complete within a given set of time period,” he explained. “So [the placements of corporate volunteers] are closely linked to the long-term [human] resources already [on the ground], ensuring sustainability and work is implemented as effectively as possible.”

The hub’s focus will be micro, small and midsize enterprises that would benefit from learning skills developed over the years by midlevel and senior management — which Mapstone says are the usual volunteers — in the corporate world. But the VSO official noted the hub’s operations could also extend to farmer cooperatives, and even to the health and education sectors, where key challenges center around but not limited to management capacity, logistics and supply chain.

The final details are still being fleshed out, but as early as now, the organization is already exploring ways — like brokering service between a company and an NGO — to make the hub self-sustaining after the U.K. Department for International Development’s initial 3.4 million pound ($5.47 million) seed grant covers the first five years.

As for whether corporate employees will receive any compensation for volunteering, that will depend on their companies. But based on experience, Mapstone said companies seek ways to ensure at least employees’ home-based costs — like rent or mortgage — are still covered while doing volunteering work.

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Doing More is an ongoing conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Australian Red Cross, Cuso International, IFRC, MovingWorlds, Peace Corps, Scope Global (formerly Austraining International), United Nations Volunteers, Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance and VSO.

About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.