Swati Patel

Swati writes:

“Please can I have a hug? I miss my mum.”

This was my defining moment, in 2007. I was in Soweto, Johannesburg, in my role as social responsibility manager EMEA for Citibank. We were at a Citi-supported educational project for pupils as part of our school engagement programme.

Seven-year-old Joshua was an economic migrant from Botswana, who had lost his parents to AIDS. He was being brought up by his surrogate auntie, and had two meals a day at his school, which was located within a re-purposed sea container. I knew then that the work that my company did was making a real difference in the lives of these children.

Eleven years later I stood with my colleague, business manager Jackie Cuthbert, in the shared emergency accommodation kitchen at Walking with the Wounded at Canada Street, Manchester. We had just met a really inspirational man, who had recently come out of the forces. He told us about his challenges transitioning into civilian employment: he had been at rock bottom. His relationship had collapsed, he couldn’t turn to his family and he had ended up living out of his car with no job or way of supporting himself. Gary Lamb, the centre’s director, provided the support he needed. He helped him find a job that he enjoyed, and arranged a home to call his own. “No one has ever really been here for me before, but Gary has.”

This was a defining moment for my colleague Jackie, strengthening her resolve to help support ex-veterans into civilian employment. That evening we trundled off to the Trafford Centre to buy him a kettle and a ‘good luck in your new home’ card. But buying a kettle doesn’t solve the bigger picture. Patching over the cracks doesn’t change anything – we need corporate social responsibility strategies to help us create lasting change.

So how can I get others to find or enhance their defining moments?

VGC has just launched our new volunteering programme, ‘Go beyond and give back’.

This programme will be part of our corporate social responsibility engagement strategy. It will provide valuable in-kind support to our strategic community partners. And it will help to develop the skills of our employees.

Benefits to employees

CIPD research has shown that, in addition to developing new skills, corporate volunteers benefit from improved morale and increased motivation, job satisfaction and commitment to the company. These are a direct result of the opportunities afforded by their volunteering experience. And if the volunteering experience puts employees in a position of authority with accountability for results, it can help with their career development.

At VGC, the CSR (corporate social responsibility) team is working closely with our charity partners to identify volunteering opportunities for the programme.

When companies collaborate, they can make a difference which is bigger than the sum of the individual parts. Working together creates a voice and drives momentum. We can lobby government and together we can create change for the better, whether that is in supporting vulnerable people, creating better communities or providing better education. If you assume that CSR is ‘just pink fluff’, you are missing the entire point. CSR has the power to change lives of individuals and their families, and society, for the better.

If you’d like to find out more about our volunteering programme, please contact us.

Author: Swati Patel, corporate social responsibility manager

VGC is delighted to be hosting the Supply Chain Sustainability School workshop ‘Getting to Grips with Social Value’ on Wednesday 27 February.

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