International Volunteer Day is celebrated globally every 5th day of December. In the last two years, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reshape how we volunteer.
Central to volunteerism are relationships forged from physical interaction among volunteers and beneficiaries, nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners, donors and sponsors. Sadly, medical risks now severely hamper all in-person interactions, obliging us to reinvent ways we can volunteer safely.
In the last 20 years, Hands on Manila Foundation (HOM) (www.handsonmanila.org.ph), a volunteer management organization, has helped corporations develop and execute bespoke corporate service programs that focus on education, the environment, livelihood and health care. It continues to pursue its vision to develop sustainable programs that contribute to nation-building. Studies have shown that corporate volunteering, compared with other corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives like sponsorships and donations, has resulted in higher productivity, reduced absenteeism and contributed to higher job satisfaction—all factors that collectively benefit employers themselves (The Deloitte 2011 Volunteer Impact Survey).
HOM's affiliation with Points of Light (POL) in the United States (www.pointsoflight.org), the world's largest volunteer organization, is especially beneficial during these unprecedented times. POL affiliates all over the world continue to share successful volunteer models. In collaboration with Singapore affiliate Empact, HOM conducted sessions on needs assessment and project scoping with Macquarie employees in Manila. Beneficiaries were NGOs Concordia Children Services Inc. and the Asilo de San Vicente de Paul.
Skills volunteering has become popular because it allows employees to share their expertise with NGOs, whether these be accounting, marketing and communication or fundraising. Apart from increased employee engagement, these acts of service also offer employees opportunities to hone skills knowledge and to have other avenues for social interaction.
Upon introduction of HandsON Hong Kong, Knownium, a training consultancy, conducted a series of three workshops on (1) speaking to persuade, (2) effective virtual communication and (3) effective excellence and leadership for seven HOM beneficiary public schools and three NGOs.
At the onset of the pandemic, HOM, under its Oplan Hatid Laban sa COVID-19, organized volunteer drivers to deliver masks, face shields and protective personal equipment (PPE) donated by companies and individuals for medical frontliners in hospitals. American Express packed and delivered bags of groceries to a community of women, hygiene and PPE kits to the Jose Reyes hospital and distributed much-needed learning materials to Dr. Albert Elementary School-Manila. They also provided hygiene kits and medical support to people living with HIV.
Mondelez distributed food products to public schools and shelters for children and the elderly. With the help of a POL grant, Mondelez also conducted arts and crafts sessions for 200 employees. POL likewise provided a grant for hygiene and PPE kits for the Nueve De Febrero Elementary School in Mandaluyong.
Urban food gardens
For two years, HOM's Servathon (Service Marathon) mobilized companies and organizations—American Express, BPI Foundation, EON, FEU, ICTSI Foundation, LSEG, One Meralco Foundation, Northern Trust, Rockwell Land, Romulo Law, True Value, Wells Fargo, WEnergy, and Zendesk—to support the creation of sustainable vegetable gardens in public schools to help alleviate hunger. Employee volunteers were thrilled to get away from their daily computer routines to paint pots and signages for these gardens from the safety of their homes. Beneficiary school volunteers helped establish these gardens, maintain the same, and share the produce in their communities. It is hoped that the produce generated can be used for nutritious meals for the students when in-person classes resume. Seedlings are also propagated and distributed to surrounding families to encourage urban food gardens.
On the occasion of the international event Good Deeds Day, patrons donated food ingredients for over 7,000 meals that were distributed to street dwellers in Manila in partnership with the AJ Kalinga Foundation Inc. Again, volunteers cooked these meals from their individual homes and establishments, observing all the necessary safety protocols.
The silver lining in all this is that virtual volunteering has allowed us to operate beyond geographic boundaries. Our audiences and networks have expanded as we shifted from local in-person activities to projects and events all over the world. Time and travel challenges no longer exist, as volunteering can now take place even in one's backyard.
Employers have also focused on the most vulnerable in their companies and communities, finding innovative solutions to systemic problems. Service models have been adapted to changing times, forcing everyone to view the bigger picture and to help make our world a better place.
Companies should view corporate volunteerism the same way they view their businesses. Many say that the effects of COVID-19 will not disappear in the near future, hence the need to develop both short-term and long-term approaches to the shifting playing field. Changes like work-from-home and virtual volunteering look like they are here to stay. It will be beneficial for companies to develop a hybrid system of programs with partial in-person and remote volunteering options, or a mix of both.
Whatever the future brings, Hands On Manila will remain committed to its mission to mobilize people to address the critical social, educational, health and environmental needs in our country through volunteer action in the years to come. We encourage all of you to join us by sharing your time, talent and treasure and to continue to BE HANDS ON! INQ
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and not the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is co-founder of Hands on Manila Foundation, and senior vice president for corporate affairs at Far Eastern University. Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected]
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