From reading sessions to career mentoring: How corporate volunteering is evolving beyond Covid-19

Companies such as Barclays, Standard Chartered Bank and Cognizant contribute skills and resources to help charities and disadvantaged communities keep up in a fast-changing world

Multinational technology consulting firm Cognizant at an outreach event where volunteers got students to tinker with technology, in a bid to enhance Stem education in schools. PHOTO (TAKEN BEFORE COVID-19): COGNIZANT

Empowering youth with viable employment skills, hosting virtual reading sessions for children, helping non-profit organisations improve their internal workflow - these initiatives by last year's Champions of Good Barclays, Standard Chartered Bank and Cognizant, respectively, demonstrate how corporate volunteerism has grown to become a multi-faceted endeavour today.

Champions of Good is a national initiative under the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC)'s Company of Good that recognises exemplary corporate organisations in Singapore dedicated to supporting communities.

These companies are giving beneficiaries a leg-up in an increasingly globalised environment by helping to narrow Singapore's employment and digital transformation gap.

Ms Quek Shiyun, head of Company of Good, NVPC, says: "All companies hope for good times, but true Champions make time for good. During a period when it would have been understandable for them to turn their attention towards self-preservation, these Champions of Good were instead looking for ways to help the community.

"By leveraging their organisational expertise and integrating goodness as a part of business rather than pursuing short-term, unsustainable growth, these organisations exemplify that it is possible to do good and do well at the same time - even in the face of crisis. This enables them to rally and even support their stakeholders and partners to join them in the drive to create impact and become cornerstones of our society."

Indeed, there are many ways that start-ups, small- and medium-sized enterprises and multinational enterprises can help mitigate the impact of a recessive economy by participating in this movement.

For a start, they could boost the accessibility of their outreach efforts by conducting programmes on virtual volunteering platforms.

Pivoting digitally to open a new chapter

With the sudden onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, non-profit organisation Life Community Services Society (LCSS) had to pause all physical volunteering activities and quickly shift gears to new modes of operation. This spurred Standard Chartered Bank's Employee Volunteering team to help the charity adapt to the unforeseen disruptions.

With the help of online video-conferencing platform Zoom, banking and financial services organisation Standard Chartered Bank is able to continue supporting Life Community Services Society with its reading programme. PHOTO: LIFE COMMUNITY SERVICES SOCIETY

As part of its social initiatives, the Standard Chartered team worked closely with LCSS, which supports vulnerable families and children, to move part of the latter's ongoing reading programme for children onto the Zoom platform.

The online video-conferencing tool not only allowed volunteers to continue contributing to the programme despite social distancing restrictions, but also enhanced the interaction between both the volunteers and beneficiaries. Beyond being reading buddies, volunteers also offered the children words of positivity and encouragement to help them weather a challenging circuit breaker lockdown.

Being able to pivot digitally allowed the Standard Chartered team to bond better with the beneficiaries, a move that was well received among staff volunteers and teachers at LCSS. More importantly, volunteering via a digital platform has also provided the organisation a chance to share its initiatives with staff who are based globally.

"Now that volunteering opportunities are held online, any one of our global colleagues who are interested can help," says Mr Jatin Badiani, senior manager at Standard Chartered Bank.

He continues: "The teachers at the LCSS centre were extremely happy that we had co-created virtual programmes and engagement activities such as storytelling, National Day celebrations and pre-exam revisions - for both group and one-on-one sessions with the children. Our colleagues enjoyed this immensely as volunteers, as it was something they could do amid the lockdown.

Standard Chartered Bank's Employee Volunteering team is helping to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable families and children. PHOTO: LIFE COMMUNITY SERVICES SOCIETY

"One year on, we are still volunteering regularly with LCSS through weekly Zoom sessions. The sustainability of this programme reflects Standard Chartered's volunteering culture - we like to build long-term and meaningful relationships with our partners so they can count on us for consistent support."

Giving jobseekers a head-start

Over at Barclays, its key goal is to help individuals such as students, single mothers, former inmates and those with special needs thrive in a competitive job market.

From September to November last year, employees of the multinational investment bank participated in a virtual career mentoring programme with over 30 youth from Junior Achievement Singapore, a charity that aims to help young people succeed in a global economy.

Barclays volunteers shared their knowledge and skills with students from the Institute of Technical Education by mentoring them in areas such as leadership, and interview and presentation techniques.

One of the key community initiatives championed by multinational investment bank Barclays is digital education for seniors, in order to help them pick up the necessary skills to navigate a digital world. PHOTO (TAKEN BEFORE COVID-19): BARCLAYS

"The aim of such initiatives is to address the employment gap. We believe there are lots of jobs available, but some lack the right skills to get into these jobs. Hence, we try to create that marriage by helping these individuals hone these skills," says Ms Kham Joon Heem, chief operating officer, Singapore at Barclays.

"We reach out by working with local charities such as YMCA for youths at risk, Daughters Of Tomorrow, and Agape Connecting People, a social enterprise that works with vulnerable communities including inmates at Changi Prison, ex-offenders and single mothers."

But the work does not stop there. Ms Kham says the bank is also actively seeking ways to contribute to Singapore's Covid-19 recovery process with the continuation of funding and volunteering activities this year.

"For example, we have identified areas that need help (with funding and resources), such as food, healthcare and digital education. Our work with charities such as the Singapore Red Cross and The Food Bank helps us ensure that we are intervening in the right places," she adds.

The Barclays team helping to promote digital literacy among seniors at one of its Digital Clinic sessions. PHOTO (TAKEN BEFORE COVID-19): BARCLAYS

Barclays' unwavering contribution to community causes has helped it attract and retain talent who relate to its purpose - that the company has an important role to play in an interconnected community.

Helping communities bridge the digital gap

As one of the world's leading professional services companies and a leading provider of information technology, consulting and business process services, Nasdaq-listed Cognizant helps clients envision, build and run more innovative and efficient businesses for the digital era.

The multinational firm is not just focused on its core business. It is also a firm believer in engaging meaningfully with initiatives that matter - whether it is through utilising its technical expertise or contributing to inclusive community causes in Singapore.

"One of our main goals is to support Singapore's Smart Nation initiative. We work on advancing Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in schools and communities, enhancing digital inclusion and leveraging technology via pro bono initiatives for the capacity building of non-profits," says Mr Andrew Lim, vice-president of Asean and Greater China, Cognizant.

A Cognizant volunteer running an online digital clinic for seniors from his home. PHOTO: COGNIZANT

This includes helping The Food Bank improve its food distribution capabilities by leveraging Cognizant's knowledge of automation processes, mobilising laptop and smartphone donations for disadvantaged beneficiaries, as well as translating videos and social media content on work safety protocols for migrant workers.

Over the years, Cognizant has also worked with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), American technology giant Microsoft and local charity Lions Befrienders to improve digital literacy among seniors.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, Cognizant stepped up these efforts, partnering with IMDA, Microsoft and Grab to launch the Virtual Digital Clinics. These clinics are supported by volunteers and helped seniors to continue picking up basic digital skills in the absence of face-to-face sessions. To date, the partnership has benefited about 600 participants aged between 40 and 90.

As the everyday use of technology accelerates, the development of digital competencies remains a necessity.

Explains Mr Lim: "Our survey of social impact partners in early 2020 revealed a need for intervention when it comes to improving digital skills such as data management, presentation, program management, and the use of office productivity and collaboration tools."

At a Smart Nation DGO event, where Cognizant volunteers were facilitating discussions on digital adoption among young families. PHOTO (TAKEN BEFORE COVID-19): COGNIZANT

The benefits are far-reaching: Cognizant's efforts have helped the company build sustainable business relationships with its clients and partners, as it works towards making a positive impact.

And even as Cognizant serves communities in areas such as artificial intelligence and digital engineering, employees also get the opportunity to grow their digital skills with meaningful work.

"When companies articulate their purpose clearly, everything they hope to achieve through their business and social responsibility efforts will be aligned with what their communities truly need.

"[The national recognition initiative by Company of Good] Champions of Good recognises these efforts. This is very important to us because it is a testament to the work done by all of our key stakeholders: Cognizant employees and internal business units collaborating for impact, and partners such as SSAs, clients, government agencies and schools," says Mr Lim.

If you wish to be recognised as part of the business community for good, register your interest for the next Champions of Good edition, a national initiative by Company of Good, NVPC.

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