Photo: VSO

New Corporate Volunteering Hub to Fight Poverty

By Michael Mapstone, Head of Corporate Partnerships, VSO

New Corporate Volunteering Hub to Fight Poverty

At the recent Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, the UK Development Minister Justine Greening announced that she is backing a new volunteering initiative for businesses and the development community. The Hub, set to launch in early 2015, will be run by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Speaking during Economic Development day alongside World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, it was encouraging to hear Ms Greening shed a spotlight on business investment in developing countries and the myriad of ways to reduce aid reliance, including defining a new role for professionals to volunteer their skills in poor countries.

Ms Greening spoke about enabling people to pull themselves out of poverty for good and strengthening economies to become the major markets and trading partners of tomorrow.

“This is the kind of action that fosters economies where enterprise can thrive and men and women can provide for their families through work.” she said.

The Hub, created in partnership with Accenture Development Partnerships, and supported by Business Fights Poverty, will launch early next year and will be run by VSO. The partnership combines experience in collaborating with business to develop new solutions to end poverty and VSO’s 55-year history of placing volunteers in settings where they can have the highest possible impact and of managing the complex logistics involved. I am enthusiastic about the sustainability of this model.

The Hub idea is not only inspired by VSO’s own corporate partnership track record, but also by the many success stories of business people who have already had a chance to do this kind of volunteering and use their skills for a more social purpose. People like Vishal Chopra who volunteered in China earlier this year with his company IBM. Chopra described the experience as ‘life changing’. He spent one month in Shanxi province offering his professional skills to three local social enterprises so they could explore innovative ways of community management and social service delivery through household support services for the elderly and people in need.

Chopra talks about how this experience forced him to change his perspective. “ I had been doing marketing for one of the best known brands in the world, but for this engagement in China we needed to provide advice to a start-up. It needed a 180 degree flip to put ourselves in the client’s shoes to provide smaller, local solutions to help them to get off the ground.”

Louise James, Global Programmes Director at Accenture Development Partnerships, who helped to create the Hub, is convinced that this initiative responds perfectly to their conversations with representatives from the public and private sectors. There’s a significant demand to take collaboration between the sectors to the next level, she believes.

As I see it, there are three main potential gains from this new initiative:

  • Cross sector collaboration – the development challenges faced by the world today cannot be overcome by one sector alone. Collaboration between sectors is essential and the hub will provide a platform to enable this collaboration, to create new solutions to poverty and inclusive economic development on a larger scale.
  • Business leaders for the future – it is clear that businesses see sustainability as key to their future success. Fundamental to achieving sustainability will be developing globally aware leaders that have a deep understanding of the context of emerging economies and the need to work collaboratively across sectors. The Hub is perfectly positioned to support the development of these future leaders by placing them on programmes where they can not only apply their skills and experience, but also gain new skills and insight.
  • Local enterprises boom – people in developing countries can learn from the experiences of businesses around the world, ensuring they seize opportunities that will boost their growth. I see this already in the kinds of programmes we run in Bangladesh, Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria where we are regularly supported by corporate employees to help women and youth entrepreneurs in particular to realise their full potential.

I for one am excited with this innovative approach to development and I’m looking forward to seeing the first volunteers come on board as early as next Spring.

Editor’s Note:
For more information on the Corporate Volunteering Hub, please email Yvette Torres-Rahman.

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