Every successful business owes its success, in part, to society.
Corporate volunteering is the means by which many of them do this.
Corporate volunteering has existed for a long time in Lebanon. Virtually every non-governmental organization in the country is governed by a volunteer board of directors. And many of those board members are corporate executives, recruited for the position because of both their management skills and their potential contributions to the organization. They are, in essence, corporate volunteers, though they may not identify themselves that way. Beyond board participation, “social responsibility” or “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) has largely been philanthropic – giving monetary and in-kind donations to non-profit organizations and institutions.
But CSR is increasingly being recognized in Lebanon as including a much broader range of issues subsumed under the headings of responsibility to society, shareholders, employees, customers and the environment or, in short, the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Although it is not always recognized as a part of CSR, we are also seeing many new forms of corporate volunteering in Lebanon, including both skilled volunteering and the type volunteering that can engage all employees of a company, from the CEO to the secretaries and janitors.
Study of 10 banks
In writing this article, a brief study was made of the online presence of the 10 most prominent banks in Lebanon in terms of both CSR and employee volunteering, with the assumption that they would not only be representative of corporate culture in Lebanon, but likely represent the best of that culture. Since it was an online study, it was limited to what the banks seek to present to the public, recognizing that they may have programs and activities that are not included on their websites.
All of the 10 banks provided evidence of their philanthropy. Very few, however, expressed commitment to the broader issues of corporate social responsibility, and only two (Bank Audi and Fransabank) made available annual CSR reports identifying their efforts in regard to the many different dimensions of CSR. Of the 10 companies, four mentioned employee volunteering in some way – one mentioned a blood drive in 2012, and two others indicated that they support employee volunteering, although they provided no specific details. It was notable that one bank, Bank Audi, has developed a formal corporate volunteer program as part of its commitment to CSR.
Another perspective from which to look at corporate volunteering is from the organizations that engage corporate volunteers. We will focus here on Injaz, the primary organization actively recruiting and engaging corporate volunteers throughout the Arab region. Injaz provides practical business-related education, primarily through a set of modules that are presented to high school students. Volunteers need to commit to a one-day orientation session, usually offered on a weekend, and then give seven to 10 one-hour sessions in a school. The placements in schools, materials, orientation sessions and certificates for students are all provided by Injaz, which also gives recognition to both the companies and the volunteers.
In the last academic year 2014-15 Injaz Lebanon had 140 volunteers, primarily from 14 companies, along with some individual volunteers and some from NGOs. The most active companies were Aramex, HSBC, Bank Audi, Grant Thornton, Citi, MetLife Alico, Deloitte, Technica and Gezairi Transport.
As Fayza Saad Mehanna, executive director of Injaz Lebanon explains: “Corporate volunteers bring the business world into classrooms and equip youth with a range of skills lacking in school education such as entrepreneurial and work readiness skills. In so doing, these volunteers become role models preparing the next generation of business leaders.”
So far, most corporate volunteering in Lebanon is reactive, rather than proactive – responding to requests by organizations to provide volunteers, rather than thinking strategically about the many different ways that corporate volunteering can benefit the companies and their employers while they serve society. As a result, companies do not invest in the training and management of corporate volunteering that are necessary to fully realize its many potential benefits such as improving the skills of employees (presentation, communication, managerial, technical and interpersonal), team building, increasing loyalty and retention, reducing absenteeism, improving communications among various company departments, “testing” employees in new roles and tasks in a relatively risk-free context, leveraging contribution dollars, spreading their impact, and increasing personal links to organizations that the company supports. But that is changing.
In Lebanon, Volunteer for Lebanon, a new organization that seeks to serve as a hub for volunteering in Lebanon, offers training in corporate volunteering. Both VFL and a second group plan to unveil online platforms in the coming months that effectively link volunteers with both individual and group opportunities to volunteer. We are confident that when we revisit the issue of corporate volunteering in a future issue of HOME for Magazine, we will find a more robust culture of corporate volunteering that will capitalize on the many benefits that corporate volunteering can provide to the companies, the employees, the organizations and society at large.
For more information, see the e-book Corporate Volunteering in the Arab World, 2013, by Dr. Patricia Mihaly Nabti, available for free in both Arabic and English at learningtocare.com/CorpVolStudy