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European Conference on Corporate Volunteering

15 September 2015

On Saturday 29th August Wendy Osborne, CEO of Volunteer Now, travelled to Zurich to attend a major European conference on corporate volunteering; jointly hosted by IAVE (International Association for Volunteer Effort) and Credit Suisse.

Volunteer Now was named as a cooperating partner for the conference and Wendy Osborne as an IAVE Board member was moderating one of the conference Forums. The conference content related closely to the words incorporated in the Volunteer Now logo, connect – build – change, recognising the importance of connecting corporate organisations with civil society to build the important relationships that support the mobilisation of staff to address societal issues and contribute to positive change for people and communities. The conference also focused on how companies can contribute, through their volunteer efforts, to achieving the United Nations Development Goals. The opening plenary speaker was Richard Dictus, Executive Co-ordinator, United Nations Volunteers who issued the challenge to focus corporate volunteer efforts on the world’s most pressing problems associated with a United Nations Global Plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. A plan that seeks to strengthen universal peace and eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions; a plan committed to the pledge that ‘no one will be left behind’.

Participation in the conference was mainly from corporate companies working at both a European and global level so that it was very much an opportunity for peer to peer learning and networking. A number of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) were represented and involved in forums to share their experience of partnering with corporate volunteers to add value to their work. Wendy chaired the Forum on ‘overcoming barriers to effective partnerships with NGOs’ where the Swiss Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity International and Pro Bono Lab Paris showcased the different ways they engaged with corporate volunteering, the challenges of managing expectations from both sides and the real success stories of developing strong partnerships that can provide more volunteers, great ambassadors and longer term relationships with companies that can also include financial investment. An important aspect was the recognition that volunteering is not free and that companies interested in corporate volunteering need to take on board that the NGO will have costs associated with involving volunteers effectively and that these need to be factored into any partnership arrangements.

Looking at the range of Forum sessions and the choices that participants made it is clear that a number of topics were considered more relevant than others and indicate a direction of focus for corporate volunteering. The top four topics of interest were corporate volunteering as a strategic asset to support corporate goals for employee engagement and development; corporate volunteering in the digital age and the opportunities and challenges presented by social media and online volunteering; skills based volunteering; and measuring impact. Information, presentations and an online report from the conference can be found on the IAVE web site www.iave.org/euro2015/

The key note speaker on the final day of the conference was Dr Michael Hastings, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE, Global Head of Corporate Citizenship, KPMG International. An inspiring presentation that showcased what passion and a belief in corporate social responsibility can achieve with people and communities. Participants were given an insight into KPMG’s involvement in Jeffrey Sachs Millennium Villages Project, not a business case decision but rather a moral imperative to take action to build resilience and bring sustainability to some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities.

Wendy was delighted that staff from our partner organisation Business in the Community NI were also able to attend the conference with a number of their member companies including Citi Bank whose Belfast based Lauren McCoy, Assistant General Counsel and member of the Senior Leadership Team in Citi’s Belfast legal department and chairperson of the Belfast CSR Committee, presented on the Forum ‘building internal support & overcoming resistance’.

The conference provided lots of information and learning and highlighted the important role played by corporate volunteering as part of the wider volunteering family. The new Sustainable Development Goals really do emphasise the necessity of everyone working together to achieve a better world, from local to global is now more than ever a priority call to action.

Photo from European Conference

Wendy Osborne OBE, Volunteer Now with conference partners - from left Antoine Colonna D'Istria, Pro Bono Lab France, Heather Alner, Habitat for Humanity International, Lukas Sallmann, Swiss Red Cross.