Covid-19 has disrupted everyday life and left many workers in a perpetual state of uncertainty and isolation. Employees can still gain a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging by engaging in employee volunteerism programmes, which continue to contribute to meaningful change during the pandemic – however, they need adequate resources and support from their organisations. This was the subject of a panel discussion held during the Trialogue Business in Society Virtual Conference 2021.

Panellists included Charlene Lackay, Group CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings (MMH), Saray Khumalo, the first Black African woman to summit Mount Everest and a business executive at MMH, as well as Thapelo Mokoena, Centre Manager at Tshwane-based non-profit organisation (NPO) Lesedi la Batho.

Creating an enabling policy environment

Using MMH as a case study, Lackay began by highlighting the importance of aligning employee volunteerism programmes with the overall purpose and values of the organisation. Key to this is creating an enabling policy environment, which ensures that such programmes are backed by company resources and assets. This empowers employees to participate in volunteerism initiatives without being limited by a lack of resources.

Lackay went on to outline some of the benefits of volunteering, including employee retention, reputation, and marketing opportunities. “But there is also a clear correlation between employee volunteerism programmes, resilience, and strengthening the mental health of employees. Volunteering offers people an opportunity for people to see things beyond their own circumstances,” she added.

Khumalo agreed with this view, adding “If you don’t live a life of service then it is not a life worth living. Social consciousness and social good are what make us human. This means being intentional with everything we do.”

As a purpose-driven organisation that is intentional about creating opportunities for its employees to live their personal values and those of the organisation, MMH used lessons from the pandemic to expand employee volunteering opportunities. The company has seen an increase in payroll giving and online volunteering as a result. This affirms the notion that companies have an important role to play in creating an enabling environment for employee volunteerism.

Supporting Lesedi La Batho through employee volunteerism

Lesedi la Batho is an NPO based in the underserved community of Mabopane, Tshwane. The organisation implements a range of interventions aimed at empowering the community with skills training, entrepreneurial development and wellness, reaching more than 7 000 beneficiaries annually. Lesedi la Batho is a beneficiary of the MMH Holdings employee volunteerism programme.

The NPO received strategic support in the design of its entrepreneurial skills development programme. “We have highly motivated beneficiaries who are keen to start their own businesses. The Momentum team helped us with setting up our entrepreneurship hub,” explained Mokoena. “In future, the volunteers from Momentum who have knowledge of running businesses can mentor our beneficiaries,” he continued.

Khumalo is passionate about education and has been raising funds for the construction of libraries in underprivileged schools for several years now. In 2020, she held a spinning challenge during which she raised over R700 000 to build five new libraries, breaking the Guinness World Record for an eight-hour stationary cycling event in the process. Technology played an important role in this event with a total of 136 cyclists joining the challenge from different parts of the country through digital platforms.

The Lesedi Awards is another example of an initiative whose success has been facilitated by technology. Established in 2016, the awards recognise the achievements of MMH employees who support various causes through their volunteerism. In 2020, the initiative was delivered through a hybrid event that allowed for participants to join virtually. While the warmth and connectedness of physical contact cannot be replicated via digital platforms, technology allowed for 300 staff members to participate in the awards – something that had not been done previously.

Connecting and collaborating

Experience in the past year shows that employee volunteerism is not just about giving back – it is about creating value for both employees and their supported causes. To achieve this, companies should ensure alignment between the goals of the organisation and those of their employee volunteerism programmes.

Collaboration is central to the success of these programmes. The partnership between Momentum Metropolitan Holdings and ForGood is a good example of such collaboration and has allowed for corporate volunteers to connect with a broader range of causes. In addition, NPOs should seek partnerships with companies that have a clear focus and well-defined CSI programmes. This allows for increased alignment, improved efficiencies and engagements that are more meaningful and sustainable.

The panel concluded that volunteerism is ultimately about human connection, engagement and learning from each other. Ongoing communication is therefore central to its success.

Written by Connie Huma

Images: Gugulethu Mfuphi, Thapelo Mokoena, Charlene Lackay and Saray Khumalo

Photos taken by Janelle Strydom