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Volunteering – A catalyst for societal growth

The story of Padma Shri Jadav Payeng, also known as the Forest Man of India, stands out as a global case study of a single person’s resolve that triggered a transformative change.  His small yet consistent efforts of planting a tree every day compounded over 30 years and bloomed into a man-made green forest. It brought back to life an entire ecosystem, housing numerous species that were depleting because of climate change. Jadav, hailing from a small village in Assam, has converted a deforested land spanning 550 hectares into a forest that he proudly claims, is bigger than the Central Park in New York!
Over years, volunteers have served as catalysts of growth by expediting the change for the economic and social development of communities around the world. 5th December is celebrated as the International Volunteering Day to celebrate volunteer individuals and efforts of countless Government, non-Governmental organizations (NGOs), multilateral agencies and private sector who work to promote the cause of volunteering for a better world.

The Business Case for Volunteering

As per a Deloitte Millennial Survey, by the year 2025, the global workforce will comprise 75 per cent millennials. These young people increasingly want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society. Deloitte’s latest 2020 survey, a study across 13 countries for millennials and 20 countries for Gen Z, reveals how the pandemic has reinforced the desire among these younger generations, to drive a positive change in their communities. This sets the stage for businesses to look inward and create effective volunteering systems.
Corporate volunteering provides an opportunity to engage employees in the company’s vision of a positive social and environmental impact. When employees are exposed to the key challenges of society and get to participate in addressing them, they also feel a sense of pride in working for their organization. For instance, while volunteering in school-based projects with children, many volunteers experience re-living their own days in school and their journey to the present day. Students gain exposure to a wide range of life experiences from volunteers in terms of subject, life skills and problem-solving skills which add to a more positive learning environment. These students, many of whom are first-generation learners experience increased motivation to overcome obstacles, develop self-confidence and thereby continue their education in school.
Experiences such as these build an emotional connect and belongingness to the company increases. Employees feel that their company is aligned with their ideals, resulting in increased productivity. Happier employees stay longer in a culture that promotes learning and growth.

Volunteering is a Co-Learning Space

When volunteers dedicate their time and knowledge to drive a positive change, they also learn as much in the process as much as they give back to society. Gratitude, fulfilment and self-actualization are some of the common experiences often shared by volunteers who find a sense of purpose in compassion.
Volunteering activities require interaction with numerous stakeholders. Conducting group activities during a charity event, making pitches to the donor while raising funds for a non-Governmental organization, mentoring youth to help them qualify for a job interview are a few examples of activities that provide an opportunity for volunteers to enhance their managerial and interpersonal skills. While technical skills are always necessary, these softer skills are critical aspects of professional growth.
Serving as the bridge to connect communities from the marginalized segments of the society to the mainstream ecosystem, volunteers can expedite social change with a unique advantage. India has a well- established Corporate Social Responsibility mandate for large companies. With employees volunteering in the company’s CSR projects, the impact of these projects can be increased at the grassroots levels by bringing in expertise that is often “too expensive” for the NGO sector – a clear win-win-win situation for the community, corporate and the volunteers themselves.

Volunteering in the COVID-19 Era

Millions of volunteers across the world sprang into action with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world needed them more than ever before during this extraordinary health, social and economic crisis. Providing food to migrant labour on their way homes after lockdown, conducting online classes for children to help them learn continually, delivering groceries on a neighbour’s doorstep or giving up a part of one’s salary to fund someone gets food on the table are some of the ways many individuals rose to the occasion. As per studies, the pandemic has increased a sense of “giving” responsibility among people and that we belong to one world.
The new normal has brought with it increased levels of stress – as consequences of limited access, social distancing and remote working. The World Health Organization in its COVID-19 advisory drew focus to mental and psychosocial well-being in different target groups during the outbreak, aspects as important as managing one’s physical health. With over 9 months into the situation, we know that Governments and health workers alone cannot fight the pandemic. Volunteering evolved into newer dimensions keeping up to this need of the hour.
Global bodies such as the United Nations have come up with online volunteering platforms that encompass multiple options to provide relief to communities even from one’s home. Companies were quick to adapt too, and platforms such a Facebook at Work, WebEx, Google Meets etc. gained further popularity in spreading awareness as well as connecting virtually with the beneficiaries. Even as things turn back to normal, the future will hold more possibilities of hybrid models of virtual, remote and in-person volunteerism.
Jadav Payeng and millions of volunteers across the world inspire us every day in giving back to society. Each one of us can take one step at a time and collectively make a huge impact. And who knows, you will also find your purpose along the way! As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

Shipra SharmaShipra Sharma heads Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Larsen & Toubro Infotech, leading poverty alleviation programs in marginalized communities through better education, livelihood generation and women empowerment programs. Her role in leading Sustainability function involves creating strategies for low carbon business way of working and reporting as a responsible corporate citizen.

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The CSR Journal Team