Ethical Performance
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Putting skills at the heart of the development agenda

August 2015

Private sector investment in developing countries dwarfs aid budgets several times over, writes Matt Foster, director of strategies and programme effectiveness, VSO.

Large institutional donors like the UK’s Department of International Development (DfID) and the EU have kept a close eye on this and even overhauled their approach to private sector engagement because they recognise the value matched funding from private companies can bring to their own investment programmes.These increasingly blurred boundaries between the main actors in international development have also changed the nature of skills required to drive development solutions. From value chain analysis to organisational development, international NGO programmes are increasingly looking for talent that the private sector is already investing a huge amount in developing.

Yet, despite a trend in mainstream CSR programmes towards mass participation in corporate volunteering, donating staff time and skills to development programmes is still relatively small scale. At a time when global companies should be looking outwards to find new ways to develop leaders who can operate effectively in an increasingly interdependent global marketplace, you have to ask why this is.

Skills-based volunteering has long been recognised as an important way to develop talent and create experiences that simply cannot be replicated in any classroom situation. Volunteering in a development setting takes this to a whole new level, challenging traditional models of effective corporate leadership, and pushing individuals outside their comfort zone.

Volunteering does not just have a profound impact on the individual’s outlook. Recent research conducted by VSO with the Institute of Development Studies showed that volunteers also play a unique role in sustainable development. By living side-by side with local people in communities across the world, volunteers put themselves in a position to stimulate social innovation and create lasting impact long after they have returned home. Corporate volunteers bring this back into the businesses in which they work, becoming more socially, environmentally and culturally aware corporate leaders as a result of their experiences.

Many professional services companies are starting to recognise the value of investing their staff time in pro-bono or ‘not for profit’ consultancy and some of this even focuses on international development specifically. But, this is not enough or not happening quickly enough.

VSO, with the support of DfID seed funding, has just launched a new initiative called Knowledge Exchange which hopes to propel this model of collaboration forward. Knowledge Exchange is all about skills based volunteering – a tangible starting point for what we hope will be greater collaboration between the development and private sectors. Businesses are invited to join the Exchange as partners, and follow in the footsteps of firms like IBM, Syngenta, Accenture and Randstad which have already been growing their employee volunteering contribution in emerging markets.

The enduring scale and complexity of global poverty is challenging us all to find better ways of doing business as usual. It requires skills that the private sector has in abundance, and a willingness on the part of us all to find ways to work together differently to more effectively tackle poverty.

At the moment, the landscape in international corporate volunteering is extremely fragmented. We would like to throw down the gauntlet by calling on others to join with us in the Knowledge Exchange, because corporate skills are a resource that will only ever be effectively deployed if done at scale. And, that requires us to work together.

UK & NI Ireland | Volunteering

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