For businesses aspiring to be more socially responsible, navigating the endless efforts you could or should be implementing can make the journey seem like a bit of a minefield.
During Responsible Business Week, I’ve paused to consider the steps we’ve taken so far here at Utilitywise. By no means are we doing things perfectly, (like I said, minefield) but our colleagues have really taken the time to get involved with our CSR journey.
Last October, we launched our community volunteering programme. It’s been a learning curve to say the least but we’ve definitely enjoyed it!
It’s brilliant that so many companies nowadays are thinking about how they can be more socially responsible. Many, like us have launched volunteer programmes meaning that colleagues receive a certain amount of paid time to volunteer and make a difference in their local communities. However with so many businesses now keen to volunteer and with many having established programmes in place, we wanted to make sure we were doing things a bit differently and adding value where it was needed most.
Having joined Utilitywise from many years in the charity sector, I know this offer of company volunteering can sometimes be difficult for charities to accommodate. With each group of colleagues, it takes planning and resource from the chosen charity. This can limit the variety of volunteering opportunities available but when it works, what a difference we can make.
Also, unsurprisingly there are types of volunteer opportunities that are more popular than others. Who can blame people for preferring to volunteer at a school or animal sanctuary rather than spend a day picking up litter? These ‘popular’ projects are quite often oversubscribed, with waiting lists stretching into weeks and months of eager volunteers keen to help out. Quite often projects and tasks that are really important and valuable, but don’t quite have the kerb appeal, are not so popular. However, if the objective of your volunteer programme is to make a difference, then colleagues should get involved.
To make a genuine impact, we’ve learned that we have to be realistic and honest with what we’re able to do and to not let ourselves get carried away with our enthusiasm.
Volunteering can be very much behind the scenes, so I was worried at the beginning. I remember thinking, “how am I going to get buy in from colleagues? How will we get them engaged?”
We’ve tried our hand at a range of activities since we launched the programme, and it turns out my concerns were completely unfounded. We’ve not shied away from getting our hands dirty. Whatever our colleagues have been faced with has been met with determination to make a difference and they’ve had fun with it, which is super important too.
So far, our efforts have accumulated over 500 volunteering hours, helping over ten different charities and/or community groups. It’s because of the hard work of the volunteers, and the fact their skills have been matched to the task at hand, that I get to say those hours have made an incredible difference.
Many of us have been inspired by the “Blue Planet II effect” and are appalled by plastic littering. With that in mind, a team of colleagues volunteered to pick up litter near our HQ in Newcastle. Channelling Attenborough and armed with litter pickers, the team collected over 20 huge bags of rubbish and an abandoned children’s slide (don’t ask!) in just three hours.
It’s important that we do consider corporate social responsibility as a journey as initiatives are ever changing and we’re ambitious enough to always want to do better. I like to think this time next year we’ll be even further forward. Here’s to a making a difference and navigating the minefield together!