It is January 31st 2020, and Team Pescar’s wrap-up call is scheduled for today. After nearly three months of working together in a virtual context, the team is ready to review the project goals and key learnings. Fundación Pescar staff based in Buenos Aires and a group of five diverse JPMorgan Chase employees will connect via WebEx, turn on cameras, and acknowledge the hard work that went into the project. A virtual toast and true words of gratitude from all stakeholders mark the end of Virtual Service Corps program in Latin America.
The narrated scene is before the COVID-19 pandemic, when virtual programs were not the norm. From October 2019 through January 2020, fifteen JPMorgan Chase employees had the opportunity to partner with three organizations that work tirelessly to improve the lives of youth and adults across the region: Fundación Pescar, Laboratoria, and Instituto Proa. Although this was the first executed program in partnership with NGOs in Latin America, JPMorgan Chase has been implementing virtual programs since 2015.
A Pioneering Virtual Program
The Virtual Service Corps program is a skills-based volunteer opportunity for JPMorgan Chase employees to share their expertise through virtual consulting engagements with nonprofits. The firm began piloting virtual projects as a way to further support its community-focused initiatives following the success of their signature nonprofit consulting program, the Field Service Corps. For JPMorgan Chase, the primary goal was to expand the number of nonprofit organizations and employees that could participate in the program. While initially limited to U.S.-based projects, the Virtual Service Corps has undergone a rapid expansion and scale during the past two years, including the addition of international projects in 2019.
The flexibility of the virtual portfolio has been particularly beneficial in 2020 as the entire globe deals with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adam Blasioli, Vice President, Global Philanthropy, stated: “Having an established program infrastructure in place allowed JPMorgan Chase to continue providing pro bono consulting support to organizations despite the limitations the pandemic imposed on travel and in-person events. In fact, a number of our pre-planned in-person projects have been able to transition to virtual engagements during the past few months, ensuring our partners continued to receive the strategic support they needed”.
Making a Difference through Working Together
Fundación Pescar is a nonprofit organization that provides training to vulnerable individuals from lower socio-economic groups. During the last call of the program the JPMorgan Chase team presented the final deliverable: a roadmap for a three-year strategy. Through the engagement, the organization was able to identify both areas of improvement and define future actions to help execute their priorities.
The Virtual Service Corps process encouraged and triggered internal discussions about how we do things. The external perspective is always essential for growth and the program actually prepared us for the future. After the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home order we virtualized and continued with nearly all the activities scheduled for 2020. – Silvia Uranga, Executive Director at Fundación Pescar.
Each virtual project is purposefully designed and customized to meet the specific needs of the participating host organization. The program lasts 8-12 weeks, and the projects aligns with the skillsets of employees that are often concentrated in operations, finance, and strategic planning. The final deliverables vary, with solutions including strategy guides for staff engagement, financial growth models, management dashboards, and organizational structure/process maps. Mr. Blasioli describes the greatest impact for employees, saying: “Countless JPMorgan Chase employees have mentioned how rewarding it is to leverage their expertise in a way that they would have never imagined and to learn how valuable their experiences can be to community-based organizations. In addition to pushing employees outside of their comfort zones, these projects help employees develop new skills, build stronger networks with colleagues, and consider career interest areas that they want to explore further”.
Working with a high performing team of consultants in a virtual mode is a great opportunity, but also a strategic choice for organizations in high demand. Most senior-level staff in a nonprofit wear many hats and have limited availability. This is the case of Laboratoria, a cutting-edge organization in Latin America that opens up opportunities for all people equally in Perú, México, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil. However, the investment of time paid off as it reflected on the experience.
If you have a clear need, a virtual pro bono program can be of great help, and it is worth investing the time it requires. One recommendation is to focus projects on specific needs and if you have the tools for collaborative work, the remote works very well! – Francisca Lanusse, Financial Director at Laboratoria
Fostering the Virtual Work Reality
The Virtual Service Corps program took place before the outbreak of the pandemic, when skills-based consulting through virtual connectivity was not the norm. COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation process, and without seeking it, the first virtual engagement edition of the program in Latin America had unintended positive effects preparing partners for successful virtual communication. Such was the case for Instituto Proa that works to transform the future of the next generation in Brazil.
Because of the quarantine, all PROA employees are working remotely. The preparation for virtual meetings, so that they are productive and objective, is an example of practical learning with the experience we had while working with [Pyxera Global] and the JPMC team. There are no barriers! Face to face – or virtual – when you have a clear goal and an engaged team. – Fabiano Goncalvez, Operations Manager at Instituto Proa
Overwhelmingly, Pyxera Global is hearing that corporate employees expect their employers to be committed to social impact and provide opportunities for employees to give back. Given the current context, the JPMorgan Chase program has become a pioneering initiative for companies in need of redesigning their volunteer and leadership development initiatives. Pro bono or skills-based volunteering can enable easier adaptation to our new virtual environment and generate value for all stakeholders involved.
Mr. Blasioli concludes: “The ability to make a social impact is truly a universal desire. For many employees, the biggest hurdle to making a difference in the community is knowing where to look or having a way to turn a passion into action. By creating pro bono consulting projects, businesses have the ability to remove that hurdle and more easily connect their employees’ skills to organizations that can benefit from their support”.