Organizing for Pro Bono in India

Takeaways from the IMPACT 2030 India Roundtable

When employee engagement initiatives consist of skills-based pro bono service delivery, this is not charity. It is not a uni-directional donation of support for poor or deserving organizations. Pro bono engagements have repeatedly proven to create benefits to all three stakeholders: the participating employee, the host organization, and the sending corporation. The impacts for each group can be profound, and efforts to expand these opportunities are continuing to ramp up.

In the context of India, with its vast growth potential and similarly broad wealth disparity, the continued adoption of pro bono programs among national and multi-national companies holds great promise. In late March, the IMPACT 2030 India Roundtable convened 18 organizations in Bangalore to discuss the path forward. In my capacity as the India Country Director at PYXERA Global, which, since 2009 has supported more than 50 pro bono teams comprising over 600 participants to engage with over 150 Indian organizations, I was given the opportunity to speak about the triple benefits of pro bono engagements.

IMPACT 2030 is a global, private sector-led coalition that works in collaboration with the United Nations, public and social sectors, and academia to align human capital investments–in the form of employee pro bono engagement–to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Global Voice Lead of IMPACT 2030 in India, Mr. Subrahmanyam Ivatury, is also CEO and co-founder of Social Convergence. It is through his pro bono work and advocacy that the IMPACT 2030 Roundtable was organized in Bangalore.

The Roundtable’s objective is to convene like-minded, motivated organizations to brainstorm, identify, and discuss the present day requirements around corporate employee volunteering. In the process of exchanging ideas, sharing best practices, and outlining innovative methods of implementation, we affirmed our dedication to building a strong model for corporate volunteering in India. The ideas generated here will help create the framework for a new culture of volunteering, with benchmarks that can be reported to the United Nations as they take shape.

The Roundtable’s objective is to convene like-minded, motivated organizations to brainstorm, identify, and discuss the present day requirements around corporate employee volunteering. In the process of exchanging ideas, sharing best practices, and outlining innovative methods of implementation, we affirmed our dedication to building a strong model for corporate volunteering in India.

Speaking afterwards about the goals of the Roundtable, Ivatury said, “We wanted to run pilots, test the waters, and get responses and feedback from the participants. It surpassed all my expectations as everyone felt that there was a value in this Roundtable and we need to continue such forums and discussions.”

Ivatury opened the convening with an introduction to IMPACT 2030 and asked participants, how can we build on the IMPACT 2030 vision here in India?  “I was very happy to see the focus that organizations are putting into this space,” he said. “There was a wide range of practices followed and clearly there is a learning for all.”

The opening remarks were followed by two in-depth presentations; the first from Thomas TT of IBM India, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, followed by Gunjan Patel of SAP India, Corporate Social Responsibility Asia Pacific, Japan, and India. Each speaker described their respective innovative programs in pro bono employee engagement.

Thomas highlighted IBM’s Corporate Service Corps program, which is a worldwide, pioneering global model for skills-based pro bono engagements. Among other examples, he also described the Impact Grants program, which helps recipient educational and not-for-profit organizations to enhance their IT infrastructure, leadership, and technology skills. The grants provide pro bono consultations with IBM experts as well as access to IBM technology.

Gunjan introduced the SAP Social Sabbatical program and described its three levels of engagement. These include the Social Sabbatical for Global Engagement, where multinational teams of high-potential participants work on pro bono consulting projects in emerging markets for 4-weeks; the Social Sabbatical for Regional Engagement, where, as part of leadership development, highly skilled participants engage with beneficiaries away from their home office and home country, potentially, but within the same region; and the Social Sabbatical for Local Engagement, where participants work within their own city. The Local program is an inventive model of virtual and onsite support to non-governmental organization (NGO) partners.

Each organization represented at the Roundtable then presented their CSR programs. I was interested to discover the number of organizations at which a portion of the volunteering was employee-led. In other words, the employees have the freedom to choose their NGO partners or their preferred themes of work for volunteering, sometimes accompanied by donations from their company. These companies believe that if an employee is volunteering their free time, it should be driven by their passion and beliefs.

As the presentations moved around the table, the final remarks came from Professor PD Jose of IIT-Bangalore who emphasized that all engagements must have a purpose of bringing impact and positive change. These remarks resonated with me because aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require intentional thought and focus.

Ivatury delineated key takeaways from the introduction round:

  • Senior Management Focus: Buy-in from Senior Management is key to more active volunteer engagement.
  • Celebration of Volunteers: Awards and recognition programs are important motivators.
  • Goal-Based Programs: Organizations need to set long-term and short-term goals based on what they would like to achieve in the volunteering space.
  • Pro Bono Consulting and Capacity Building: Some mature organizations have this focus, which can make a transformational impact on the NGO and the individual.
  • Planned Activities: Adequate preparation from the corporate side, the participant side, and the NGO side is critical.
  • Collaborative Approach: Most organizations saw merit if they could pool their resources and work on collaboration models.
  • Input Measures to Output Measures: Social impact measurement is an important topic due to the relative importance of measuring outcomes, more so than input or numbers of hours and volunteers.

Ultimately, the discussion that followed revealed two major themes:

  1. The need for organizations to follow best practices. The organizations in attendance were interested in capturing and documenting best practices that emerged from the discussion to be the basis for further discussions and thinking.
  2. The need for collaborative models. For the member organizations of IMPACT 2030 India, increased impact from pro bono and employee engagement programs can be found in new models of collaboration. The consensus was to explore ideas to answer the question: How can 1 + 1 = more than 2?

The convening at IMPACT 2030 was highly productive as member organizations agreed on proactive steps toward constructing partnership models. Through a participatory process, the next steps were determined: compile best practices from within and outside the group, and use them to design and implement innovative models for purposeful collaborations. There is a common understanding about the potential in the goals of IMPACT 2030 India. Using the SDGs as a guiding framework, the broad implementation of a successful employee engagement model will trigger a multiplier effect of shared value creation to confront India’s systemic challenges.

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