Bringing Volunteerism To Corporate Culture

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All over the world, companies spend considerable effort on team building, leadership development and creating a corporate culture. One of the most popular methods is corporate volunteering, which channels a small part of a company's human resources into community projects.

Not so in Russia. Such projects are few and far between. With managers struggling to attract scarce resources, volunteering takes a low priority.

But Russia's labor market is becoming increasingly competitive, and that will ultimately lead companies in Russia to encourage their employees to become more active in the community. Companies that treat people with respect will be able to attract -- and retain -- highly qualified people. These employees will have a strong sense of loyalty, and they will be willing to dedicate that extra bit of energy to the company -- not because they have to, but because they want to.

In Russia, over the last few years, philanthropy has gained in popularity. The generosity of the country's more than 100 billionaires is well publicized, but employers need to be more active in "democratizing" philanthropy by encouraging their rank-and-file employees to be more active in charitable causes.

Corporate volunteering should not be understood as simply giving money to worthy causes. Employee engagement programs break down barriers between employees and place a premium on cooperation, communication, teamwork, quick decision-making and thinking out of the box.

For example, Johnson & Johnson staff recently devoted a day to analyzing the obstacles to hiring disabled people. They now hire a number of disabled people and have set an example that is being followed by other companies.

Coca-Cola's "Green Teams" have participated in environmental cleanups throughout Russia, and employees of the St. Petersburg company Vodokanal teach environmental awareness to children at the company's ecological center.

Corporate volunteering enhances a company's local reputation and its attractiveness as an employer. Furthermore, such programs help to reduce the gap, sometimes real, sometimes perceived, between the rich and poor, the haves and have-nots.

Creating a comfort zone between individual employees, the companies they work for and the communities in which they live, brings tangible benefits to all three. That is the point at which business and society truly begin to find common cause.

Brook Horowitz is executive director of the International Business Leaders Forum in Russia.