Philanthropy with a passion
“I work for a company that places character above all other qualities in the people it hires – a company that honours and respects individual initiative at every level of the business,” Edwin L. Artzt, Proctor & Gamble’s CEO between 1990 and 1995, once said.
These words of empowerment still ring true across the global organisation today, especially where it concerns corporate social responsibility. Artzt was heralding a company-wide employer brand that would be built around giving back to the less fortunate.
Employee-driven volunteering initiatives are a key part of this belief in action. The Beyond Borders: Fingerprints programme, which started out of Procter & Gamble’s Asia-Pacific offices in 2012, is a prime example.
It was kick-started by employees like Sameer Srivastav, sales and marketing lead for Procter & Gamble’s Asia-Pacific skin and personal care division, who had previously offered volunteer work sporadically over the years. Now also the Beyond Borders: Fingerprints programme director, Srivastav says this organisation-wide skill-based volunteering initiative is not about house painting, or food donations. The programme also isn’t driven by management, making staff feel obliged to participate in it.
Rather, Beyond Borders: Fingerprints aims to empower employees to use their work expertise and knowledge to advise social enterprises and non-government organisations (NGOs) in need of guidance.
“Many of us were asking: ‘How can I help out beyond just spending an afternoon at the elderly home?’,” Srivastav recalls. “We loved those experiences and we started to realise that we’re good at marketing, finance, and HR. How can we actually use our skills to help the less fortunate?”
Beyond Borders: Fingerprints has evolved over the last five years into a bouquet of programmes, including the recently-launched Pro Bono School and a three-month all-expenses paid sabbatical programme for Procter & Gamble staff to work with non-profit partners assisting women and children in developing countries.
One key outcome of the initiative, says Srivastav, has been that employees do not have to leave the organisation in order to volunteer and contribute their time. While Beyond Borders: Fingerprints is an employee-led initiative, it would not have been possible if the company did not highly value and encourage philanthropy.
Procter & Gamble Asia President Magesvaran Suranjan, in particular, regularly promotes Beyond Borders: Fingerprints and its programmes in his townhall speeches, actively encouraging employees to sign up with the effort.
The organisation also has an official leave policy that makes it possible for employees to take up to three-month sabbaticals to work full-time with NGOs.
Procter & Gamble understands that brand visibility is important for all companies. But for NGOs and non-profits, increasing awareness and connecting with the general public is often vital.
And there is no better teacher than a company with 175 years of consumer marketing experience.
Through the Pro Bono School, launched in June 2016, Procter & Gamble employees like communications manager Katherine Leow have been able to impart their marketing expertise and share best practices with NGOs, equipping them with the skillsets to boost awareness and market their brands effectively.
As the programme’s name suggests, these sessions are conducted free of charge for the participating organisations.
Each one not only has the opportunity to learn strategies and sharpen their skills with Procter & Gamble’s experts, but they can also continue to consult with and seek advice from them after the session has ended.
Leow, along with some 20 other Procter & Gamble leaders, spent an afternoon last December at the second coaching session of the Pro Bono School, working with organisations such as World Vision and addressing their social media challenges in particular.
Singapore Red Cross, Singapore Focus on the Family, Habitat for Humanity, and the Society for the Physically Disabled were among the other social organisations present.
Leow, who has volunteered for each of the eight years that she has been with Procter & Gamble, says she joined Beyond Borders: Fingerprints out of her “passion for philanthropy” and desire to do more than just her day-to-day work.
She has been deeply involved with Beyond Borders as a committee member, playing a role in strategy, planning, and event design and execution. Leow also runs the Beyond Borders: Fingerprints Facebook page.
She says these coaching sessions have proven to be “win-win” for both her and the NGOs.
“It’s been very useful because the difference is when I work with social media agencies, we are not restricted by money. Now, especially with NGOs, we have to work with their limitations, including how not to shove pictures and ideas into people’s faces.
“And this helps me with my work as well, which I bring back with me,” explains Leow.
This development benefit for the participating volunteers is also proving to be a key benefit for Procter & Gamble itself.
“Employees who are a part of these programmes actually come back feeling more energised, and more effective and focused in their work,” says Srivastav.
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