Over 100 people took part in a symposium at the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, Worcester College yesterday to understand more about how businesses can support the community by sharing time, talent and skills – and boost staff leadership potential at the same time.
The event was staged by OCF to inspire members of the charity’s Reciprocate responsible business group to think about employee volunteering with an open mind. Sponsored by the Beard Charitable Foundation, the symposium was a chance to bring together around 100 local businesspeople to demonstrate the huge range of ways they can volunteer – from occasional help at a charity event, to becoming a trustee or board member for a community organisation.
Opening the event, OCF’s Chief Executive Jayne Woodley said: “When the OCF team started collecting ‘impact pledges’ from Reciprocate members last year, many of them expressed a real interest in finding a more effective way of offering the time and talent of their employees. Whilst many businesses already had some form of supported employee volunteering schemes, uptake was low, and there was a unanimous request for more information, more support and better signposting around the various shapes and forms volunteering can take. Hence the rationale for this symposium.”
Delegates learnt that sharing their time and skills was of mutual benefit – not just to community and charitable organisations, but also to employees in terms of their personal and career development. Beard’s Chairman Mark Beard said: “My personal experience is that there comes a time in life when leadership training courses and the like deliver an ever-diminishing return, and the best way to learn is to get out there and gain a variety different personal experiences.”
Speakers from Handelsbanken, Landsec and Blake Morgan all told of the personal flourishing they had experienced thanks to volunteer roles on boards, which included chairing a homeless charity, being a trustee for a local advice centre, and being involved with a charity that supports children with their mental health. “It’s taken me completely out of my day job and opened my eyes to the complexity of the problems,” commented William Downing, a senior lawyer who has been a trustee of Homeless Oxfordshire for eight years. “Volunteering is also beneficial to your business – I have learnt management and communication skills that I couldn’t have picked up from a training course. Businesses should allow time for people to commit.” Clive Johnson, a member of the senior management team at Landsec, commented simply and memorably: “It adds real purpose to my life.”
Following a panel discussion, delegates attended a series of interactive breakout sessions where there was the chance to find out more about how volunteering could help with their personal development, the range of volunteering opportunities available, what exactly trusteeship involves, and how to prepare for the best experience. The morning closed with a Q&A chaired by Reciprocate associate Grant Hayward, which drew attention to the various resources available, including volunteering matching website oxonvolunteers.org, and a new Reciprocate handbook on employee volunteering, available to download here. Attendees were invited to request a call back from Miriam Chappell from Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action, who can run volunteering workshop sessions in the workplace or talk to individuals about opportunities.
Reciprocate Chair Richard Venables comments about the event: “One of the interesting things to come out of yesterday was the need for corporates to look at this as a journey that might start with small steps. Rather than reaching for the telescope to look for opportunities, they need to look with a microscope at their immediate environment and how they can make an immediate impact on their local community.” Some companies started this process at the event, connecting with charities and community organisations local to them, which were exhibiting in a ‘marketplace’ set-up in the foyer of the venue.
One attendee has blogged about the event here.