With salaries rising by the day, it is a good time to be part of the corporate workforce in India. For three years now, Indians have received the highest salary hikes across Asia. For 2008, according to the Salary Trends Survey 2007-08 compiled by ECA International, a global human resource consultancy, Indians working with multinational corporations will receive an average hike of 14%—the highest in the world.
However, it is not just the salary package that is lifting employee morale. A number of companies today offer a range of initiatives to promote a sense of social well-being for their employees. This includes corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes that encourage employees to give back to society and, in turn, learn new skills and discover latent talents.
Volunteering is emerging as a mainstream activity today as everyone, from fresh engineers to senior executives, is devoting time, effort and money to make a difference to the lives of others. In Intel Corp.’s Matching Grants Programme, the company encourages its employees to invest time in select schools for underprivileged children, and for every 20 hours that a volunteer puts in, the company gives the school a grant of $80 from the Intel Foundation.
“Since the inception of the programme in December 2005, a total of Rs43 lakh has been monetized through volunteer hours,” says Sonia Shrivastava, CSR head, South Asia, Intel.
Such volunteering, Shrivastava adds, helps employees gain critical skills in areas such as interpersonal communication and teamwork, all of which are eventually put to use at the workplace.
Across the globe, volunteers of the Intel Teach programme have helped train 750,000 teachers to use technology and make learning more effective. The company’s Learn programme has already touched the lives of more than 4,000 children. In fact, 79% of Intel employees volunteered to take part in various activities under the Intel Involved programme.
The results have been very promising. For instance, in the year-long Intel For a Better Bannerghatta Project in Bangalore, an effort to make the Bannerghatta Biological Park litter-free and to create environmental awareness, more than 6,000 volunteer hours were invested in setting up information boards and kiosks, cleaning the park and educating visitors against teasing and feeding animals and littering plastic. At the end of the campaign, the park was declared a 100% plastic-free zone.
Similarly, global networking major Cisco Systems Inc. runs two India-specific initiatives. Under the company’s Feed the Child campaign, each employee contribution of Rs500 is matched by grants from multiple forums, including the Cisco Foundation and the John Morgridge Foundation, to raise Rs2,000, which is used to give a child one afternoon meal for one full year with the help of Akshaya Patra Foundation an initiative of International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
In the second initiative, for every hour of volunteer work an employee puts in with a Cisco-approved non-governmental organization, the company pays Rs400 to the NGO. “These activities enhance an individual’s understanding of the nation and of the digital divide. They learn to do more with less and be more inclusive,” says Aravind Sitaraman, vice-president and managing director, Cisco Development Organization, India.
Sumeet Aggarwal, 29
Engineer, Cadence Design Systems India Pvt. Ltd, Noida (UP)
“I believe that every individual has a social responsibility quotient and most people are searching for a channel and the right opportunity to let it show,” says Sumeet Aggarwal. For the last seven years, since he joined the electronic design company, Aggarwal has spent most of his weekends teaching math and science to Class IX and X students at the company-supported Vidya and Child Project in Delhi.
Aggarwal has been part of a large fund-raising activity for a school that his company helped set up, raising more than Rs27 lakh to house at least 500 children in a school that once just had 10 students on its rolls. He credits his voluntary work for an array of new skill sets he has now acquired. “I am a design engineer by training. I had no exposure to start something new or the ability to organize events on a large scale until I began to engage in voluntary work,” he says.
Aggarwal is also involved with parental counselling at the school and won a $500 (Rs19,850) cash award, sponsored by his employers, for demonstrating exceptional leadership skills last year. From “Make a Child Smile”—an initiative where he taught children from slums the basics of computers—to a full-fledged voluntary commitment to Vidya and Child Project, Aggarwal has waded into volunteering with gusto. “We take interest in counselling the parents because it is important that they understand the value of education among their children. We have to ensure that all the bright children in the school get the opportunity to go on to study further,” says Aggarwal.
Seema Dharmakumar, 24
Senior design engineer, MindTree Consulting Ltd, Bangalore
In 2005, when she joined MindTree Consulting, a Bangalore-based software services exporter, Seema Dharmakumar realized that she had signed in for more than just a day job. She was drawn to the active volunteering choices her employer offered and was soon a member of a group of enthusiasts who visit a school set up on the outskirts of the city, every third Saturday of the month, for children of Sri Lankan refugees.
In 2006, Dharmakumar helped the children with lessons in math, Kannada and social sciences.
These days, she works more as a coordinator who organizes the classes and ensures that there are sufficient volunteers to pitch in every month. “Since we started, 10 students out of a class of 13 have passed their exams while earlier just two or three would get through,” she says.
All the volunteers, under the action group called Technologists for Social Action, also pitch in at a home for the aged. “These are young engineers who work in the privileged environment of the Indian IT industry. We want them to see another facet of life,” says Abraham Moses, director, administration and facilities, MindTree Consulting.
Dharmakumar is also in touch with volunteers outside her company to ensure that volunteering remains an active and energized activity within the techie community. She says, “We also have a high-school teacher, a doctor and a number of like-minded volunteers from other public sector units such as Indian Space Research Organisation.”
Delores Rachel Blake, 36
Cisco Systems India Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore
Three years ago, when she first joined Cisco Systems in Bangalore, Delores Rachel Blake set up a Christmas tree in the office and asked her colleagues to donate gifts for an orphanage in the city. The tree was festooned with soaps, shampoos, and even money, and Blake was overwhelmed by the response. When she was told about Cisco’s “Giving Back” programme, Blake didn’t think twice before joining it. Under the programme, the company ties up with various NGOs in the city and sends its employees to take part in a range of activities to help the community. Blake chose the National Association for the Blind and now spends an average of three days every quarter, organizing events such as art classes, picnics and games where groups of 20 people participate. “Being a volunteer has helped me control my anger and be patient at my workplace,” she says.
Blake has been a volunteer all through her three-year stint at Cisco Systems and feels it is a passion made possible by the support from her employers. At Cisco, volunteering at company-approved NGOs is a recognized activity, and employees can schedule time off work to engage in these initiatives. Sometimes, Blake puts in extra hours at work with her manager’s approval. “This way I can schedule 4-5 hours off even on a working day. For instance, if we have an event scheduled for a weekday, I speak to my manager and put in extra hours on other days. If that is not possible, we ensure that we organize events only on weekends,” says Blake.
Praveen Nair, 27
Technical lead, Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore
Praveen Nair has been an active volunteer for more than three years now under the Intel Involved umbrella, the CSR activity the company runs in India. Even during his student days in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Nair was an active member of the local Rotary Club’s social action programmes. “There is a certain amount of sacrifice involved in giving up your free time on Saturdays, especially after you have put in 10 hours of work on weekdays,” he says.
But Nair is clear why he spends an average of five hours on most weekends at a non-profit organization (NGO) for rural children on the outskirts of Bangalore. “It makes me happy,” he says. It is this joy of giving which draws Nair to the Children’s Lovecastle Trust (CLT), an NGO based on the outskirts of Bangalore. The Intel Computer Clubhouse at the centre is manned by 10 volunteers who teach computer skills, English, math and science to children from neighbourhood villages every weekend.
Nair is also a regular at the Friday evening training session at his workplace, where volunteers are given soft skills training on community issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness and environment protection. Spending time with the underprivileged, Nair says, has helped him separate want from need in his personal life. “I have a better perspective of life when I get back to work on Monday morning,” he says.
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