On June 13, 2013, I attended a Forum on International Corporate Volunteerism hosted by the US Department of State and USAID. This was my second time visiting the Department of State, thanks to Atlas Corps (for first the opportunity) and CDC Development Solutions, my host organization. It was a pleasure listening to seasoned professionals such as Drew O’ Brien (Special Representative for Global Partnerships), Stan Litow (President, IBM Foundation), Michael Deal (Executive Director and CEO, VEGA Alliance), our very own Deidre White (President and CEO, CDC Development Solutions) and more. This forum brought together professionals from corporate, government and civil society organizations to discuss, from their perspectives, the importance of International Corporate Volunteerism (ICV) and to share best practices.

ICV can be described as provision of global pro bono service by corporations. Employees of such corporations are allowed a paid period of time to provide pro bono service to communities. Organizations noted to be involved in ICV programs include IBM, Pfizer, Dow Corning, John Deere and so on. Beneficiaries of ICV range from governments to NGOs and the private sector. While some partner with intermediary organizations (usually non-profit) to handle logistic arrangements of their ICV programs, other corporations tend to manage all aspects of their ICV programs. ICV programs are mostly targeted at issues concerning agriculture, education, health, technology, leadership, operations, strategic planning and many more.

The main difference between ICV and traditional CSR or international philanthropic activities is that ICV may not necessarily be about giving out material donations but rather the focus is on not only providing skills based volunteering but also strengthening host organizations capacity. This reinforces the notion of teaching how to fish as opposed to just providing fish. As expressed by speakers at this Forum, the mutual benefits of ICV cannot be overemphasized. While beneficiaries receive free services with the objective of solving existing problems, corporations obtain opportunities in developing their employees. ICV creates opportunities for shared values and improving cultural adaptability. As problems of host organizations are solved corporations also increase their competitiveness and markets.

A number of positive changes towards development have made through the different ICV programs. However, a lesson I took from this forum is that, looking even at the shared values and benefits of such programs for every stakeholder, more other corporations would need to go beyond their CSR programs to engage in ICV. We can imagine what huge difference can be made if each corporation were involved in some sort of ICV activity. The challenge at hand though would be the full sustainability of impacts being made.

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