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3 Reasons International Corporate Volunteering is the Hot New Employee Engagement Trend

By Melissa J. Anderson

Taking on international assignments has long been touted as a way for upcoming business leaders to build up their experience, and build a name for themselves. And as developing markets become the next big corporate investment area, many young and seasoned professionals are clamoring to go overseas. And one new way to do it is through international corporate volunteering.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Stanley S. Litow, President of IBM International Foundation, wrote about how international corporate volunteering is growing. “According to CDC Development Solutions, U.S. companies plan to dispatch nearly 2,000 employee volunteers to 58 nations this year, up from just 280 in 2006. That’s a fairly dramatic increase, probably because companies are realizing that such programs are a real boon in so many ways.

According to Marketwatch’s Deirdre White, IBM, Pfizer, and Dow Corning are all hosting international corporate volunteering programs. But these programs are not just about individual advancement, White and Litow explained. The programs help the growth of all parties involved. Here’s how.

1. Companies Gain Emerging Market Expertise

Corporate volunteers report back to headquarters with invaluable market expertise about how average local individuals really live – what their needs, desires, and daily practices are are really like. International corporate volunteering is an activity that can enable employees to perform service abroad, while also engaging in market research.

White explains, “…volunteer-sending companies are also gaining access and better understanding of new markets that have led to some commercial contracts — a rare win-win, especially in today’s complex and uncertain global economy.”

2. Leaders Develop High Performing Skillsets

Individual employees return to the company with unique knowledge and developed leadership ability, which benefits the company on a whole. After all, investing in leadership development can be a long and costly process. When employees engage in volunteering projects, they can develop these skills in a valuable, real-life situation, rather than sitting through endless courses and conferences.

White says, “When staff returns home, 90% said they are more resilient, stronger team players and can identify an entrepreneurial opportunity when it comes up. And nearly all — 97% — report they are more motivated to do their jobs, as their companies gain new insights and deeper understanding of key emerging markets.”

Not only are employee participants better at their jobs, but they’re more invested in the company as well. And because employee turnover is a costly issue for today’s workplaces, increased employee engagement is an attractive side effect of these types of programs.

3. Communities Build Talented Workforces

Finally, the value does not end with employees and companies. Local communities in which employee volunteers are based benefit as well. Litow wrote about a new collaboration between USAID, IBM, and CDC Development Solutions, building “essentially corporate versions of the Peace Corps.”

He writes:

“Employees in these programs… will provide vitally needed skilled service and valuable, practical advice to societies worldwide that are looking to improve local economic opportunities through their health and education systems, technology infrastructure and urban planning and development.”

International volunteering programs run by multinational corporations do more than boost progress in the home office. They are part of the vital development of talent in emerging markets. As career prospects in these communities grow, so do local economies, boosting standards of living and attracting further investment from abroad, contributing to the growth of the global workforce.

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