When was the last time you volunteered?
No, helping your best friend move into their new apartment doesn't count (after all, what are friends for?).
It feels good to make a difference in your community, whether you're making lunches in a soup kitchen or reading to a senior at a nursing home, but sometimes it has the added benefit of advancing your career. Volunteering at a food bank has never not looked good on a resume.
And more and more companies are offering their employees the opportunity to give back. At GSK, a global healthcare company, you have the option of taking part in the PULSE Volunteer Partnership or Orange Day programs. PULSE is a skills-based opportunity where eligible employees are paired with nonprofit organizations for a mission, either in the United States or abroad, for up to six months. Orange Days give all employees one paid day off each year to volunteer for their chosen local community project.
We spoke with three different GSK employees from all across the globe about what volunteering means to them.
New to Volunteering
As part of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Y Hafiz worked to save children's lives by improving access to ORS and Zinc for diarrhea management in rural parts of Uganda.
He had never traveled outside his home in India, had never really been away from his family. The first night in his hotel he could remember staring at the walls wondering just what had he done. Volunteering wasn't very common in India as it was seen as being a hindrance to one's career, let alone traveling to Africa for six months where he didn't know a single soul.
But he perserved and drew upon his sales and marketing background to help lower prices with private sector wholesalers for much-needed medicine that would ultimately save children's lives.
“It has really changed my life," Hafiz admits. He started training programs in business management and for sales and marketing while there. He had never really trained anyone before but he came to realize that he was actually good at it.
Challenging himself in new ways has given him a newfound confidence. It was something that was not lost on his co-workers and area managers when he returned from his mission. He had developed real leadership skills and gained a newfound appreciation for the life-saving medications he helped bring to market.
If you're new to volunteering like Hafiz, be open to your new environment, whether you're living somewhere for 6 months or only there for the day. The people you meet can help you to not only learn about their different experiences, but also about yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses.
“It was a very personal journey," Geri Harris says when she reflects on her time volunteering for the Philadelphia Education Fund. “The reason I did it was not for professional advancement. I wanted to dedicate the time to get in touch with the community in a way I never had."
She was born and raised in Philadelphia and she had deep ties to the community, despite having moved to North Carolina where she's a Business Performance Director.
The Philadelphia Education Fund works to improve outcomes for the city's students by developing and improving teacher preparedness, but also by creating a college-and-career mindset amongst the students. For her assignment, Geri assisted the group's teacher network by creating a forum where an informal group of teachers could come together to learn outside of the classroom from their peers. There, they could get away from the island of their classrooms and learn different pieces of the curriculum. Additionally, she helped to create a website where the teachers could also connect virtually.
“I want to cast this shadow for my children," Geri says. “You have to be connected to this world." Today, Geri continues to give back, having done work for Rise Against Hunger and volunteering at her children's school. She even brings her daughters along with her so they can learn the importance of helping those in need.
Unlike Hafiz and Geri, Jon Warburton is just getting started in his career where he is currently an electro-mechanical engineering apprentice. At just 18 years old, the UK teenager gives STEM presentations for GSK at local schools, inspiring kids to seek out careers with a heavy emphasis on science and mathematics.
While he's passionate about helping children he admits that “it can be really difficult to get people interested. You just have to have that spark. Once you've got that spark, it's a bit like oxygen. As long as you give them fuel, you light the fire."
Even for Jon, it was almost a bridge too far. At the age of 14, coincidentally, a GSK ambassador gave a presentation on being an apprentice at his school. At the time, he hadn't given it much thought. When he was applying for other apprenticeships a year later, he was encouraged by his father to apply just to have the experience of interviewing for it. After touring GSK's Maidenhead offices and seeing some of the equipment he would get to work on firsthand, he was hooked.
It's a full circle moment for him. By speaking to kids about the value of his own apprenticeship and STEM careers, he's not just helping them figure out their own career goals, central to his volunteering is the idea of putting himself before others and paying it forward.
Volunteering can be deeply personal and while it means many different things to the individuals that sacrifice their own time and energy, the outcomes are the same—however small, you're having a positive effect on your community. Doing good feels good.
And there are a number of ways you can get involved. Look around your community and see where you can offer help, or ask what type of volunteering opportunities your company offers. Maybe they give back to an important cause, or host monthly volunteer groups. But if they don't, try approaching your HR department about how your company could start to give back.
So, again, we ask, when was the last time you volunteered?