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The Good Samaritan way to career growth

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December 09, 2014
Business Line
Meera Siva

The Good Samaritan way to career growth

Is there a way to boost your career by spending time away from work?

bl-the-good-samaritan-way-to-career-growthLong work days, being on call 24/7 – these are now “required” to keep your job, rather than “extras” to enhance your prospects. But what if there is a way to boost your career while spending time away from work? Volunteering is one such opportunity. If you work in a large organisation, chances of finding fora that help employees sign-up for causes close to their heart are high. These do-good avenues may have the added benefit of enhancing your career growth.

Gain visibility

One immediate and direct pay-off if you are active in a social service programme is gaining visibility. “Through CSR work, volunteers get the opportunity to interact with people at all levels,” says Susmita Malik, Global CSR Leader, Genpact, a global organisation with 45,000 employees in India.

She cites the example of Sucharita Thakur at its Hyderabad facility. She has been a volunteer since 2009; from the time she was a middle manager. Over the years, she has also received a great deal of recognition for her CSR work, including from her business leaders. Today, in addition to being a senior training leader at the site, she is well-known at the nearly 14,000-strong centre as the face of CSR for Hyderabad, thanks to her meeting and interacting with people across the site for non-profit work.

Learn project management

Managing voluntary initiatives – where you are crunched for funding, people and other support – offers valuable lessons for managing projects. “In the corporate world, we have access to resources, but that is not the case with non-profits, which are severely constrained. Working with them changes people’s view of managing project and time,” says Vidya Shah, CEO of EdelGive Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Edelweiss group.

Cognizant, which counts 37 instances of volunteering a day as of October 2014, has many such examples says Archana Raghuram, Global Programme Director, Cognizant Outreach, of its volunteer programme. For example, you will find a fresh graduate leading a group that has many senior members. “Youngsters get a chance to envision and execute projects in schools they support, giving them very valuable project management experience,” she notes.

There are pay-offs at a larger level too, by way of leadership skills. For instance, you know that rallying a team towards a vision and building a team that shares the same passion is the stuff leaders are made of. And this is what you acquire when you take up a cause and convince others at the workplace to join in.

Leadership training

Genpact has recognised the important role volunteering plays in building leaders; it has therefore included this as a part of its Gold Leadership development programme. “Participants spend a day visiting schools or an under-developed neighbourhood to take up some work,” says Malik. Similarly, data from Cognizant shows that 90 per cent of volunteers in leadership positions felt that the volunteer programme had a positive impact on their ability to understand and collaborate with people and find solutions to problems.

An important aspect of leadership is communication. At Genpact, volunteers often have to go around the premises addressing groups as large as 200-300 people to sign-up volunteers for a programme – which helps hone communication skills. Thanks to the marketing skills of its volunteers, the company also boasts of over 10,000 employees enrolled in a payroll donation programme through GiveIndia.

There are many practical examples too. SS Mangal Nates, an Associate at Cognizant who has been volunteering for a career guidance programme from the time he joined as a trainee, says, “My experiences have helped me improve my leadership and communication skills. Recently I was required to create a product from scratch and sell it. The skills I learnt when volunteering helped me do a good job,” he says.

Company’s gain

So what is in it for the company, you wonder? For one, they find that volunteering motivates employees. Raghuram says that employees feel empowered when they have the freedom to choose and sponsor projects dearest to them. “Excelling in their real-life goals on the field leads to higher motivation in the workplace as well,” she says.

There is also a better sense of belonging and bonding among employees as they make new friends from diverse backgrounds. Malik says that the opportunity to volunteer is seen as a privilege offered to employees. As they find working for a higher goal very satisfying, they see it as a benefit provided by the company, make the company an employer of choice.