Skills-Based Volunteers Help the United Nations Achieve the Millennium Development Goals

In 1985, the United Nations passed a resolution to honor the efforts of the countless men and women who have dedicated their time to international development efforts. This year, International Volunteer Day (IVD 2014) marks a global celebration of volunteerism, honoring people’s participation in making a change at all levels.

Volunteers provide important support to social impact organizations in a number of capacities and increasingly corporate volunteers, using their skills on cross-border pro bono assignments, are becoming a critical way for companies to support the UN’s efforts to make progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

#1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Countless efforts are underway to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, reinforcing agricultural value chains and creating employment opportunities that have the ability to reinforce the lives and livelihoods of close to 2 billion people around the world. Over the past 15 years, these efforts have succeeded on many fronts, but one in nine people still remain hungry worldwide. A great deal more remains to be done.

Concepción Miró, has worked at “la Caixa,” one of Spain’s largest financial institutions, in loan and branch management since 1977. Last July, Miró joined CooperantesCaixa, a volunteer program led by “la Caixa” Foundation International Division, to support the Mozambican NGO Promoción y Desarrollo and its local partner Asociación Esmabama in improving agricultural production in Magunde, in Mozambique’s Chibabava district. In many of the region’s rural communities, ongoing food insecurity has left many in extreme poverty, lacking both basic services and work opportunities.

Miró supported the organization with practical training sessions on basic accounting, cost calculation, and work indicators. Miró’s work helped enable effective management at the organizational level, positively impacting the lives of more than 100 families in the region.

As a member of La Caixa Foundation’s volunteer program, CooperantesCaixa, Miró partnered with local NGOs to improve agricultural production in Magunde, in Mozambique’s Chibabava district

“It was a life lesson”, says Miró. “If I had to sum up my emotions and feelings in just one word it would be, without a doubt, GRATITUDE.” I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience firsthand a reality so familiar and yet so unknown: extreme poverty, the daily fight for survival, lack of basic services, but also people’s willingness to live and overcome their hardships.”

On the other side of the world, the PIMCO Foundation is working with coffee farmers in El Salvador to improve their production supply-chain. Over the last four years, 13 PIMCO volunteers have consulted on TechnoServe projects, performing strategic analysis and developing training tools that have reached more than 7,000 farmers, organizations, and businesses through its Emerging Enterprise Program (EEP).

John Cavalieri, a 2014 EEP volunteer consultant, spent two months developing a strategic plan to help El Salvador’s struggling coffee industry. His project required extensive research and interviews with the industry’s key players; he assessed the sector, formulated recommendations, and navigated a host of challenges along the way. Upon his return, John commented on how the experience had changed him and the community. “We grew professionally and personally, but also demonstrated that individuals can make a tangible, positive difference in others’ lives when good intentions are combined with a ‘won’t quit’ effort.”

#2 Achieve universal primary education

Over the past 15 years, a great number of nations have adopted universal primary education mandates that have enabled significant progress towards achieving this goal. While enrollment in primary education in developing regions has reached 90 percent, the quality of education in many countries remains poor.

Enter the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC), which works to integrate technology into classrooms and community centers to enrich learning, engage teachers, and inspire students to stay in school.

John Cartwright, a 17 year Intel veteran and recent finalist for the Intel Involved Volunteer Hero Award, began volunteering in international education programs across the world in 2011.

John Cartwright, a 17 year Intel veteran, was recently selected as a finalist for the Intel Involved Volunteer Hero Award, the company’s highest honor for employee volunteering. He started his connection to international education in 2011 as an IESC volunteer in Haiti, and has participated in the IESC three times as a technical expert and team leader. He also traveled to Nepal twice on his personal time in 2013 and 2014 to help two primary schools implement an adaptive English literacy program running on Intel laptops. Already, these engagements have demonstrated an incredible impact, doubling students’ scores on a standardized test for English fluency in the first six months of usage.

#3 Promote gender equality and empower women

When it comes to technology, Intel doesn’t just stop with education. Intel continues to seek ways to empower women through technology. Intel® She Will Connect is an audaciously ambitious multi-year plan to help close the technology “gender gap,” the damaging trend that has left hundreds of millions of young women in the developing world—especially in sub-Saharan Africa—on the technology sidelines, without the far-reaching economic and social benefits that Internet access can deliver. Recently, a team of five Intel women participating in IESC in South Africa spent time on the Intel® She Will Connect program, listening and learning from local young women about what they need to better themselves in the tech arena.

Palmira Camargo, a corporate attorney at PepsiCo, had the opportunity to support Heifer International in South Africa. She and her team worked to help the organization improve the quality of life of low-income families by developing sustainable agriculture, animal health care, and bee-keeping projects that will improve the lives of many in the community. To do this, they helped the leaders of the community form the Blouberg Farmers Business Association, an institution that would guide, train, and provide market opportunities to secure the future of 2,100 small farmers in the Blouberg area. At the same time, the team of three women mentored 12th grade girls from a local school and assisted them with their university applications.

Palmira Camargo and PepsiCorps teammates mentor 12th grade girls at a school in South Africa.

According to Palmira, “the work of NGOs, like Heifer International South Africa, is crucial to create awareness and promote gender equality among rural communities and to help women find their voice. Heifer encourages men and women to work side by side in equally respected roles and responsibilities, sharing in the decision making as well as in the benefits the animals and training bring.”

#4 Reduce child mortality

In Nigeria, 2,300 children under the age of five die every day—many due to preventable causes—making the country the second-highest contributor to the under-five mortality rate in the world.

In Nigeria’s Cross River State, IBM has been helping the state government address issues of infant mortality through health systems strengthening. Taiwo Otiti, the Country General Manager for IBM West Africa commented on the value of the collaboration with Cross River State:

“Our cooperation with the Cross River State Government has been mutually beneficial. Our consultants have been able to apply some of their global experience for the benefit of the local people. At the same time we’ve been able to gain valuable experience in tackling some of the most challenging healthcare issues and learning more about local approaches.”

What makes the project so special? IBM’s work with Cross River State began in 2009, following the successful completion of a one-month pro-bono project through IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC), a program that sends its best employees to the developing world for one month, bringing with them expertise in a range of disciplines. The IBM CSC team worked alongside the state government to help Project HOPE implement technology that would enable Nigerians access to free healthcare facilities located in remote villages. The success of the initial project led to additional CSC teams and a business contract between Cross River State and IBM.

#5 Improve maternal health

Merck has played a key role in the fight to improve maternal health through its Merck for Mothers initiative.

Leigh Anne Good, a Merck employee, volunteered to improve maternal health in Nairobi, Kenya with Jacaranda Health.

Merck employees Leigh Anne Good and Jill Croucher traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, as part of the company’s Richard T. Clark Fellowship program and for three months worked with Jacaranda Health, an organization that operates a network of private maternity clinics in resource-poor settings throughout Kenya to provide high-quality care at a reasonable cost.

Leigh Anne and Jill created a “customer service boot camp” to bolster Jacaranda Health’s community outreach efforts, to train community health workers, and to recommend a new communications platform to better integrate operations.

“We immediately felt part of Jacaranda. They welcomed us with open arms,” said Good.  “Training staff contributes to Jacaranda’s model of high-quality, respectful healthcare.” Their project supported Jacaranda’s goal of becoming the one of the largest provider of high-quality maternal care in East Africa.

In Cusco, Peru, Becton Dickinson partnered with IBM CSC to help CerviCusco deliver cervical cancer screenings to low-income women living in the remote Andes Mountains, where cervical cancer has a 37 percent mortality rate, and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. As part of the team, IBM employee Sujoy Sen helped develop a road map to enable CerviCusco to increase patient outreach from 35,000 to 75,000 women screened over the next 3 years.

Sen reflected on the impact of the project, on himself, his teammates, and the organization.

“What truly matters … isn’t always about the big, grand gestures (or presentation), but the little everyday actions which, over time, make a sustained impact. It is no surprise that each of our team members on this assignment is still working with CerviCusco to ensure the success of the clinic.”

#6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

Great strides have been made in the effort to reduce the rate of malaria fatality. The UN reports that 3.3 million malaria deaths were prevented over the past 12 years. But in some rapid growth markets, like Nigeria, a great deal remains to be done. Through their PULSE program, GSK has enabled their employees to use their skills to help the cause.

Paul Wannamaker, a Clinical Development Director in the Infectious Diseases Medicine Development Center at GSK, always wanted to volunteer abroad. Because of his skills in clinical study design and management, Paul was able to help Malaria Consortium implement a case control study to evaluate the effectiveness of Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention, a new antimalarial intervention, in northern Nigeria.

“Bed nets are available in some areas, and more are coming, but usage is not universal,” said Paul. “With this chemoprevention effort, three days of medication given each month during the rainy season could make a big difference in their lives.”

Following Paul’s assignment, patient admissions to the hospital for malaria went down. The Malaria Consortium team exceeded their targets for numbers of treated children, with children coming from regions outside the targeted areas because they had heard that there was a new and effective way to prevent malaria. For Paul, that was the strongest testament to the value and impact of his work.

#7 Ensure environmental sustainability

From 2000 to 2010, efforts to control deforestation were relatively successful in slowing global rates of deforestation, but in recent years, complex social and market factors have increased deforestation by nearly a third.

In Brazil, IBM CSC teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to help monitor land use and prevent illegal deforestation through better forest management.

In Brazil, IBM CSC has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to help monitor land use and prevent illegal deforestation through better forest management.  This project is closely aligned with the Brazilian government’s goal of decentralizing environmental management and building the capacity of local municipal governments to monitor private lands. The IBM CSC team and The Nature Conservancy worked together with local municipalities, recommending strategy, technology, and marketing improvements that will make it easier for Brazilian municipalities and landowners to comply with Brazil’s revised Forest Code. The project aligns closely with the IBM’s corporate objectives as well.

“This partnership with The Nature Conservancy provides an opportunity for IBM to exert environmental leadership on the ground that will balance the need for economic growth with the need to provide sustainable performance in the environmental space,” said Stanley Litow, the Vice President for Corporate Affairs who oversees the IBM CSC program. Additionally, the partnership can serve as a model for other countries across the globe seeking to leverage innovative technology to address deforestation issues.

#8 Develop a global partnership for development

This August, The Dow Chemical Company and IBM partnered with International Medical Corps (IMC) in an effort to improve the sanitation market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The work in Ethiopia was part of Leadership in Action, a novel program that joins Dow Sustainability Corps (DSC), the company’s skills-based employee engagement program, and Human Resources to offer a unique twist on leadership development. Dow collaborated with members of IBM CSC on a two-phase project resulting in IMC receiving critical project funding that will contribute to the organization’s long-term impact.

This last MDG is perhaps the hardest to measure, but one that aligns with nearly every example shared above. Global partnerships for development are a critical factor in achieving millennium development goals one through seven. Increasingly, corporations are interested in finding new and innovative ways to partner with a variety of stakeholders for sustainable social impact. In many ways, corporate volunteering programs represent companies’ commitment to sustainable development efforts, which will be even more critical in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals expected next fall.

Feature photo courtesy of “la Caixa”

Gavin Cepelak

Gavin Cepelak is the Director of International Corporate Volunteer Programs at PYXERA Global where he plays a lead role in developing, facilitating, and implementing global citizenship and volunteerism programs throughout the world.

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