The Corporate Volunteering Gap in Social Impact

By Rena Tang 


Singapore’s social impact sector has come a long way since its humble beginnings. From clan and religious-based philanthropy in the 1800s, to the birth of various organisations that were later reconstructed into established ministries, the sector has evolved into a broader landscape that encompasses non-governmental organisations, businesses and many more. 

Today, the social impact sector includes various initiatives and social enterprises that serve different communities or have their own unique purposes. Singapore’s youth have been proactive in their contributions to the social impact sector. Many of them have started nonprofits to support the underserved communities as well as to advocate for policy change. There are also new programs such as social impact guarantees, which are similar to outcome-based funding.

However, despite these developments, there are still areas for growth in the sector. One of which is the area of volunteering and the challenges that accompany it. 

overviewImage designed by Chloe Lin; courtesy of Solve n+1

As a short-term volunteer, or an inexperienced individual offering to extend their help, a common struggle is the inability to understand the complexity of social issues. Oftentimes, there are assumptions that we make about giving to the poor unknowingly, which could pose an obstacle in meeting their needs. One example of this is in giving food to the poor, the assumptions we make about them shapes the way we interact with them. Often, they do not have a say in the food that they receive, and this raises questions about what should be prioritized - giving them autonomy and variety in their food choices, or food that efficiently meets their dietary requirements? This topic is addressed in the book Beneath The Rug.

While volunteering does benefit the community and has its positive impacts, it may not always be sustainable. Volunteering cannot be a long-term solution to everything, especially in providing critical social services or fixing systematic problems. This is because volunteers may lack the professional training and depth in understanding to properly support those with specialized needs. Furthermore, volunteers may not be able to make commitments for long periods of time. 

As we consider the above, it is no longer solely about the act of volunteering itself. We need to make change on a larger, more sustainable scale. There needs to be a structural shift in the way we play our part in doing good. In order to do this, we should examine how our business and everyday work can create social impact. 

Even though there has been an increasing development of ESG goals in companies, they are oftentimes not holistic nor a priority. Many companies focus overwhelmingly on the environmental aspect and disregard the social aspect. Yet, this is a crucial aspect that requires support from companies and businesses, and there is an opportunity here to make a change. Regardless of the nature of the business or whichever sector they are in, businesses can integrate social goals into their long term plans. 

When a business offers a service or product of value, it should benefit people in a sustainable way. The value of  social impact helps to build trust with stakeholders and strengthens the relationship. Having goals that are focused on a good cause bigger than the company itself also creates a greater sense of purpose for employees. These goals need to be integrated into the core of a company’s strategy and corporate identity.

For corporate leaders to make a significant change in their company, here are 2 methods companies can adopt to create more meaningful social impact: 

#1 Building a Long-Term Partnership

partnershipImage via Rawpixel

Social impact is not simply about a box-ticking culture, with standardized ESG activities. As ESG performance is coming under the spotlight more often, companies must look to more fundamental drivers, especially their business strategy and operations. 

In creating a strategic ESG program, corporate leaders should be aware of emerging themes in ESG so that they can gain competitive advantage using it. In order to do this, leaders should consider and evaluate various actors in the system, and identify any action or interventions that could drive change. One of which is to alter short-term pro-bono work or one-off corporate volunteering days into a long-term relationship building process with selected beneficiaries/NGOs. 

A usual lament by our corporate clients suggests that their employees could improve on their current ways of giving to be more meaningful. While we have come up with Bespoke CSR strategies, an up and coming approach for corporate social impact is to partner and journey with NGOs for a prolonged period. By doing so, the synergy between MNCs and NGOs would create a more resilient and sustainable strategy for greater social impact. 

#2 Driving a Clearer Purpose and Understanding

kellogImage courtesy of Solve n+1

Even with ESG goals and impact metrics, there needs to be a clearer sense of purpose and understanding from the ground. While change is often driven from management, social impact will not be as effective and innovative unless it is supported by the employees. 

To counter this, organizations have to identify a corporate social impact purpose and build a culture around it, in order for their employees to adopt an authentic understanding about social impact. Solve n+1 has had the privilege of sharing this vision with Kellogg’s Singapore, who bought 100 copies of Beneath the Rug for their employees. Kellogg’s saw the value in equipping their employees to first understand the complexities of social issues, as it would mould the way their organisation structures its goals and company’s core values. 

“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” – Winston Churchill.

Most companies desire to create a lasting impact and build an impressionable legacy for their organisation. It’s time for us to make a change and take a step forward in integrating work and social impact. 


This article was originally appeared on Solve n+1 Insights. It has been republished by Social Space with their kind permission.