AVPN Conference 2014 – Strategic skills volunteering.


Fiona Halton

Fiona Halton

Fiona Halton

On the last full day of the AVPN Conference Naina Subberwal, the new Chief Executive of AVPN, announced that 392 people had attended the Conference from 244 organisations in 29 countries.  The sheer breadth of the Conference surprised me.

Naina talked with passion about the power and potential of AVPN as a cross- sector network.

Here is an example of that potential unleashed from my experience.  I am passionate about senior people from corporates giving their skills and money strategically. I had been asked to lead a session on it, as my experience of senior corporate volunteering now stretches over a decade. What I had not expected was to learn so much and be so stimulated by the breadth and depth of perspectives I was treated to. I certainly got more out than I put in.

Already my opening remarks had been shaped by Patsian Low from NVPC, Singapore. Patsian was convening her group in the next room from mine, and had, in a previous AVPN session, identified three types of volunteering: mass, task and strategic. Mass would be an activity like fun runs; task like giving book- keeping skills and strategic like advising or coaching the management of the non-profit.

Asked for a show of hands as to their involvement in each, the audience knew mass and task volunteering but were not so familiar with strategic skills volunteering.

Each speaker gave us fresh insight and touched often on strategic skills volunteering.

Liza Green, from Corporate Citizenship at Credit Suisse, manages volunteering for the bank across Asia. She gave a powerful insight. Liza said feedback from non-profit organizations underlined the value of combining skills with financial donations. While non-profits found donations alone beneficial, the donation of skills together with funds produced far more substantial results. Through this ‘combined giving’, Credit Suisse is able to make a sustained impact on its core partners’ project development and implementation.

Gary Luton, vice president from salesforce.com in Singapore, volunteer and leader of volunteers in his division, flipped the picture in that he spoke passionately about how much volunteering mattered to him and his team. He also talked about the business case of volunteering attracting talent to the company.

Gary affirmed Liza’s observations with The Salesforce.com Foundation’s 1,1,1 philosophy: giving time, money and product to good causes.

Brian Gillies, serial entrepreneur, from Scotland to Singapore, is a volunteer turned founder of volunteering initiatives, Brian spoke about how his strategic skills volunteering for the skills broker, Pilotlight, was the win/win/win Gary had described. Brian’s experience was that, managed properly, volunteering can be a win for the non-profits, win for the business, in terms of skills gained, and win for individuals. He talked about the glow he got when he woke up in the night and thought about what he had been doing when he volunteered. Brian liked strategic volunteering so much he revealed he is setting up TalentTrust to run strategic skills volunteering in Singapore.

Then Urvashi Devidayal who manages the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s TrustLaw programme for South Asia gave sharp insights into the management of skills. Urvashi’s experience is in managing lawyers across different companies and countries to give pro bono skills to non-profits who need them.  She stressed managing expectations, carrying out due diligence when taking on non-profits and framing the request to donors for help correctly.

The audience wanted to know more about starting corporate programmes for a company’s leadership; whether leaders truly became involved and what the barriers were (time, different cultures and language being three).

At the end of the session there was a lot of exchanging of talk and cards. It was all about learning and connection.

I saw learning and connection happening time and time again at AVPN. And an underlying curious and can-do attitude from participants that was so exhilarating.

Doug Miller, Founder and Chair of AVPN, summed it up well. He talked of huge problems facing us all but his answer being three words: “can’t”; “urgent” and “system change”. For “can’t” Doug said read “opportunity”. For “urgent” read that things have to be done so “start now”, whether or not we achieve in our lifetime. And Doug felt that “system change “is the way to go. We all need to connect, non-profits, corporates and government, to get things done.

Amit Chandra, Managing Director of Bain Capital, in his opening address spoke of “ the power of coming together as friends to push the envelope.” Amit was speaking of his extraordinary and moving philanthropic journey, yet this observation served as a summary for me of what the AVPN can, and does, achieve.

Fiona Halton is chair of the Pilotlight Foundation.

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