In celebration of International Volunteer Day on December 5, I attended the inaugural Volunteering Expo in Beijing to get a close look at the evolving state of corporate volunteering in China.

Since the buildup to the 2008 Beijing Olympics began in 2007, volunteering in China has garnered a great deal of attention. And attention has only continued to grow following the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai Expo and Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010. Even though the role of corporate volunteers has received comparatively less attention than volunteering in general, there has been a recent surge in interest from companies as they recognize opportunities to demonstrate their commitments to communities, leverage their employees' skills, and build loyalty among their staff.

Consider three pieces of evidence that support this trend:

  • Companies are being more strategic about their volunteering: In the last 18 months, BSR has worked on a number of projects with companies to evaluate their volunteering structures and programs. These projects focused on ensuring positive impacts for the company and the community as well as the volunteers themselves. 
  • Intermediaries are making it easier for employees to volunteer: Local and international NGOs, such as Huizeren, Fuping Development Institute, and Hands on China, facilitate companies’ volunteer programs by training volunteers and training NGO partners to better manage volunteers.
  • Many companies—from multinationals such as Bayer to state-owned enterprises such as China Mobile—are starting employee associations to drive volunteering and employee engagement.

Discussions with several NGOs attending the Expo confirmed that NGOs are increasing their engagement with, and using, company volunteers—and they seek to do so more in the future. NGOs are customizing events and arranging open activities to make it easier for companies to send their staff to volunteer. Companies are also doing their part by providing staff with paid time off to volunteer.

While the majority of this volunteering is unskilled, there are some notable exceptions: Intel’s staff recently trained 30 NGOs on social media and cloud computing trends, and Microsoft staff regularly participate in their Unlimited Potential program, which aims to teach migrant workers how to use computers and the internet to improve job opportunities and access information related to health and labor rights.

Business is making progress on better utilizing corporate resources, including volunteers, to build NGO capacity. For example, a new ICT Volunteer Alliance launching later this year—which BSR will be  involved with as part of our CiYuan initiative—will aim to leverage ICT companies’ products, knowledge, and staff to help build NGOs’ capacity. Stay tuned or sign up for CiYuan’s newsletter to learn more about resources and activities in this field as it—and CiYuan—develop.