Russia: corporate volunteering during the pandemic

What have the effects of the global pandemic been on corporate volunteering?


Making Pelmeni and verifying trademarks are just a few examples of the volunteering spirit of various Russian companies during the pandemic.

On November 23d, the International Multimedia Press Centre of Russia Today hosted the Moscow International Forum IX: Corporate Volunteering: Business and Society, organised by the Association of Managers and the National Council for Corporate Volunteers.

One of the final discussions of the forum, “The Transformation of Corporate Volunteering: The New tools and rules of the game”, was dedicated to the changes that have occurred in the sphere of corporate volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion was moderated by Alisa Vasileva, the manager for sustainable development and cooperation with local communities, Coca-Cola HBC Russia.

KFC: The League of Volunteers

KFC’s social projects are divided into three areas: youth projects, food programmes, and the activities of the League of Volunteers, says Natalya Timoshina, the coordinator of the KFC volunteer programmes in Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Central and Eastern Europe.

The League of Volunteers is a community of over 2,500 employees who partake in over 2,000 good deeds every year.

The onset of the pandemic has brought about the rise of online workshops, with corporate volunteers from different companies getting involved. This idea arose from the KFC volunteers themselves, and their desire to share experiences with volunteers from other businesses.

“So, we organised our first online workshop. The event consisted of three separate activities: an address by an external speaker who was invited to talk about global trends and tendencies, a presentation of the volunteer projects from both sides, and finally a group project, where communication and interaction was able to happen directly” says Timoshina.

During the pandemic, KFC held two such workshops. One workshop involved KFC and Sberbank, and was dedicated to helping disadvantaged children, the other involved KFC and Metalloninvest and focussed on volunteering and the environment.

Such communication is so valuable, believes Timoshina, because it facilitates a changing outlook.

“There are certain formulaic, familiar initiatives that we implement year upon year, as part of our routine. And there are people who read about something new and fresh on the internet. But that’s not all there is to it. There are also those who don’t know how to implement new ways of thinking. And here we are presented with a practical working example, from colleagues who are offering up ready-made tools and proposals” she explains.

Four types of Pelmeni

And here’s where the company Damate group, the largest producer of turkey meat in Russia (Turkeylite), develop their take on volunteering. The company was responsible for building one of the houses on the inclusive estate, Novye Berega, in Penza: a place for individuals with disabilities and their families to stay and get involved in crafts and art projects. And now the company’s volunteers are getting involved too.  

“About three years ago we started to notice the emergence of a volunteer movement within our company: employees began to group themselves into collectives who were willing to put themselves forward and help,” says Polina Konnova, Director of Human Resources at Damate.

As a result, volunteer-technologists from Damate would come to Novye Berega to teach residents how to use equipment to produce certain semi-finished products. Thus appeared the four types of Pelmeni, which are now made by the residents and their families. So far they are only supplying small, local businesses, but upon gaining certification their products will go on sale. Damate plans to help them in other areas as well.

Stylish merch

The online store Lamoda came up with an initiative to grow their business and help out at the same time during the pandemic. In March 2020, Lamoda realised that, with a pandemic looming, donations to charities were sure to take a hit, says Oksana Kostiv, Head of Corporate and Social Responsibility at Lamoda Group.

So, Lamoda decided to help and they invited their partners, the Need Help and charities, to get involved too. Together they thought up a way for charities to sell their goods on Lamoda. This resulted in the formation of the charity marketplace I Want to Help, which saw 9 charities participate. Since then, donations have reached more than 1.5 million roubles from the sale of goods on Lamoda.

As for the role of corporate volunteers, here Lamoda employees offered their help in checking trademarks of the charities’ goods and products, their documents and the certificates from manufacturers. If there were any evident problems, the Lamoda volunteers would advise them accordingly.

“This has turned out to be a two-way street. I won’t hide the fact that some of our pro-bono projects have become paying business partners. And the situation is the same regarding certification: free for the charities, but charged for commercial companies”, notes Kostiv.

Baikal online

The En+ Group has transferred its corporate volunteering projects to an online format during the pandemic. Their work focuses on Baikal and its resources, says Svetlana Chekalina, project manager for Corporate Social Responsibility for En+ Group, so employees usually get involved in harvesting, planting crops and other eco-projects specific to Baikal. This year it was not possible to allow such a large group to get involved.

So, this year it became an online ecological marathon.

“The idea was that over the course of a month, participants would receive a checklist. There would be several different lists, and there would be three major areas of interest: home and how to be environmentally friendly in your own space, the world around us and what we can do when we go out to shop, and finally, digital space”, says Chekalina.

Over the course of the online event, company employees were asked to organise separated rubbish collections at home, replace regular washing up sponges with environmentally friendly ones, to resist buying coffee in plastic cups and to clean up email and instant messengers. All these tasks were accompanied by explanations of the beneficial impacts they could have. At the end of the event, everyone was to gather up a small volunteer team and arrange a small-scale eco-event, for example, a community clean-up day.

The event brought together over 900 participants.


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