What accounts for the significant difference in the development of corporate volunteering in Latin America as contrasted with Africa, the Arab Nations, and developing Asia? Can what has happened in Latin America be replicated, in appropriate ways, in the other regions?
There are no clear, demonstrable answers to either question. An answer to the first question would require a detailed country by country analysis of how corporate volunteering has developed in Latin America, and an answer to the second would require similar analysis of the current circumstances in key countries in the three other regions of the Global South. However, in both cases, what we now know is suggestive of some possible conclusions.
Our first question then: why has corporate volunteering developed at a significantly faster pace in Latin America than in the other regions? We posit two key possible reasons, influences from outside the region and the development of a diverse group of dedicated champions within the region.
First, there have been significant external influences on Latin America that have been missing in the other regions. These have come primarily from North America and Spain and have occurred by virtue of proximity and shared history. American multinational companies likely were the first to introduce corporate volunteering into the region as they began to globalize their corporate social responsibility efforts and, with that, the engagement of their employees as volunteers in the community. Led by Telefonica, which has a strong presence and independent foundations in 14 Latin American countries, Spanish companies also have stimulated their regional units to adopt volunteer programs and to become examples for others in the region.
There is also a significant flow of knowledge, discussion, and people between both North America and Spain and Latin America. As the concepts of corporate social responsibility and community engagement grew more prominent and sophisticated in the United States over the past 30 years, for example, it fed discussion and developments in Latin America. Similar relationships and impacts did not occur in the other Global South regions.
Beginning late in the 1990s, the Points of Light Foundation, the national volunteer center in the United States, was active in promoting corporate volunteering in Latin America, primarily in Brazil where it worked with the First Lady’s National Volunteer Program, begun by Dr. Ruth Cardoso, to promote and stimulate discussion on corporate volunteering. Initial work was done by Points of Light staff in support of the first research on corporate volunteering in Brazil and was followed by consultation and training activities. One result of the research was to recognize that both multinational companies and Brazilian companies were operating formally organized volunteer programs. Another result was to spark significant discussion in Brazil by corporate leaders and academics about corporate volunteering.
Second, key champions for corporate volunteering emerged throughout Latin America, setting examples of excellence, building networks, developing and sharing knowledge, and stimulating and leading development of the field.
In Brazil, Monica Galiano, as the first executive director of the National Volunteer Program, led the seminal research on corporate volunteering. From there, she moved to the industrial heartland of Brazil, Minas Gerais, to develop a statewide corporate volunteer program that featured the first major annual corporate service event, V-Day. Then, as a private consultant, she led development of the most sophisticated corporate volunteer program in the region and one of the global leaders. Finally, she contributed throughout to the development of a knowledge base on corporate volunteering and most recently to the creation of Red/e to network companies in the region.
V2V, the first online platform in the region explicitly designed to support corporate volunteering, was born from work done at the National Volunteer Program in Brazil. In Colombia, development of the national corporate volunteer council was led by volunteers from IAVE Colombia. Rio Voluntario, the volunteer center of Rio de Janeiro, stimulated the creation of and served as secretariat for the Brazilian Corporate Volunteer Council. “Work tables” on corporate volunteering with ongoing activities have been started in Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico with a wide variety of organizations as initiators. These include business associations, leadership organizations for philanthropy and volunteering, government agencies, national associations of NGOs, and even United Nations Volunteers.
Key companies were pioneers in building world class corporate volunteer programs. These include Vale in Brazil, Telefonica, based in Spain but operating throughout Latin America, and Polar in Venezuela, as well as PDVSA in the years before the Hugo Chavez regime. More importantly, they invested in developing and disseminating knowledge not only about their own work but about the field as a whole.
In short, Latin America benefited from a flow of knowledge, example, and leadership from outside the region and the rapid emergence of corporate, NGO, and individual leaders within the region, all of whom shared a commitment not only to building individual programs but to building the field as a whole.
This leads to the second question: can what has happened in Latin America be replicated, in appropriate ways, in the other regions of the Global South?
As cited above, there certainly are companies and NGOs that occupy a leadership position for corporate volunteering within the regions, albeit in many cases one limited geographically or by the scope and sophistication of their own efforts. Likewise, it is certain that global companies that are known for their world-class volunteer efforts are doing business in all of those regions and, in most cases, have spread their volunteer efforts to them as well. Many of those companies also have played a role in developing the knowledge base and the infrastructure to support the development of corporate volunteering in their home regions.
The answer may rest in another question: does anyone care enough to make the investment required to do the same in Africa, the Arab Nations, and developing Asia? Are there global and indigenous companies that will provide the leadership and financing needed to develop the requisite knowledge and infrastructure in those regions? Are there international organizations that are playing a leadership role in the development of corporate volunteering that will make it a priority to lead the effort in those regions to mobilize the leadership and financial resources that will be required?
The answers are unknown and unknowable. But it is critical that, just as happened in Latin America some 20 years ago, a beginning be made.
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Nabti, P. (2014). Corporate volunteering in the Arab region. Study prepared forthe Arab Initiative to Foster a Culture of Learning & the Arab Thought Foundation. Beirut: Learning to CARE Institute. Retrieved from http://www.arabthought.org/thought.pdf.