Ok. It's time to get a bit real about something.
We don't normally (or ever) write about behind the scenes stuff here at the sameness project. We prefer to let our different initiatives do the talking, but pretty soon our initiatives might stop talking all together, and there are some things that need to be said...
This issue has come to define our interactions with corporations in Dubai over the last 4 years and has become a pretty big problem for us. And our words here could be quite confrontational, but this needs to be said.
So here is our take on "Corporate Volunteering", and specifically the big issue that lots of corporates want to "do good" but very few want to pay for it.
But first here is some context. The sameness project is NOT a charity, we are not an NGO, and we are not a non-profit organisation. We are a social innovation company creating and running empathy based projects and our financial model is based on partnering with corporations who want to invest in doing good in their local communities.
We also need to acknowledge the small amount of corporations that have financially partnered with us and our work in the community over the last four years, and thank those that are putting their money where their mouth is - they are clearly an exception in this market.
Right, lets carry on....
Here's what we mean when we say Corporate Volunteering is an issue.
We receive HEAPS of emails from large companies who want to volunteer with us, which is great.
Volunteering is cool, it's valuable, and it makes a difference.
They want to involve their staff, to give back, do good, engage with the community, build their team, and lots of other nice things. Yay.
But here's the problem - That's usually where the conversation ends. There is huge demand for volunteering, but none of these very large corporations want to pay for any of the projects to actually happen.
They're really excited about involving themselves, they see huge value in participating and being part of all the goodness, but they won't offer anything beyond staff volunteering. And that just. doesn't. work.
Now, we are NOT saying that people should pay to volunteer… We have a huge amount of awesome community volunteers that take part in certain sameness project events that we would never dream of charging...
If you are a very large company, and you start a conversation with us by saying how much you love what we do and how much you want your team to be a part of it, then the conversation has to be about money and not just about volunteering.
Because money is what makes the projects actually run. At the end of the day, if there is no financial investment in the projects and in us as the creators of the projects, then there will be no project for you as a team to volunteer at and for the community to benefit from.
We have costs - an office space full of a beautiful mish-mash of all our different material, and a space where we work hard to create and manage our projects. We pay salaries because this is far more than just a hobby or a free time fun jam for us. This is a job, and people get paid for jobs. And the bottom line - projects cost money.
A company giving a few hours of their time while we give everything else is unfortunately not an equal exchange.
Let's add in everyones favourite buzzword - sustainability.
If a large company wants to participate in events to tick the "sustainability" box on the Corporate Social Responsibility report then the organisations they want to partner with, the ones who create and run the projects, aka the sameness project, need to be sustained so the initiatives are not just one-offs. That's what sustainability is. Simple maths.
And here's the other thing. We know that once the volunteering is done some of the PR budget will probably be spent on sharing about how awesome Company X is (we won't mention actual company names here) for volunteering and how valuable it was to volunteer, and it will get into their internal communications' loop and it will be all shiny and nice. Words like "partner" and "collaborate" will be used to make it sound like Company X was really engaged.
Not only is that disingenuous, it's kind of offensive, because while Company X carries on with business as normal and ride on the association with our work so they can say they are socially responsible, we have to simply try and not go out of business. And we really don't want to go out of business.
And beyond all of the above, the 'volunteering only' approach is reinforcing the pre-dominant habit of charity over engagement; of sympathy giving vs empathy-building, the latter which defines who we are and how we operate.
Genuinely taking responsibility for honouring human life in our communities, our organisations, and in larger global causes, requires more giving of yourself and your resources than simply ticking the box with "achieved minimum volunteering hours", especially if it's at the expense of the time and money of other impassioned and responsible organisations who make this their actual job.
If Corporate Volunteering is going to be genuine and truly part of a solution to the social issues surrounding all of us, then it needs to include financial support for the initiatives themselves. Otherwise, it can be seen and received, no matter how well-intentioned, as a non-credible show of PR that simply doesn’t care and just ticks the box on minimum hours of volunteering required for the year.
The stakes are not shared. The engagement is limited and short. The initiatives cannot be sustained. It's a vicious cycle that does more harm to the corporates, as they have a potential to showcase their humanity in our community, and instead, they can come across as simply shallow and random.
At the end of the day it's really about corporations seeing the true value in "doing good" and being willing to invest in it.
We're gonna leave you with our favourite video (below) on the financial side of what we do. Replace the word "charity" (like we said we are NOT a charity) with social enterprise/social innovators and this is why we are not ashamed about charging money for what we do and seeing value beyond simply surviving.