Corporate social responsibility spices up training

Adding a dash of corporate social responsibility to training spices it up and makes it more meaningful.

Karen Woolley, founder of training company Klic4Training, recalls the moment she came up with the idea for her business. Around four years ago, she was working as a fundraiser for a major conservation charity. During a discussion with one of her key sponsors, she discovered it had sent a group of employees on a teambuilding event.

Central to the programme was a task to build a bridge, which after two days’ hard work the team duly blew up with controlled explosives.

“I was appalled at the waste, and knew there had to be a better way,” she says. “If you are going to spend all that time and energy building something, you might as well do it for a worth while cause.”

And so the seeds for Klic4training, which uses community and charity projects for corporate team building and leadership development, were sown.

More than an away-day

Today, the company has links with several charities, such as the Wildlife Trust. Woolley is quick to emphasise her events are much more than a simple charity away-day.

Klic4training uses experienced learning and development professionals from training company Response Development Training, who meet with participating firms prior to the event, formulate a training needs analysis and follow up with a full debrief.

Using this formal approach, says Woolley, a conservation project – be it building a footpath or restoring a canal – can be used to draw out learning points that can be taken back to the workplace. An event costs around £150 per person per day based on a group of 30. Spending money combining training with charity work in this way means organisations can tick more than one box, she says.

“It makes good use of budgets – combining corporate social responsibility targets with training and development goals,” says Woolley.

This, according to Andy Dickson, UK head of experiential learning company Impact Development Training Group, is something that HR buyers are increasingly keen on. He says progressive organisations are looking to embed a corporate social responsibility element into many aspects of their activities.

Impact calls this approach “the sustainable enterprise”, and has put substantial resources behind this methodology. Dickson says the organisation has eight full-time staff members dedicated to setting up community and charity-based projects, with the aim of initiating 500 training events of this kind worldwide every year.

These range from working with local schools and centres for disabled children in Cumbria, to events around international aid efforts. In the wake of the tsunami that hit southeast Asia in 2005, Impact facilitated a team of senior executives from ABN Amro’s Asian region to help with the relief effort.

No soft option

The company is also promoting events where organisations use their own professional expertise for a good cause, and recently worked with a newly formed team of marketing professionals from Sony, who used their skills to promote Sight Savers International.

But far from this being a soft training option for tree huggers, Dickson says these events have the additional edge that delegates are working with real clients on real-life projects.

He says: “There’s no role-playing here. Participants’ actions have real consequences and expectations to manage.”

But any company considering setting up similar schemes should not just do it for altruistic reasons, says Andrew Carmichael, external partnership manager in the BBC’s training and development department.

He has been instrumental in developing a major initiative called Connect and Create, which launched in January. It is expected to train 450 staff, affecting 1,500 external people over the next year.

Through Connect and Create, the BBC has identified 15 charities with which it will instigate projects on an ongoing basis. It is hoped this approach will not only do some good, but see participants from the BBC come back with new skills, programme ideas and a developed awareness of the communities they serve.

“We are conscious of value for money to the licence payer, and for this to be truly sustainable, we must ensure our people get some real development from these projects,” says Carmichael.

Case study: BBC

Although the BBC’s Connect and Create programme is still in its infancy, external partnership manager Andrew Carmichael (pictured) points to a number of recent projects that have brought real benefits.

Staff from the BBC’s new media department recently worked with the Liverpool Tate art museum to develop a sign language application for deaf customers that can appear on pocket PCs. “This has helped us to develop future media and technology skills,” says Carmichael.

Also, the BBC Blast project sees staff travelling around the country mentoring young people on film production.

“Many of the staff are from programmes like Blue Peter, and the initiative has given them invaluable contact with their target audience. By listening to what young people have to say, participants have come back with far more creative ideas than if they had simply sat around in a meeting room,” says Carmichael.

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