Bupa is a global healthcare organisation with more than 48,000 employees worldwide, and eight million customers in 190 countries. Founded as the British United Provident Association in 1947, it remains a provident association, reinvesting its profits in the company.
The campaign had four key objectives, all of them aligned with Bupa’s corporate values and its vision of ‘taking care of the lives in our hands’:
- To raise awareness among employees and stakeholders of the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in Thailand
- To raise the business’s profile within both Thailand and the UK
- To improve the lives of the children living at Sarnelli House
- To organise a challenge for Bupa staff to be proud of, and tomake them feel part of the business.
Bupa, with the help of the Pattaya Orphanage Trust, spent two months looking for its anniversary project, and a further eight in planning. No additional funds were allocated for the challenge, so the volunteers each raised £1000, which was matched by the company. Wanting to make sure that as much of this money as possible went to Sarnelli House, Bupa’s three-person Community Connections team organised everything themselves, from risk assessment to marketing.
To make sure that the challenge really was reflective of the company’s values, the 60 volunteer places were split across Bupa’s businesses according to staff ratios. And to engage Bupa stakeholders, they created a blog and video diaries, with the blog receiving almost 30,000 hits.
The volunteers redecorated and refurnished all four of the orphanage’s houses, landscaped the garden, and developed four new sports courts and the same number of playgrounds. They provided a new kitchen, 20 new bathrooms – with hot water, for the first time – and protected rice fields, ensuring a guaranteed source of food.
The challenge generated 63 pieces of press coverage and led to 1.7 million opportunities to see or hear about the project – valued at £26,958. The blog, Bupa’s first, was so successful that the medium has been rolled out across the business. Perceptions of Bupa have improved among both its external stakeholders and its employees.
The volunteers in particular found the project a rewarding experience, with a very positive impact on how they regarded their employer. Following the challenge:
- 90% said that they understood more about Bupa businesses
- 90% felt proud to be a Bupa employee
- 98% had been able to meet people from different Bupa businesses
- 92% felt greater loyalty towards Bupa.
Inevitably, the orphans and their carers were the people who benefited most from Bupa’s work with Sarnelli House. As Father Mike, the orphanage’s founder, says: “What a job they did. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect to be so overwhelmed with support and passion.”
Claire Atkinson, community affairs officer for Bupa Community Connections, was project manager for the Thailand Challenge. She says: “Throughout the six week project, volunteers reported how the experience was allowing them to develop certain skills. From my own experience of volunteering, I expected this to happen, but not to this extent that it did – 92% of the volunteers reported that they had learned skills that were easily transferable to the workplace.
“For the next Bupa challenge, I will focus on building skills by surveying volunteers and their line managers to establish what they would like to get out of the experience, and which skills they would like to improve. I will then create individually tailored projects for each volunteer, aligned to their developmental needs. It’s important to recognise that giving something back is not only good for the communities in which we operate, but that it can also have huge business benefits.”
Siobhan Dranes is an internal communications executive, and one of Bupa’s ‘community champions’. She says of her time in Thailand: “It really hit us at about 6pm on the first day, when we got to see the children taking their medication. That was when we realised that we might be in a happy environment, but that the children were actually very poorly – we were seeing them taking syringe after syringe of medication.
My first week there (week three of the actual project), we redecorated the medicine room, and put concrete animals in the playground. It was absolutely fantastic to see the children’s reaction when they saw those animals.
I’ve never project managed anything on this scale before, so for me there was added responsibility. I wouldn’t have given that up for the world – it’s the best thing that I’ve ever done. I learned a lot of practical skills, and management skills. My confidence improved, and it made me proud to work for an organisation that made a difference. We’re keeping Sarnelli House in our minds, and I will be planning some fundraising events here this year. It’s not going to go away”.
- Approach voluntary work with the same degree of professionalism you would bring to a business project
- Pick a charity or cause with which you already have something in common – for instance, if you work for a publishing house, sponsor a literacy project. This will ensure early buy-in from staff
- Where possible, opt for a smaller, less well-known charity – they will benefit from your attention, and there will be a greater likelihood of you tailoring a project to suit your own needs
- Identify skills gaps among your volunteers before the project starts. Ask their line managers what skills they would like them to pick up or develop
- Pick team members from across functions and parts of the business – think of the potential for developing relationships which will carry over into the workplace
- Get senior people on board. This is a great opportunity for the management team to get their hands dirty and to meet more junior members of the team
- Promote the project. Make sure that it is central to your business, rather than being seen as a whimsy on the part of a bunch of do-gooders
- Talk to staff throughout the project. Make sure that they remain motivated, and that they have access to advice when out of their comfort zone or undertaking something new
- Set up debrief meetings. Identify what you need to address before continuing or repeating the project. Decide whether you need to adjust your recruitment process
- Make it a long-term commitment. This is a great message to send to your staff.